Yom Kippur Theology and Themes

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gavelOnce the attempt has been made to confront and repent for misdeeds, the individual presents his or her "case" before God.  The act of atonement makes the claim that as human beings we are able to change and improve ourselves. Thus we ask for one more year in which to continue this journey of change and improvement. We do not make the case to God that we are deserving of another year or deserving of blessings, rather that although we are undeserving (as our confessional prayers have pointed out), we contain within us the potential for righteousness and need time to actualize this potential.

Throughout the period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the shofar is blown regularly. The shofar and its sounds are complex symbolic images that call all Jews together and remind us of the power of these days. There are many beautiful images that the Rabbis of the Talmud attach to the shofar and its sounds. In its simplest form, the shofar connects us to our ancient history when we functioned in a tribal system but used the shofar to maintain communication and unity. (On Yom Kippur, the shofar is blown only once, one long blast at the very end of the holiday.)

Seen as a continuous thread, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur reflect the annual introspection of the individual Jew and the Jewish community. On Rosh Hashanah God makes decisions and issues decrees regarding each individual. There are then 10 days upon which we can influence that decision, climaxing with Yom Kippur, the day upon which the seals are affixed. Referred to as the "Sabbath of Sabbaths," Yom Kippur holds a crucial place in the Jewish calendar. 

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