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Yom Kippur Morning: It’s a Two-Way Street

Isaiah 57:14-58:14: Although most read this selection as rebuke and a criticism of repentance without inner conviction, Rabbeinu Yonah, (Berachot, Rif 19b, “v’hatoim”) reads this selection

as a response to God’s demand that we return to Him.

“Why did You not see when we fasted? You ignore us when we afflicted ourselves!” The prophet is advocating for his people: How can You expect us to return to You, to change our ways, to live according to Your rules, when You are not present in our lives? Where is Your justice? Where is Your Presence? We do not feel that you pay attention to us. It is too difficult to reach out to You when we feel that You are hiding.

The prophet is crying for us on Yom Kippur. He acknowledges that we fall short of God’s expectations. He admits that we do not live as we should. But he turns the table, challenges God, and says, “How can you expect so much from us when You and Your justice are so hidden?” The Haftarah is the argument that Teshuva, return, must be a two-way street; we must return to God, but God must also reach out to us.

We challenge God to be more present in this world so that we can attach to Him.

“I live in exaltedness and holiness, but I am with the contrite and lowly of spirit.” Show us, please. Allow us to see and experience Your presence. Then, we will return to you.

Isaiah voices God’s response; “divide your bread with the hungry, clothe the naked…stop the finger-pointing and evil speech from your midst.” God does not respond by demanding that we first return to Him. God asks that we simply live with kindness and compassion. He will respond in kind. We will experience God’s Presence and Justice. We will have clarity. Our return will be complete.

Copyright © Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg

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