The High Holy Days

Two of the most well known festivals in the Jewish calendar are Purim and Yom Kippur. One couldn’t find two festivals more opposite in their methods of commemoration. Unlike the other chagim, on Purim we feast and drink copious supplies of alcohol to the extent that our sages tell us we should drink to such a degree that we no longer know the difference between the wicked Haman and the benevolent Mordechai. By contrast, Yom Kippur is a time of abstention, abstaining from food, drink, devoting the day to prayer and supplication to G-D. It is interesting that the Biblical name for Yom Kippur is Yom Hakippurim which means – a day like Purim. This appears somewhat strange as how can Purim and Yom Kippur be seen as one of the same when they couldn’t be more opposite! 

On each of the festivals we can split them into halves. Half the festival is devoted to prayer in Synagogue (the spiritual) and the other half is spent feasting (the physical). This world is both physical and spiritual, as the Kiruv organisation Aish states: ‘Jewish spirituality comes through grappling with the mundane world in a way that uplifts and elevates. That’s why Yeshivas are always located near town and the bustle of communal activity’. This is why in Judaism we are not obligated to live our lives as monks but to embrace the physical world together with the spiritual.

The exceptions to this rule of half the festival being physical and half being spiritual are Yom Kippur and Purim. On Yom Kippur, both halves are spiritual and on Purim, both halves are physical. These two festivals are ‘two sides of the same coin, two opposite halves of the same day.’ That which we accomplish on Purim by devoting ourselves to the physical, dressing in costume, consuming food, alcohol and seeing friends we furthermore accomplish on Yom Kippur by devoting ourselves to the spiritual.

May we spend this Yom Kippur in an increasingly spiritual state by devoting ourselves to prayer and to G-D, by attending the services and asking G-D to grant us all a coming year of goodness, health and happiness.

I wish the whole community a happy and healthy New Year and well over the fast. 

Rev. Cantor David Rome


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