Recently, thanks to the Rabbi’s without Borders alumni list, a number of jokes have been circulating that might be appropriate to use for the High Holy Days. I want to share one with you:
A Jew goes to his Rabbi and says, "I’m done with Judaism."
The Rabbi says, "Why is that?"
And he says, "Well, I’ve been coming every single year for the High Holy Days and I think that Judaism is just so serious, somber and boring."
The Rabbi replies, "Why didn't you say so? You've just been coming to synagogue on the wrong days, come back for Simchat Torah and Purim and then you’ll see, Judaism is actually very different from what you’ve previously thought."
So the man takes the Rabbi’s advice and a year later he storms back into the rabbis office and says "I’m done with Judaism, it’s all fun but it’s just not serious enough."
When we think about Yom Kippur, we think about it as the most serious and solemn day within our Jewish calendar, and yet, when we go back to the Mishnah we read that Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, there were never happier days for the Jews than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. From those days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out wearing borrowed white clothing so they should not embarrass those who did not own such and then the daughters of Jerusalem would go and dance in the vineyards and say young man lift up your eyes and see what you choose.
The 15th of Av has become effectively a Jewish Valentines Day where we celebrate love. But Yom Kippur as a day of happiness seems quite far removed from what many of us experience. In reality, Yom Kippur is a serious day, it is a day when we stand before God and admit our sins and pray for forgiveness. But at the same time, there’s a transitional moment as we come towards the end of Yom Kippur approaching the Neilah service where we have faith that our prayers have been heard, that our prayers have been accepted and that we have been forgiven.
In this way we move from somberness into joy and celebration at the year that lies before us. On a day such as this it would be appropriate to then think about our families and think about finding a partner to spend one’s life with, and that gives us the joyfulness of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a serious day within our calendar, and there is a somberness to much of the day. But at the end of the day, we have faith, that we will be forgiven, we have faith that a year is opening up before us, and as such, we move to a mood of celebration.
May this Yom Kippur be for us a day of reflection, a day of serious prayer and may it culminate in becoming a day of happiness.