Yom Kippur Gems: Prayer Insights

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New Yom Kippur Gems - 18 pages of prayer insights

These Yom Kippur Gems are filled with new, inspiring material that explain and elucidate many of the prayers we say on this holiday. They are intended to both entertain and educate the audience between prayers. They are rich with Jewish wisdom, wit and joy, and will help bring greater meaning to both committed Jews and casual congregants. Below is a synopsis of the Gems.

The Evening Service

The Yom Kippur Mood (p.35)
Each of the holidays in the Jewish calendar has its own specific mood. Most congregants probably know the Yom Kippur mood is one of solemn awareness that G-d judges our deeds-but do they also realize it is blended with the joy of appreciating G-d's readiness to forgive?  This crucial point is emphasized by a funny tale of  R'  Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev challenging  his congregation to cheer up before Kol Nidre, and a moving story about the Baal Shem that give us cause for celebration on this serious day.

 A Genuine Awakening (p. 38)
Every Shabbat evening we chant this line, "Rise and shine and sing a song to G-d."  This passage is the origin of the famous English expression to rise and shine.  But what does it really mean to awaken and sing to G-d?  An amusing tale of two alarm clocks will answer the question and challenge us, over the next 24 hours, to pick any mitzvah that's important to us and "rise" to the occasion of making it a permanent change in our life.

Provide G-d with Beautiful Material (p.66)
In this beautiful prayer, "as clay in the hand of the Molder," G-d is described as a craftsman shaping man's future. The prayer conveys two themes regarding the nature of Jewish faith that at first seem to be contradictory, but turn out to be two sides of the same coin. We'll see how this contradiction is beautifully resolved in G-d's command to the prophet Ezekiel: "Son of man, standon yourfeet!" And we'll learn what we must do to provide G-d with the raw material He needs to mold our lives into a beautiful form on this day of repentance.

A Heavenly Love Song (p.71)
We are about to say the prayer "Ki Anu Amecha - For We Are Your People". In 1956, after a full night of Simchat Torah celebration, just before dawn, the Rebbe taught this thoughtful and optimistic melody, set to these words. In truth, this is a love song.  And we will understand why it is so important that we say this prayer before we recite the communal confession.

Outer Obnoxiousness, Inner Peace (p.73)
We are about to recite the Al Chet, theconfessional prayer.We'll look deeply at the meaning of this prayer. First, we'll see how a Harvard professor and a Chasid master have some interesting ideas about the prayer, and we'll look at both as we explore the reasons for tapping our fists against our chest as we enumerate each of our sins. Then we'll look at another striking and profound aspect of the text: Many of the sins listed are ascribed to specific parts of the body. Why?  And how is the linked to a famous comic strip?

The Morning Service

The Computer and the Mailman (p.159)
We say in this prayer, "Pardon us, our father, for we have sinned." This is a deeper statement than we may realize. Admitting we have done wrong is not only an acknowledgment of failure-it also contains the recognition that we know what is right.  We'll see how the comparison between a computer and a mailman teaches us what G-d expects of us on this day. The answer gets to soul of this prayer.

Beat Your Chest with a Sledgehammer! (p.179)
Reb Mendel Futerfas, a wise Chassid, once said to a man reciting the list of his sins on Yom Kippur "If you are really regretful for your actions, then you should pound your breast with a sledgehammer!"  Reb Mendel's point wasn't meant to be taken literally-instead, he was making a subtle and profound point that we will explore.

Excessive Interest?! I Don't Charge Interest!  (p.182)
"For the sin we have committed before You by charging excessive interest." Who does that? Are we all loan sharks? Anyone here personally responsible for raising my credit card rate? Stand up! But seriously, why do we all have to say these words? It turns out that very often in life we expect "interest" on our deeds. We will look at this more deeply, and hear a touching story that will teach us nothing less than the true meaning of kindness.

Don't Keep Grievances on Life Support (p. 187)
A man once heard his Rabbi say that on Yom Kippur we do not achieve forgiveness from G-d unless we forgive others. The man, unwilling to let go of his grievances, came up with a devilish loophole around the Rabbi's advice. We will explore how in this prayer, we cite a verse from Isaiah about dark clouds that tells us not only that we should grant forgiveness to others, but we should do so thoroughly and permanently.

The Musaf Service

Prayer of the Broken Heart (p.213)
This personal and moving plea,Hineni, recited by the Chazan, requests that G-d accept the Chazan's prayers on the congregation's behalf, however unworthy he may be. Indeed, true prayer always acknowledges our spiritual poverty. This requirement for true prayer is illustrated in a charming story that teaches us what is necessary to lead a congregation in song before G-d.

"Because of our sins we were exiled" (p.243)
In this prayer we say, "Because of our sins we were exiled." This brings up the question; how much of our pain is self-inflicted?  A wise Rabbi answered this question by responding to two newcomers who asked what their new community was like. We'll see how his contradictory answers teach us about how to act in the world towards our fellow man. And we'll see how the Midrash teaches the same lesson with a parable about trees and the invention of the axe.

A stirring Introduction to the Avodah (p.246) 
After a Jewish writer won the Nobel Prize, he was asked why he wrote in Yiddish, which, after all, is a dying language. His clever response will set us on a journey back through time, to Yom Kippurs long ago, when the holiest elements of the Jewish world combined at the Temple during one awesome hour.

We'll continue on to look at what happened when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. The closeness to G-d that was attained on Yom Kippur at the Temple, and characterized by the Avodah, was gone. This was a devastating loss. How could the people of Israel experience a continued relationship with G-d? How does a nation defined in terms of a faith centered on the Holy Temple and physical sacrifices live on after the loss of its most fundamental institution and rituals?

We will explore the answer, which emerges from a famous statement by one of the greatest sages of the Talmud. We'll see how this sage inspired a depressed nation and how on this day, it is as if each of us stands in the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem, in a room physically gone for two thousand years.

Climbing the Ladder of G-d (p. 249)
In the prayer, V'hakohanim, we say, "And the priests, and all the people standing in the courtyard…would hear the glorious and awesome Name of G-d…. and say: 'Blessed is the glorious Name and majesty of G-d, for all eternity!'"

The meaning behind the letters in the Name of G-d is deep and powerful. We will explore it and see how it represents all levels of our existence as humans: physical, emotional, intellectual, and of the soul. Then we'll lighten up a bit and end with a humorous story about two humble creatures and what they teach us about using G-d's name to bring us to a higher level of spiritual commitment.

A Sacrificial Act: Flying to the Moon on Yom Kippur (p.251)
On Yom Kippur we are asked to "slay" the yetzer h'ara, the evil inclination, by breaking sinful habits. If we do so, it is as if we have offered a sacrifice on the Temple altar. But changing bad habits is no easy task. We will explore this by looking at an analogy-flying to the moon. We'll see where the most energy is expended on this journey, and how this connects to our efforts to begin to break our bad habits on this holy day.

The Afternoon Mincah Service

 When Sin Hides Behind a Supposed Mitzvah. (p. 334)
In this prayer we state: "For the sins we have done because of the yetzer h'ara."  This is strange-aren't all sins done because of the yetzer hara? A sage and a New York Times article give us an excellent answer, and we are reminded that on this day we need to look deep, to recognize our true motivations for our actions.

The Neilah Service

A brief introduction
The Neilah service is a powerful moment in which we can take G-d's hand and allow Him to lead us into the Gates of Heaven, into a sweet new year. But what if we are plagued by doubt? We will see how Elie Wiesel, who suffered during the worst moments of the Jewish people, overcame his skepticism, reconciled with G-d, and entered a new year with his soul restored.

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