Sophie Deborah Bismut
Translation Tony Dickinson
At Yom Kippur the synagogues are full, often to the point of having to move in order to welcome all the faithful. It is possible to see in that the mark of attachment to an identity, but why choose this particular day? This day with no eating or drinking, when seemingly repetitive prayers are linked together and speak of failures, of sins, of repentance. Perhaps it is because, behind its characteristic atmosphere, Yom Kippur conceals a promise of joy and of hope.
In the ten days which separate Rosh Hashanah from Yom Kippur, Jewish tradition offers us a privileged time to consider our lives, our faults equally with our successes. Errors and transgressions are seen as opportunities for improvement if they are accompanied by a teshuva. This word, often translated as “repentance”, means in Hebrew a return or response.
To make teshuva is first of all to make a return towards oneself, towards others, for some people towards God, in order to analyse, to understand, to correct. The past is not erased but our lives are “recovered” (the meaning of the word Kippur) with a new page on which to write better. Jewish tradition affirms in this way the possibility not of perfection but of perfectibility. To make teshuva is to refuse to be shut into a predetermined vision of our existence and affirms the possibility of renewal.
To make teshuva is also to seek an answer to questions about being.: “Ma anahnu, me hayenu? Who are we? What are our lives?” says the morning prayer each day. Echoing the question which God puts to Adam in the Garden of Eden after the mistake: “Ayeka? Where are you?” This question about our own responsibility reechoes in the famous Kol Nidre which opens Yom Kippur, in the psalmody of the prayers, or again in the sound of the shofar which closes Yom Kippur. There, at the end of this 24-hours’ transition, it is possible to feel the deep joy that we can write differently on the future pages of our lives.