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Reflection on Avodah Service

10/05/2022 09:26:44 AM


Guest Rabbi Rebecca Joseph

Reflection on Avodah Service Yom Kippur 5783

The Yiddish playwright and ethnographer Saul Ansky (1863-1920) traveled the rural areas of Eastern Europe, recording Jewish culture and life. The Soviet government withheld his ethnographic material for decades. Only in the late 1990s were some of his findings finally made available to scholars and the public. I first encountered them a few years later.1
Ansky’s famous play The Dybbuk, first performed in 1920, was based partly on his research. The d’var Torah given by the Chasidic master at the beginning of the play was one he recorded during his fieldwork.

This teaching, which I share with you now as our alternative to re-enacting the Avodah service, helps us to understand better why it remains so prominent in our Yom Kippur observance today and more deeply absorb its meaning:

The world of God is great and holy.
Of all the lands of the world, the land Israel was set aside to be holy for us; and in the land of Israel, the holiest city is Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, the holiest place was the Holy Temple.
And the holiest site in the Temple was the Holy of Holies…

Our tradition is that in the world there a seventy nations, and, of them, Israel was set aside to be holy unto God.
The holiest of the people Israel is the tribe of the Levites. The holiest of the Levites are the priests;
And among the priests, the holiest was the High Priest.

The lunar year has 354 days.
Some days are set aside as holy days. Holier than the festivals are the Shabbatot;
And the holiest of the Shabbatot is the Day of Atonement – the Shabbat of Shabbatot.

There are seventy languages in the world, and of them, Hebrew was chosen as our holy tongue.
The holiest of all things written in the Hebrew language is the Holy Torah. In the Torah, the holiest part is the Ten Commandments.
And the holiest of all the words in the Ten Commandments is the name of God.

At a certain hour, on a certain day of the year, all these four holinesses met together.
of Holies and there revealed the Divine name.
And if he invoked God’s name in purity, all Israel was forgiven.

Wherever a person stands to lift up eyes to heaven, that place is a Holy of Holies. Every human being created by God in God’s own image is a High Priest.
Each day of a person’s life is the Day of Atonement…

Each one of us can face God with the language of the heart. Each one of us can be forgiven.
Each one of us can achieve atonement and be made pure in the eyes of God.2

Holiness is not remote from us. It is right here, right now, in and around us. And if we make it so, this same holiness is accessible every day of our lives.

The great medieval Hispano-Hebrew poet Moshe Ibn Ezra (c. 1060- c. 1139) wrote: Devarim ha-yotzim min halev nichnasim el halev – Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.

Keyn yehi ratzon – May it be so. Today, on Yom Kippur, and every day for the rest of our lives.

1 Ansky’s The Enemy at His Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I, published in English translation in 2002, reports firsthand on the Jews caught between the warring armies of Russia, Germany, and the Austrian Empire and his efforts to organize desperately needed relief from 1914- 1918. It provides critical context for understanding the circumstances of Jews in Ukraine historically and today.

2 Machzor Lev Shalem, pp. 325-326

Thu, June 1 2023 12 Sivan 5783