Friday, October 10, 2008

And on Yom Kippur it is sealed

The liturgy for Yom Kippur is very repetitive in structure: major prayers such as the High Holy Days Amidah (six times longer than the usual version), the Vidui (breast-beating litany of sins, in an alphabetic acrostic), Ki Anu Amecha (about the mutuality of the relationship between God and man), and Avinu Malkeinu (much-beloved prayer, "Our Father and Our King") are repeated over and over again through the day. Another thing that gets repeated is the covenant between God and Abraham, articulated in the book of Exodus as Moses and the Israelites stand at Sinai. It is a list of thirteen attributes of God, which begins "Adonai, Adonai, el rachum v'chanun" (The Lord, The Lord, God compassionate and merciful). It is one of the centerpieces of the Yom Kippur liturgy of repentance, because just after delivering it, God says to Moses, "Tell Israel that whenever they mention these attributes, I will pardon them."

Our morning services for Yom Kippur took about four and a half hours, after which we took a break before the afternoon services and havdalah. When we left the house, parched and hungry, to return to services in the late afternoon (Yom Kippur is traditionally observed with a 25-hour no-water fast), we emerged into a fine and luminous misting rain, common in our neighborhood this time of year. With the sun at our backs, it produced a spectacular double rainbow that lit up the entire valley.

Rainbows aren't as rare here as they are in some other places, but they are still remarkable. There is a special Jewish prayer to be said upon seeing the rainbow, which blesses God for remembering his covenant with his people. Usually this is understood to refer to the Noahide covenant, between God and all the people of the world (not just Jews), made after the Flood. But having spent all day chanting the covenant of Sinai, it was hard not to feel that we were not the only ones remembering the covenant; that something of what we said was being heard.

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