Friday, October 7th | 12 Tishri 5783

September 17, 2018 10:07 am

Yom Kippur: Do We Deserve Life?

avatar by Nathan Lopes Cardozo


A Yom Kippur painting circa 1900 by Isidor Kaufmann. Photo: Wikipedia.

Few matters are more difficult to understand than the nature and purpose of Yom Kippur. What is it that this awesome day wants to tell us? What does it want to accomplish? There is basically only one answer: The realization that life is undeserved and therefore, actually, a great embarrassment.

When thinking about our lives, we must realize that we cannot make any claim on life — because we have not done anything to deserve it. It is not a reward for earlier good deeds or for any other previous accomplishment. It is a gift, completely undeserved.

However, we handle our lives as if we are entitled to them. This is not just true of life itself, but also of all our many faculties and talents. We consider it obvious that we can enjoy music, become artists, can read, can get married, and can receive love. When things are not going well, we complain that it is not fair, since we are sure that we have a right to live our lives in an optimal way.

But on what basis?

These great human faculties are not deserved. They are unearned gifts, and all we can do is develop them.

The same is true of Yom Kippur. What did we do to deserve a day where we can find forgiveness for our many misdeeds? We didn’t do anything — and we don’t deserve it. It makes little sense to be forgiven for deeds, many of which we can no longer repair or nullify. And yet we are. There is a divine absurdity about Yom Kippur, and it is all explained by God’s love.

It is here that our embarrassment should start — after all, what have be done to deserve this? And yet most of us do not feel any of this pain. Instead, we are disturbed, upset, and even annoyed when the slightest disturbance in our lives takes place.

There is only one remedy to this: To realize that we are just the administrators of our lives and not its owners. And administration is a difficult and complex art. And if life is a gift, then we should at least put that gift to more than just good use.

After all: Gifts obligate. They are given for a purpose. They somehow deprive us of our so called liberty and the belief that we can do whatever we want. The more we receive, the more we become obligated to the One who gives. Therefore, there is a need to listen to the ultimate Giver and live by His directions.

Many of us wait too long to recognize the dangers involved in the gift of life. Sometimes our indifference to the gifts that we are given leads us to be cut off from the value of life. “A man whose leg has been cut off does not value the present of shoes” a great Chinese philosopher once said.

This is the call of the hour on Yom Kippur. A full day is given to us to realize a simple matter that is so difficult to admit: Life is only great as long as it is lived in the realization that it is undeserved, yet can be earned through a dignified response.

Or as Micha said: Who does not tremble at the roaring of the Lion in the forest?

May we all merit hearing the roar.

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