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Self-Discover and Self-Empowerment (Yom Kippur – Day 09/16/21)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Self-Discover and Self-Empowerment
We Jews are an interesting group, a quandary. As a whole, we don’t attend daily or weekly services, but we do come for the High Holidays.
You’ll say, but everyone is like that: Christians come in mass for Christmas and Easter services and not as much weekly, but that’s not completely accurate.
According to the latest Pew study, 38% of U.S. Christians attend weekly services compared to just 12% of Jews. [1]
There are even bigger gaps when it comes to belief in God. About a quarter of Jews (26%) say they believe in God as described in the Bible, compared with eight-out of ten Christians.
Sadly, it’s the same with respect of God. For instance, one time, I was arguing with the executive board about an issue, and we held a vote on the matter.
I was outvoted 1 to 7. Nonetheless, I was sure I was right so I turned Heavenward and said: “Lord of the Universe. If I am right, please give us a sign.”
Suddenly, thunder breaks the silence and lightning flashes through the sky. The earth quakes and the synagogue is violently shaken. The ark doors slide open and from behind the Torahs a divine voice bellows. “The rabbi is indeed correct!”
Nonplussed, Russ then responds to me, “All right Rabbi, the vote is still just two to seven.”
However, when it comes to those who attend services only a few times a year, Jews attend in greater numbers, percentage-wise. Only an extra 15% of Christians come for Easter and Christmas, while an extra 27% of Jews come for the High Holidays.
Now, combine that with the 20% of people that come to shul monthly and weekly, so that means half of American Jews are watching Central Synagogue as we speak!
So, what brings us back year after year? I could say, it’s my amazing speeches, but that wouldn’t account for the other synagogues.
Could it be, the founders of our people and religion, attuned to something on the High Holidays that rings true and meaningful even in our day and age?
Rosh Hashanah is the holiday of renewal and spiritual awakening. The raw Shofar sound arouses us. The essence of the day help shakes us from our stupor and our fixed routines.
Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness. It demands of us to heal relationships between family, friends, and enemies, between the individual and God, and between the individual and themselves. For a person to be able to move on in life, they need to learn to forgive others and themselves.
So just as in the Spring, we perform an annual cleaning of house and car, Yom Kippur is our yearly day of spiritual examination and purification.
While it’s impossible to quantify, I always feel lighter, purer, in the first few days after Yom Kippur.
Teshuva, repentance, means to return to God, but it could also mean to return to ourselves. Yom Kippur enables us to find our true selves.
Fascinatingly, I believe these goals are alluded to in the ancient verses about Yom Kippur in the Torah.
In Chapter 23 of Leviticus, it says:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
אַ֡ךְ בֶּעָשׂ֣וֹר לַחֹ֩דֶשׁ֩ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֨י הַזֶּ֜ה י֧וֹם הַכִּפֻּרִ֣ים ה֗וּא מִֽקְרָא־קֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֔ם וְעִנִּיתֶ֖ם אֶת־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֥ם אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַיהֹוָֽה׃
However, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring a fire offering to the LORD;
Now listen carefully
וְכׇל־מְלָאכָה֙ לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֔וּ בְּעֶ֖צֶם הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה כִּ֣י י֤וֹם כִּפֻּרִים֙ ה֔וּא לְכַפֵּ֣ר עֲלֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
You shall do no work on this very day, for it is Yom Kippur, on which atonement is made on your behalf before the LORD your God.
כִּ֤י כׇל־הַנֶּ֙פֶשׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹֽא־תְעֻנֶּ֔ה בְּעֶ֖צֶם הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה
Indeed, any person who does not practice self-denial on this very day shall be cut off from his kin;
וְכׇל־הַנֶּ֗פֶשׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר תַּעֲשֶׂה֙ כׇּל־מְלָאכָ֔ה בְּעֶ֖צֶם הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה
And whoever does any work on this very day…
Three times in three consecutive verses it says, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, “on this very day”, therefore, there must be some significance to this phraseology and its repetition.
Well, the scholarly approach would be to analyze the other places in the Torah where we see these words and hope to find clues for a common meaning.
Now I have all the five places located and am prepared to discuss them with you. However, the kind people that are here in person can’t turn off their screens and mute me, so I’ll spare them, and head straight to my interpretation.
I propose that the significance of the phrase, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, comes from the word עצם, which means, self, for “this very day”, could have also been translated, “this self-same day”. In Hebrew when we want to say, “myself” we say, עצמי. I believe, that the phrase בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, hints that the protagonist comes into their true self on that day. They reach their essence; they develop into who they’re destined
I’ll give you one example: Abraham. Until the covenant of Brit Milah, circumcision, he was known as Avram. When he circumcises himself, the verse says,
וַיָּמָל אֶת בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתָם בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר א“And he circumcised the flesh of his foreskin on this very day, as God commanded him.”
God changes his name and now, he’s known as Abraham, the father of the Jewish people.  בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַ ,  on that very day, this great idealist and leader becomes the man he was destined to be.
Therefore, wherever, the phrase, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַ is found, there’s a catalyst to help us find our essence, who we really are. On Yom Kippur, that phraseology is used three times!
In truth though, it’s not so easy even on Yom Kippur to discover our true essence and passions, because we’ve been doing the same thing for so many years, we don’t recognize what we really want and what’s just rote.
Therefore, I’m going to share with you a cool self-knowledge technique that I learned from a spiritual teacher recently.[2]
Please stand up.
We’re going to hit our hearts once, asking ourselves, what do I want?
Now, we’re going to take it deeper, ask ourselves, what do I really want?
Now, we’re going to go plunge our very depths. What do I really, really want?
Did any of you get different answers?
How many got two responses?
How many got three?
Now that you know what you truly want, you can set about getting it.
We are constantly in the act of creating ourselves.
On Rosh Hashanah, I mentioned that being created in the image of God means that God is actually a part of each one of us.
What’s God’s name? What’s God’s essence? Moses asked this question by the burning bush.
הִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֣י בָא֮ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ וְאָמַרְתִּ֣י לָהֶ֔ם אֱלֹהֵ֥י אֲבוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם שְׁלָחַ֣נִי אֲלֵיכֶ֑ם וְאָֽמְרוּ־לִ֣י מַה־שְּׁמ֔וֹ מָ֥ה אֹמַ֖ר אֲלֵהֶֽם׃
“When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֲלֵיכֶֽם׃
And God said to Moses, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.” He continued, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh sent me to you.’”
Traditionally “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh” is translated, I am that which I am.
But that translation is not precise, a truer translation is, “I will be that which I shall be.”
God’s name is about becoming, “I will be”. Therefore, we are about becoming as well. Our thoughts, words, and actions, make us who we are. Furthermore, they plant seeds in the universe that sprout at different times, enabling us to become and have what we truly want.
The I AM translation, though, has many benefits as well. Wayne Dyer has a beautiful interpretation of I am:
“The words I am, which you consistently use to define who you are and what you are capable of, are holy expressions for the name of God—the highest aspect of yourself.
Break lifelong habits of unwittingly besmirching this holy name. Discontinue using pejorative labels to cast aspersions on your holy self.
He means, instead of saying, I’m incapable, I’m such a jerk. Say I’m smart, I’m lovable, I’m creative. By doing so you create your reality.
Always make your very first consideration the honoring of your Divine spirit. This will allow you to rise to previously unimagined heights.
Teach your outer self to accept the unlimited power of your inner spirit and the things you place in your imagination can become true for you.”[3]
I mentioned before that Jews don’t identify with the God that’s described in the Bible. Yet, Jews are more likely than U.S. adults overall (50% vs. 33%) to say they believe in some other spiritual force or higher power. [4] Perhaps we don’t identify with the God that exacts punishment for blasphemy or idolatry. But Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, I will be that which I shall be, could be that spiritual force we unknowingly believe in; this God is empowering.
Are we Jews really a quandary? I don’t know, perhaps, we’re just looking for something real and meaningful, and it’s the renewing, purifying and empowering aspects of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that appeal to us.
Today, you’ve tapped your heart, you know what you want, what your true passions are. Use your power of “I will be that which I will be” to achieve them in the year ahead.
Shana Tova
[2] Joan Paolino

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