The month of Elul grows in intensity, and the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are particularly focussed on teshuvah.
The Talmud teaches that there is no day of greater joy other than Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av. It seems on face value that most people do not associate Yom Kippur with joy. Other words such as serious, submissive, penetitial, and humility come to mind. However, inherent in Yom Kippur is the “sealing” or confirmation of the acceptance of our tefillah. That too sounds unusual. Are we not being arrogant and haughty by assuming that our prayers have been answered?
There are some things that are within our control, and some things that are beyond our control. Our actions are judged not by the situation we find ourselves in, but on how we react to the situations we find ourselves in. The secret to joy and happiness is understanding what matters are within and what matters are beyond our control. It is about maximising everything that we can control, and accepting that which we can’t. For example, we can control our work ethic. We have no control over our mortality, even though we can make decisions to secure or safety and environment.
Happiness and joy is a state of being. True happiness is generated by satisfaction and acheivement. Our world is full of alternative definitions and false illusions of happiness, most of which are materialistic. When we have the ability to set aside our consumption based desires (fulfuillment of self desire, or being satisfied by pursuing “what’s in it for me”), and transplant this with our ability to give (what am I contributing and how much of a difference am I making?) then the process of being truely happy starts to become clear.
Not everybody appreciates the various definitions of happiness, let alone the ways of attaining a happy disposition. The very concept of a “happiness index” seems crass. How can an emotion become a measurable? Yet such an index exists, and Australia comes in at 102nd place out of 143 countries. Apparently, we are not that happy! As a matter of interest, the Happy Planet Index from the New Economics Foundation (NEF). The Happy Planet Index has existed since 1996, and is intended to challenge the more traditional indices of a country’s success, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
This Yom Kippur we should focus our attention on being happy, joyful and content. It means appreciating what we have, instead of yearning for what we don’t have. It means being grateful for our opportunities instead of being resentful of the opportunities of others. It means being at peace with ourselves and satisfied with our productive contribution to others. It means being understanding of, and motivated towards, reaching our potential for acheivement.
Yom Kippur is also a time of happiness, because it teaches us about spiritual purity, and allows us to achieve spiritual purity. However, the right type of focus and ethical base must be in place if we are to strive to such a level. Consider for example the Seder Avodah (order of the Temple Service) that features in our Yom Kippur liturgy. Rabbi Ken Spiro from Aish Hatorah in his crash course of Jewish history (part 25) writes:
According to the Talmud, during the First Temple period of about 410 years, there were only 18 High Priests. During the Second Temple period of 420 years, there were more than 300 High Priests! We know (from the Talmud, Yoma 9a) that Yochanan was High Priest for 80 years, Shimon was High Priest for 40 years, and Yishmael ben Pabi was High Priest for 10 years. That means in the remaining 290 years there were at least 300 priests — one every year or so. What accounts for that?
The Talmud tells us that the Holy of Holies was forbidden ground, except for Yom Kippur. On that one day only, the High Priests entered to perform special rites before God. But if he himself was not spiritually pure and unable to focus, he would not be able to stand the intense encounter with God and would die on the spot. We know that during the Second Temple Period a rope had to be tied to the High Priest, so that in case he died, he could be pulled out of the Holy of Holies.
Because the whole High Priesthood was a corrupted institution for most of the Second Temple period, the High Priests died or were replaced every year. And yet people clamored for the job, which went to the highest bidder. So the question has to be asked: If he was going to die on Yom Kippur, who would want the position? One possible answer is that many of the candidates strongly believed that their incorrect Temple service was actually the correct way to do it. That is how bad things got.
An approach to Teshuva must be true and hearfelt. It must conform to a Jewish way of being, and not be a creation of our own heart and its selfish desires, that, as the Shema notes, will lead us astray.
To all our JewglePerth readers who will enter Shule this Yom Kippur, I wish you the gift of joy, simcha and true happiness as a reward of your Teshuva. May we all unite to advance the cause of Klal Yisrael into the year ahead of us.