At sundown on Tuesday, Jewish believers around the world will be gathering at synagogues to mark Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.
The holiday dates all the way back to the book of Exodus, after the Jewish people sinned by creating the idol of the golden calf. The Bible tells how Moses climbed Mount Sinai to beg God's forgiveness for the wandering Israelites.
“God gave the people a day of forgiveness, and that day was Yom Kippur,” said Rabbi Zalman Charytan of Chabad Jewish Center of Kennesaw, an outreach center that primarily caters to students at Kennesaw State University. “That was the actual day that God forgave them for the sin.”
Each year since then, Jews mark the occasion by spending the day fasting and atoning for their transgressions over the last year. Yom Kippur comes at the end of the high holy days, the 10-day period beginning with Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish new year.
“What's so beautiful about Yom Kippur is, while it's important year-round to be on good terms with people and to do what's right, not to wrong your fellow person and not to do things that are wrong in the eyes of God, Yom Kippur gives us a day of the year to think about it,” Charytan said. “It gives us a day of the year to act on it.”
That means atoning not only for sins against God, but for sins against other people. Yom Kippur involves seeking out people you have wronged over the last year, asking for forgiveness and working to do better in the new year. Charytan said that is beneficial both for the person asking for forgiveness and the one who grants it.
“When a person lives their life with resentment and grudges and doesn't let go of them, that's not a healthy thing. Yom Kippur gives us that ability to be a truly good person ... A lot of times people, when it comes to their emotions, when it comes to the way they deal with other people, their resentment, their grudges, their being upset, they hang onto that for so long. Some people hang onto that their entire lifetime. That's not living a happy life. To live a happy life, you have to move on, you have to be able to forgive.”
Cobb rabbis like Charytan have been busy preparing sermons for the high holy days, which will end Wednesday night with the blowing of a shofar, a traditional instrument made from a ram's horn.
“One of the main things that people are looking for around the high holiday times, Jewish people, they're looking to be inspired, they're looking for a message, they're looking for something that can help them start the year fresh, start with a new clean slate,” Charytan said. “To that end, we create a lot of inspirational material, which is given over during the service.”
Chabad of Kennesaw will host services throughout Yom Kippur, and will end the holiday Wednesday at sundown by breaking the fast with a joyful, celebratory meal.
For Charytan, who spends his days practicing traditions that are thousands of years old while ministering to people who are just beginning their lives as adults, Yom Kippur is all about looking back at the past to create a better tomorrow.
“The past is so much a part of our future,” he said. “The past is meant to inspire our future. We build on the past to build a better future. While we're celebrating a holiday, we always look back at our past, at our roots, at the people who came before us, the people who gave us life. That inspires us to move forward and create a better future.”