Yom Kippur - the Secret of Jewish Unity

The Secret of Community is Unity

At the Greensboro Jewish Federation community is our lifeblood. The connections and bonds that tie us together form the foundation of our work. One of the phrases you will hear often at the Federation is “Kol Yisroel Arevim Zeh b’Zeh” (All of Israel is responsible for one another). (Talmud Shevuot 39a) As My Jewish Learning explains this phrase is the foundation for our tradition of communal responsibility. There is an obligation on all Jews to see that every Jew has met their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. This value also shapes our responsibility to global tragedies, whether they be in Maui, Turkey, or the Ukraine.

Unity is found in the Yom Kippur Liturgy

We see this idea of collective responsibility amplified in the Yom Kippur liturgy. In the Al Chet confessional prayer, which is recited 10 times during Yom Kippur, one sees that the confession takes place in the plural. Over and over, we ask G-d for forgiveness for the sin that “we” have committed. At first glance this is strange. Shouldn’t we be responsible for our own transgressions? One of the first steps in the process of Teshuvah (return) is acknowledging and taking ownership of one’s shortcomings. Why pile on so many sins that one has no connection to?

Unity Exists on a Spiritual Level

The answer lies hidden in the Hebrew. One can also read “Arevim” literally, that all Jews are mixed up with one with another. On a normal day, we go through life focused on and concerned with the details of our lives. On Yom Kippur, however, we can reach a higher level. On Yom Kippur, we can reach a level where the spirit of oneness is revealed, and the true essence of community is felt. On Yom Kippur, the Jewish community is so connected that the spiritual lack of one is felt by all. That is why the text of “Al Chet” is in the plural.

Take the Power of Yom Kippur with You Throughout the Year

This year let’s take the spirit of unity from Yom Kippur and carry it throughout the entire year. Do you view the challenges that face your local charities, synagogue, or school as your own problems or theirs? Do you see the good causes that you are involved with as your own, or someone else’s that you merely contribute to? On a personal level, do you sympathize and empathize with others? When you listen to someone else’s troubles do you feel bad for them or with them?

Remember the message from Yom Kippur, we are all mixed in, one with another.