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Jewish Lifestyle

Yom Kippur 2020: For Those Davening Alone and at Home

29 deaths since Friday afternoon; as pandemic continues to surge with new single-day high, premier acknowledges government rushed to reopen after first lockdown

By Nachman Davies
September 25, 2020

Many of us will have chosen to daven alone this year because of  a concern to protect human life. Some of us will be deeply saddened by this situation.  But it may be that this turn of events can be  turned  on its head and seen as a positive opportunity to deepen our  contemplative relationship with HaShem.  Providence may actually be  involved here.  It may be that we are being asked to spiritualise our awareness of what community membership really means. I believe  that is so.

In the Jewish liturgy, there is a dynamic fluctuation between communal and private prayer. That fluctuation is  a strong creative  element through which  we are  encouraged to see ourselves both as distinct and valued individuals, and also as essential contributors  to  a community with  a very specific goal and  purpose.  On Yom Kippur,we are  reminded that each of us is alone before G-d, yet we are standing before Him as one united body: Kehal Yisrael.

In the Torah, the relationship between the  Individual and  the  Community is a recurrent feature of discussions  on the  ‘Yom Kippur process’. In Parsha Ahare Mos, for example, we read of the detailed instructions for the liturgy of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, the Day for Atonement.  In its  proximate Parsha, Kedoshim, we read  of the ways in which we are enjoined to “love our neighbour as ourselves” (Vayikra 19:18).  The two are, not surprisingly, very closely related indeed.

The ritual act of Atonement consists in the three steps of (i) praying for oneself; (ii) praying for one’s  near ones; and (iii) praying for the wider community (Vayikra 16:17).  The process of Atonement begins with a prayer for oneself but then moves on to those two further prayers for others.  That first self-focused prayer exists primarily to make our subsequent prayers for the community more acceptable.

Prayer is  sometimes formal and  sometimes freely expressed, sometimes it is an outpouring of a person’s emotions or petitions, sometimes it is an act of listening attentively, and  sometimes it becomes a two way conversion.  But  Prayer is also one of the deepest and most selfless forms of caring for others that we are privileged to exercise as human partners in the Divine Plan.

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