Categorized | Jewish Religion

We repent on Yom Kippur, and then what?

By Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.

Dr. Michael Mantell

Dr. Michael Mantell

SAN DIEGO — This high-holiday season may have been just the spark some needed to awaken – or re-awaken — their Jewish heritage. Still others remain in the midst of great spiritual strivings during the upcoming auspicious days of Succot and Simchat Torah.
Wherever you are personally, no matter. What matters is that like with everything else, there is a mindset to Yom Kippur that if understood, will make your post high-holiday season an even more meaningful experience – not necessarily a more religious or spiritual one, just one that you can better understand.

So, what is the mindset opportunity of post Yom Kippur? Is there just “one” mental approach to this time? Firstly, Yom Kippur is, in the words of Rabbi Irving Greenberg who is a very popular, modern interpreter of Judaism for many returning to their heritage, “a liberation day: It brings freedom from the crushing isolation of guilt.” He brings as proof for this view, a sentence directly from the Torah, “You will be purified from all your sins, before G-d.” (Leviticus 16:30).

He goes on to suggest an important element in the inner understanding of Yom Kippur, namely that the holiday does more than “lift the burden of evil…This is the day of atonement, which means restoration to the wholeness of community…a new reconciliation and a new unification of impulses and values, of individual and community, and of G-d and the human.”

For many however, the very mention of Yom Kippur arouses unpleasant feelings of guilt. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year and we know we should feel something special. Unfortunately, many times all that we really feel is intense hunger and a longing for the synagogue services to end. After all, don’t many believe that Yom Kippur is just about “paying our dues” to G-d and Judaism once a year?

So in the post Yom Kippur period, what is that you feel? Glad it’s over, or sorry to see it go? Welcoming Succot and Simchat Torah?

Simply put, there is no more potent day in the Jewish year than Yom Kippur for self-improvement, and no more important time than post Yom Kippur to see what you’ve gained. Judaism teaches the four basic steps to elevating yourself, refining your behavior, and thereby living a more enriched, meaningful and satisfying life. All from one day? How is that possible?

Let’s begin with fasting on Yom Kippur. After all, isn’t that one of the central features of the day? So, to tell the truth, did you really fast?

The real reason why Jews fast on Yom Kippur, according to many, is because the simple act of refraining from eating and drinking leaves our minds free for deep introspection. There might be room for self-improvement in the areas of your stubbornness, deceit, immorality, carelessness, disrespect to your family and your friends, arrogance, insincerity, and so on. Every one of us must search inside him or her self to see where growth is most needed. Fasting, in addition to other mechanisms, allows us the opportunity to focus our attention on our mistakes, to examine our capabilities, to understand our issues, to focus on what changes we genuinely think we can make, and to decide what to do that will make a real difference in our lives and in the lives of those we love.
The main focus of the Yom Kippur service in most synagogues is on the very emotional and spiritual experience of Viduy (confession). The psycho-spiritual goal of the confession, and of the entire Yom Kippur service, is to help us move in the direction of Teshuva – a Hebrew word meaning, “return.” The goal of Yom Kippur is to return to G-d, to return to perfection, to improve ourselves. Did you?

Here’s the psychological mechanism, described in Jewish source texts that never made it to the Oprah show, to do just that in four steps especially in the post Yom Kippur period.

Step 1. Regret…we must realize the extent of the damage we’ve done and acknowledge that we have failed to live up to our potential and lost an opp0ortunity to be great. This is not a time for guilt. In fact, there is little if any room for guilt. Recall what Rabbi Greenberg said above. Unless you feel true regret, forget self-improvement.

Step 2. Cessation…Imagine asking someone for forgiveness for hitting him or her, while continuing to hit that person. Foolish, isn’t it? Of course it is. So too is trying to maximize the essential ingredient of the psychology of Yom Kippur, improvement, while continuing the same action you want to stop.

Step 3. Confession and asking for forgiveness…We must articulate the mistake and ask for forgiveness. In the words of one author, “For thoughts to have lasting meaning, he must distill them into words, because the process of thought culminates when ideas are expressed and clarified…The person who wrenches from himself the unpleasant truth, ‘I have sinned,’ has performed a great and meaningful act.” The sins we recall, and genuinely repent for, are all forgiven, assuming we have given restitution and asked for forgiveness from our fellow humans. Even secular courts recognize that a simple, “I’m sorry” is not enough and actually require criminals to demonstrate sincere regret and formally apologize to their victims before the court considers a shorter sentence.

Step 4. Resolution not to repeat…Make a firm commitment not to repeat the mistake in the future. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers immediately, or think you can go all the way and, let’s say stop smoking completely tomorrow. All that we are asked to do is make a sincere effort to move in the right direction. We aren’t asked to change in an area that is not yet feasible. We are, after all, humans, not perfect angels.

The story is told of the king who banishes his son from the palace due to the young man’s failing to live up to his royal responsibilities. The prince leaves the palace and finds himself living the life of a pauper in a far away village.
Of course the father, disappointed in his son but still loving him, keeps watch over his son through his agents. One day, when the king can no longer take his son’s living conditions he sends the young man a message.

“Your father loves you and is ready to grant you anything you want. Make a wish.”

The young man, now acclimated to the rough village life, did not think very long. He told the agent, “Tell my father how grateful I am, that it is cold and my coat has worn out. Please ask him to send me a new coat.”

Imagine if you were the father. You would be heartbroken that your son did not ask to return, to visit, for reconciliation or even how you were doing. He could have asked for anything…even the kingdom. But he forgot where he belonged. He traded his destiny for a coat.

We come to Yom Kippur when our Father waits for us to improve ourselves – to take full advantage of the psychological experience of the day He gives us in Yom Kippur. He waits for us to say, “Father, we want to come home to You!”

What did you ask for? What are you asking for now in this post Yom Kippur period?

All so many ask for is material pleasures, complain about how hungry we are and why can’t these services be shortened because we don’t understand what’s really going on. Once it’s over, what are you asking for?
This, then, is the essential mental opportunity of post Yom Kippur. Four steps to self-renewal without having to fast. A time to understand what’s really going on…a time to grow without the agony of fasting, services and sermons. A time to refine, elevate and grow. It’s still up to you.

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Dr Michael Mantell, based in San Diego, provides coaching to business leaders, athletes, individuals and families to reach breakthrough levels of success and significance in their professional and personal lives. Mantell may be contacted via [email protected]

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