What One Yom Kippur Can Do

Does the soul need to punish the body in order to do its accounting? Isn't it capable of suffering on its own, without being assisted by a rumbling stomach?

Worshipping God is too easy, the art of repentance is too cheap. One Yom Kippur will cleanse the sins of an entire year that have become as red as scarlet; white clothing and cloth shoes will cause black stains and rudeness to disappear. The same people who created God in their image are the ones who invented the mechanisms for disinfection, and improved them to suit their own needs.

When it's still morning we'll abuse a chicken a little - it's our repentance. It's always convenient to send someone else to hell in our place. The automatic washing machine is operating, and into it we'll insert small change for charity, which will avert a wrathful decree. That's the charity that replaces justice - 364 days of injustice are summed up in one day of generosity. That's how nonprofit charitable organizations crop up, which exempt governments from doing anything; which increase distress instead of uprooting it. Sometimes God emerges from the machine, in order to effect a last-minute rescue. Even people emerge from it in order to be saved before the gate is locked, coming out like new.

All the mechanisms and mannerisms are directed at instant purification. Soon we'll eat the pre-fast meal that separates the ordinary weekday from the major fast. Although devout Muslims fast for an entire month, religious Jews get the general idea in one concentrated day of suffering.

Does the soul need to punish the body in order to do its accounting? Isn't it capable of suffering on its own, in its deep cellars, without being assisted by an empty and rumbling stomach? Is hunger only for food and not for other strengthening additives? Hasn't the time come for a special fast, one in which our spiritual nourishment is unspoiled?

There is no end to the tasks. The holy day is short, the cleaning work is abundant and must leave no traces: We'll pray five times, and won't be satisfied with the usual number of prayers. We'll look innocent in an effort to find a free piece of heaven. All the places are taken up there, due to the overload of urgent requests. What can we do for our instant salvation that we haven't done? - we haven't washed, we haven't perfumed ourselves, we haven't used the bed or even gotten near it. What else will you ask of us, repentance?

Sins between man and his God, between man and his fellow man - everyone knows the difference, and nobody really knows. Is it possible to identify a sin in the eyes of heaven that is a good deed in the eyes of the whole world, and vice versa? It's not clear from whom exactly we're asking forgiveness, and who is authorized to forgive.

Does anyone have to beg forgiveness from someone for a do-nothing policy, which dooms thousands and thousands of people to poverty and deprivation? Does anyone have to ask forgiveness for educating toward ignorance and for not raising the poor out of the dust and the needy from the dunghill? And what is the obligation imposed on someone who has managed to forget that he was a stranger in the land of Egypt, and has adopted pharaonic customs? Is only the chicken to blame, and after we circle it around our head, will we be able to return to a good life, only in order to continue with our bad deeds?

We've already eaten and drunk, because who knows when we'll die, and even before sunset we will gather in the synagogue and begin with the Kol Nidre prayer. We'll express regret for breaking our vows and oaths after the fact. We will annul them and be released from them. And tomorrow we will end with the Ne'ilah prayer, and suddenly we will feel so light and pure. We've fulfilled all our obligations. What a wonderful feeling, like riding a bicycle on empty roads. What turning back the clock and an abridged day of suffering can do for a person!

Now we are prepared to sully ourselves once again until next Yom Kippur. That is the charm of the cycle of life that turns and returns. That is the beauty of the cycle of human nature. And with a general condemnation of those who torch mosques, and with a prayer for the return of Gilad, we will be purified.