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G'mar Chatimah Tovah

September 25, 2020
By Adam Tilove

Dear Friends and Families,

Probably the most distinctive part of Yom Kippur is fasting. But the Torah itself never commands us to fast. The actual mitzvah (or commandment) given in the Torah is found in Leviticus 23:27, which states that, “On the tenth day of this month it is the Day of Atonement; there shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall afflict yourselves.”

This is a troublesome commandment that our rabbis had to deal with! After all, it's easy to imagine an escalating battle of ‘Who’s Holier.’ One holy person might say, “This year, in order to properly afflict myself, I rubbed soap in my mouth and eyes.” “Ha! This you call holy?” His friend might say. “I covered myself in honey and sat in an ant hill all day.” And so on.

What’s brilliant about how the rabbis handled this verse is that it's not what we do to afflict ourselves, but what we don’t do! We don’t eat or drink. We don’t wash or bathe ourselves. We don’t. We don't anoint ourselves with lotions or perfumes. We don't wear leather sandals. And we don't have marital relations.  

By focusing on what we don’t do instead of what we should do, the rabbi has leveled the playing field. After all, no one can not eat any more than anyone can not eat. And so on.

On a deeper level, what fasting and the other prohibitions show us is how very fragile and needy we all are. In 25 short hours, we feel ourselves starting to break down. We are cranky, tired, achy, and smelly. All one has to do is take a short break from our daily maintenance: the things we do unconsciously and by rote to maintain our humanity, and we are laid low.

This year, perhaps even more than ever, we would benefit from seeing the fragility of our own humanity, and the human fragility in each other.   

As head of school, I am awed by the responsibility I face this year, and I am humbled by the support you have given me. At the same time, I know that I am fallible. I make mistakes. And as humans, you do too. It’s not personal. It’s just part of being human.  

As a community -- committed to each other, taking ownership of our mistakes, acknowledging the basic goodness and kindness of each other, and offering forgiveness for each other’s imperfections -- we reach beyond ourselves. We become something more complete and more perfect.

I hope that everyone has a meaningful Yom Kippur - whether you are fasting or not. May this be a year of strength for each of you, your families and for our whole community. May our prayers be accepted and may we be sealed in the book of life!

G’mar Chatimah Tovah,
Adam Tilove

HBHA