By Rabbi Alan Garber, Emeritus Rabbi, Shenley United Jewish Community

We intuitively know that we have a soul – the part of us that contains our conscience, our drive to do the right thing and to connect to the Creator of the World. Throughout the year we either bring merit to the soul or damage it through our thoughts, speech and actions. The 613 mitzvot of the Torah are there to help each of us heighten our awareness of our soul and to strive to perfect it.

The period of time leading up to and during the Ten Days of Repentance is our opportunity to service and “MOT” our souls. It is a time for introspection and to review the year, especially our interactions with G-d and with our fellow human beings. It is a time to repair what needs repairing. This Shabbat (before Yom Kippur) is called Shabbat Shuva – ‘the Shabbat of return’. The goal is to return to our true essence and identity of being an elevated soul.

On Yom Kippur itself, the Torah gives us special instructions to help us focus on the soul. The Torah states: “In the seventh month, on the 10th of the month, you shall afflict your soul” (Vayikra 16:29). These “afflictions” are ways for us to minimize the body’s control over our lives. On Yom Kippur we are prohibited from eating and drinking, wearing leather shoes, marital relations, anointing the skin, and washing for pleasure.

By negating the body, we give preeminence to the soul. We live in a constant battle – between the yetzer tov (the desire to do the right thing) and the yetzer ha’ra (the desire to follow our negative impulses). Yom Kippur is described in the Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) as one of the happiest days of the year – it is a day when we let our true essence shine. If, in the past we may have followed lower drives and desires, then this was only out of habit, rather than what our soul really wants. Yom Kippur enables us to focus on our true selves and our ability to be at one with ourselves, our community and with G-d.

May we all merit to return to and be aware of our true essence this Yom Kippur. May that inspiration carry us throughout the year ahead to be a year of good health, happiness and peace!

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