Saturday, September 14, 2013


along the wilderness trail

Today is "Yom Kippur," the Day of Atonement- the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar.  On this day the Jewish faithful gather in temples and in synagogues throughout the world to repent of the sins they have committed throughout the past year, hoping that in doing so, God will judge them favorably.

A few years ago I had a long conversation with a rabbi friend of mine about this Day of Atonement. I told him how uncomfortable I was with this image of sinners seeking reprieve from a bullying, judgmental God. He told me that this wasn't at all how he understood it, saying, "Yom Kippur is a day for a yearly course correction on the spiritual journey." 

When I heard the rabbi's explanation, I thought, "Well, in that case, we might all benefit from a yearly Day of Atonement."  Christians, Buddhists, anyone on any sort of a spiritual path needs to make course corrections from time to time.

In the Hebrew tradition, there are 2 commandments that fundamentally serve as the map for the journey:  

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

As I see it, at the core, this is also a map for anyone on any journey toward a meaningful and happy life. 

Jesus likewise teaches the "law of love, "instructing his disciples to follow a path in which you lay down your life for the welfare of others. He teaches his disciples to trust in the all abiding Holy Presence as you walk hand in hand with your fellow human beings, embracing everyone with compassion and respect - extending your "self" outward rather than pulling inward. 

The Buddha points to a similar path toward enlightenment when he directs his disciples to abandon the false illusion of a separated self (ego), and to be mindful of the reality that all "being" is interdependent and interconnected. So, he teaches, we must show respect for all beings and practice compassion.

Islam likewise directs faithful Muslims to honor Allah and be compassionate toward others. 

In fact, every one of the many spiritual traditions is essentially guided by the fundamental principle of the "law of love" - extending one's life on behalf of others as opposed to using everything and everyone to maintain and preserve a bloated ego. 

"Atonement" means  "At-one-ment." 

Human beings find happiness and lead a meaningful life when they are "at one with" the flow of the universe. Human beings find deep peace and lead meaningful lives when the course of life is connected and interdependent rather than withdrawn, selfish and isolated. This is a universal truth.

There is a Hebrew word that is invoked and spoken on this day of Yom Kippur:


My rabbi friend taught me that the Day of Atonement is a day to practice "Teshuvah" - to look at the course of one's life over the past year, and see what direction it has taken. It is a day to ask, "Am I on a path of love and compassion or has my life turned in a direction of self-centered isolation? 

And then when you ask that question, and when you see the places where you have been going the wrong way, you "turn" and vow to walk again on the path of love.

Today I am celebrating a "Day of Atonement."

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