Time - Part 1: Sermon for Erev Yom Kippur 5774 by Rabbi Joe Blair

Time – Part 1

Erev Yom Kippur 5774

Rabbi Joe Blair

Shabbat shalom and Shanah Tovah.

Tonight is the start of our Yom Kippur holiday together.

The overarching theme I want to follow this year for the holiday is “time.” I want to think of and explore the three segments of prayer this Yom Kippur, the structure of the evening, morning, and afternoon, in terms of the concepts of Heart, Head, and Soul. Of necessity, my remarks will be spread across the entire holiday; if you are not here for part of them, you are welcome to turn to the website and read what I am saying on the Rabbi’s Blog page – I will post it there after the holiday is done.


Last Sunday I led the annual Yizkor service prior to Yom Kippur in the cemetery. In the Yizkor service, one of the key (to me, at any rate) readings included struck my eye and caused me to pause. The specific reading I mean in that service is taken from Kohelet (in English called Ecclesiastes), chapter 3. You all know it; it is only eight verses, but it is justly famous.

1. To everything there is a season,

and a time to every purpose under the heavens.

2. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant,

and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down,

and a time to build up;

4. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn,

and a time to dance;

5. A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6. A time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7. A time to rend, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8. A time to love, and a time to hate;

a time of war, and a time of peace.

I want to look at this holiday in light of this piece of poetic liturgy.

I believe that it describes our presence here tonight. We are here as an expression in particular of that first verse, that there a season and a time for everything. Just as birds know when to migrate for the seasons, plants know when to push forth new growth and flower, and animals know when to seek out shelter, we humans, and perhaps in particularl we Jews, are endowed with an innate sense of when it is time for us to gather in groups and renew our connection and ties. We are called, or perhaps more accurately, we are pulled by invisible strings that tug at us to come together at this time of year. We can ignore it, we can fight it, we can be annoyed by it, but still, we feel it. It is less conscious, more primitive and visceral than most urges, far below the level of awareness or thought. And in most cases, as you can see by looking around you, we respond.

So I think that we can legitimately say that the focus tonight is on the call of the heart. I think of this evening as a time of Heart because we come out of a deep longing, more a need, to be together, to join with others here and around the world, to be part of the entirety of the Jewish people - Am Yisra’el, B’nai Ya’akov (this, at least, if not also of the larger world). We long and yearn to be part of and connected to the whole, and to share with our family, friends, community, and others the sense of belonging.

At this moment, on this Shabbat and Yom Kippur, I call your attention again to the first verse from Kohelet. We have cycled once again through the calendar, the year has passed, and we arrive here tonight, at this season, at this time, at this moment. To what end? To what purpose? And more – who has chosen this end, and whose is the purpose?

We know why we are here: we have come together tonight as a community. I ask you to remember that the liturgy leading up to Kol Nidrei has told us that we must join, ALL of us, sinners and saints, imperfect as we are, and TOGETHER seek atonement, for all the sins, transgressions, failings, shortcomings, and mistakes we made – AS A COMMUNITY. We do not ask forgiveness as individuals, or only for those sins we personally committed. We come to be a community, and AS ONE to ask forgiveness for all of us.

This is the power of this evening. It is a moment of transition, of movement from one state to another. We each enter as an individual, but we soon merge, and become part of the whole, and together we seek release from our unfulfilled vows and ask forgiveness. We rise beyond and above our self, and become a member of the community, adding our voice, our prayer, our desire, and our Teshuvah to the common pool, and thereby strengthen it, and are in turn empowered as part of that community to seek forgiveness and release.

We come here seeking Teshuvah, and ideally we leave here, having experienced and been part of manifesting a miracle. From a disparate group of individuals, each focused on their own issues, problems, and pains, we can participate in a godly act of creation – the making of a community that can together reach for Teshuvah for each one of us, and heal our shattered hearts.

That is why we are drawn here, why we come, and why it matters. As Kohelet teaches, the season is upon us, the time is now, and our purpose is clear before us. May we each one and all together find our way to that healing tonight, and may the healing of our hearts help us as we move forward into this holiday tomorrow, and continue to support us in the year ahead.

G’mar Chatimah tovah umetukah tichateimu. May you be sealed for a good and sweet year.