Next Shabbos, it is Yom Kippur.
It feels intimate.
Whereas Rosh Hashanah is the birthday (technically, the conception) of the entire world, Yom Kippur is that special moment in time between the Creator and His people — us, the Congregation of Israel.
We are the people that has been called by name. Isaiah says (36:1): “But now says Hashem that has created thee . . . O Israel, fear not; for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.”
The primary Torah readings for Yom Kippur are from the book of Vayikra, the book of Leviticus. The first word of the book is just that, Vayikra, literally, “And G-d called” [to Moses]. In Isaiah, we as a people are called by G-d on a macro level, as a people; at the beginning of Leviticus, G-d calls Moses personally to come forth in order to be instructed in the laws of the sacrifices.
There is an intimacy, an affection, to this word, to this calling.
The commentators explain that vayikra is the language of the ministering angels. To this day, it is the pinnacle of the verbal repetition of Silent Prayer when we repeat the angels calling out to one another in public prayer, declaring G-d’s sanctity,
“And one called to another and said, Holy, holy, Holy is the L-rd of hosts . . . ” (Isaiah 6:3).
The angels do not communicate with one another, they do not speak; rather, they call to each other, in order to be with each other. Kulam ke-echad onim: in unison they express their closeness to and praise of G-d.
Maharal explains that the word vayikra indicates a closer degree of affection than other forms of address. When vayikra is used, it means not simply calling someone, but calling someone by name, as in the opening of the book of Vayikra where G-d specifically calls for Moses, by name. In other words, vayikra is an intimate invitation, a seeking of someone in order to be with him, to be in in his presence.
This is Yom Kippur, a “vayikra.” It is G-d calling us by name. It is His way of seeking us out, of wanting to be especially close to us on that day, on Yom Kippur. It is relationship.
In turn, we as the people of Israel do our own callings on Yom Kippur.
The two leitmotifs of the Yom Kippur prayers are viddui, confession, a five-part prayer that is the core of the day, and the 13 attributes of Divine mercy with which we seal the day. Here, too, is a poignant prayer marking G-d’s compassion, preceded by the word vayikra, “And He called.” Again, this vayikra harkens back to Moses, the transmitter and teacher of the holy and compassionate 13-word formula of G-d’s forgiveness.
Yom Kippur: a day of callings. G-d calls to us. And we call to G-d. And, of course, to each other.
Yom Kippur is a day of reflection on the past and a call for the future.
In Greek mythology, reflection is a dangerous thing. Famously, Narcissus, gazing at this own reflection in a pool, is so in love with his image that its reflection causes his own death by drowning.
But reflection does not need to be fatal or even negative. Reflection is the way of seeing ourselves as we are, seeing ourselves in others and seeing ourselves as we can be.
In Psalms we beseech G-d “to protect us like the pupil (ishon, literally, little person) of the eye.” When we look into someone else’s eye what do we see? A miniature version of ourselves, shrunken into a tiny person, right there in the central aperture of the other person’s eye. When we look, really look into others, that is the reflecting pool of ourselves, the tiny image we see in the iris of the eye.
Where can we find ourselves? In how we see ourselves in others, in the spherical roundness of another’s eye. There, we see ourselves exactly, perfectly, as we are, yet in diminutive form. We can find ourselves in a place where we can see ourselves with the perspective and the context of something larger that we are a part of. A place where we can see ourselves, outside of ourselves, within the Other. A place that is portion of the eye that is essential, indispensable, to actually seeing.
This is the little person inside all of us we are reflecting upon on Yom Kippur. In others, we see it in the form of their pupil — that is why the eyes are called the window to the soul. In ourselves, the little person inside all of us is our invisible yet living ishon.
On Yom Kippur, as G-d is calling us and we are calling to Him, we belong to each other. We call out by name. A 13-part name. And we call to each other.
Ishon ayin in Psalms (also mentioned in Deuteronomy and Proverbs) is loosely translated as “the apple of the eye,” capturing the sense of the preciousness of the sense of sight —and capturing something very dear and cherished. On Yom Kippur, as we call out and reflect upon G-d, and, in turn, as G-d is with us, we are the apple of each other’s eyes.
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