I came across these instructions given to non-Jews in terms of how to extend Yom Kippur greetings to Jewish friends. “Your first inclination might be to wish your Jewish friends “Happy Yom Kippur!” because, after all, “Happy Hanukkah!” works. But heaven forbid, do not do this. Yom Kippur is a solemn day. Much better you say, “Have an easy fast” or “Good yontif,” or “Good holiday” or “Blessed Yom Kippur.”
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! I say Good Yontif!
Let’s back up a bit. Maybe the article is not all wrong.
This is a strange night.
Many of us...all of us are feeling anxious. Kol Nidrei night is always tense and intense...tonight is different only in the sense that it may be more so.
Yes, we just said three times:
It is a strange time to be thinking about Joy. Perhaps, the most incongruous part of tonight's davening is the recitation of Shehechiyanu.
Thank God we are alive at this very moment. But this year, thanking God for this moment seems tone-deaf...
How can we express gladness at a time like this? What are we supposed to be happy about?
First, I think it is important to note that the Gemera itself raises the question as to whether or not it is appropriate to recite Shehechiyanu on Yom Kippur. While it does come only once a year, it is not a regel - it is not a festival in the sense that it is missing the requirement to go to Jerusalem. We see that even on a regular year, the feelings of lack of joy on Yom Kippur is legitimate.
I certainly want to leave space for those of you who are not feeling joyous right now. It has been a tough 7 months for many and we should not overlook that.
At the same time, however, the Talmud teaches us that Yom Kippur is one of the happiest days of the year.
Many of us are aware of the obligation to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. Various explanations are offered for this practice. I am fond of the one offered by Rabbeinu Yona - a 12th Cent. Spanish sage.He says this:
So, Yom Kippur is a joyous day. It is joyous because it is a day of repentance and forgiveness.
There are two aspects of this day - Selicha and Mechilah.
Slicha is the hebrew for forgiveness. The focus on forgiveness is on the person who is asking. I need to right a wrong so I go in search of ways to fix that hurt.
Mechilah is pardon. That’s on the person who was wronged. He may not even have been asked for forgiveness. He may never have been approached by someone saying I’m sorry. But he says, in his heart, I grant you pardon anyway.
Yom Kippur is the happiest day of the year because we free ourselves from the burden of bad feelings, and resentments and regrets; we are unshackled from our past.
The Kol Nidrei prayer that we just recited also reflects this idea. We are about to release the burdens created by our words.
This year, of all years, please take a few moments, before we begin YK to concentrate on what we can let go of - I know that I, like so many of us, feel burdened by fears, worries, uncertainties - I need, we all need - to cut that rope that is strangling us and find solid ground beneath us.
There is a beautiful story about Rabbi Rav Aryeh Levine, who was once standing outside during recess of the school he led and watching the children. One of the other teachers saw him and asked him what he was looking at, what did he find so interesting? Rav Aryeh invited him to come and watch the children together with him. After five minutes Rav Aryeh asked the other teacher, “Nuh, what did you see?”
The teacher replied, “ I noticed that Dovid was running around without a kippah on his head and that Moshe’s tzitzis weren’t long enough, etc.” The teacher then asked Rav Aryeh, “And what did you see?”
Rav Aryeh answered, “I saw that Dovid was very skinny. I need to check out what’s going on in his home, maybe there are issues there. And I saw that Moshe’s shirt was torn and tattered, I have to bring him a new shirt…”
Rabbi Levin had the gift of being able to see the good and let go of the negative images. He had the gift of Mechila - of pardon.
We can truly make this Yom Kippur an occasion to wish each other a good Yom Tov by embracing the power of Mechilah of letting go grudges - grudges that we have hold against others and the internal grudges - the guilt and uncertainties that we harbor of ourselves.
May we all be blessed with an easy and meaningful fast and a good Yom Tov.