The Most Important Part of Yom Kippur
Whenever I train bar mitzvah boys, I ask them the same question: What is the most important part of your bar mitzvah? Trying to guess what I want them to say, they all say the same things—reading the Torah, studying etc. Then I tell them what I think the most important part is.
Actually, it is a trick question. The most important part of the bar mitzvah has nothing to do with the bar mitzvah itself. It is what happens after the bar mitzvah. The bar mitzvah is in fact meant to be an initiation in to Jewish adulthood. It is the beginning of learning to be a responsible Jewish adult. It is like a wedding—far more important than the wedding is the marriage that is created over a lifetime that the couple will spend together.
The Jewish community just went through 25 hours of fasting and full day of prayers in the synagogue. On this day, we reflect upon our past year and commit ourselves to doing even better in the coming year.
But we all know that words are cheap. Better to under promise and over deliver than to over promise and under deliver.
We begin Yom Kippur services with a strange prayer about vows. We annul any vows we made in the previous year. Why? What is the significance of this?
Simple. Because if you made all kinds of promises over the last year that you didn’t keep, why in the world would Hashem “believe” that what you are about to commit yourself to for the coming year is true? Broken promises mean that your word is not your bond and that you cannot be trusted.
So we begin Yom Kippur by annulling vows from the past year. We are telling Hashem that even though we may not have kept our word last year, we are serious now and want to start again with a clean slate. We want our words to have power once again.
Like a bar mitzvah and a wedding, the most important part of Yom Kippur is what happens after Yom Kippur. Will we keep our commitments? Will our words that we expressed in the synagogue over the holiday be our bond? Will we walk the walk and not just talk the talk?
The answer remains to be seen. So when someone asks you how your Yom Kippur was, the right answer is: “I don’t know yet. Ask me in a few months and I will let you know.”