As I walked the streets of Mexico City, I noticed something quite amazing. On countless occasions, as I caught the passing eyes of restaurant waiters of street cafés, taxi drivers waiting for their next fare, or security guards casing the crowded streets, I was offered an enthusiastic, “Buenos Dias!” (or Tardes, or Noches – depending on the time of day). The people of Mexico City seemed primed to offer a blessing to any passerby. It gave me a feeling that no matter what political and/or economic turmoil is at play (and in Mexico there is plenty) the fact remains that each person has the power to uplift and support another. I tested this phenomenon out multiple times. Passing someone from behind, or as they were looking down, I would say, “Buenos dias!” And without fail, like a spring release catapult, a gregarious reply of “Buenos!” came flying back at me. I think it is a challenge to always be primed to offer goodness to another, especially when we are feeling lonely or disconnected. Mexican people have tons of problems, yet they are able to snap out of their own limited stories to create an uplifting connection with another soul. I felt that there was a sense of family pulsing through the city like I have never experienced.
On Yom Kippur we are called together to spend a day in prayer and introspection. We take a break from eating, wear white, and wear similar footwear. Even between different Jewish groups (Sefardi and Ashkenazi, for example) where specific liturgy might vary, we commit to the same flow of prayer service. It is our sacred duty on Yom Kippur to help each other remember how connected the human community is to each other and with the world around us. On Rosh Hashana we crown G-d as king, and on Yom Kippur we crown each other as agents of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).
We are taught that we take on excessive devotional practices so we might resemble angles and be closer to G-d. So what is an angel? One perspective is that angels are messengers that pass energy from the Source of Life to all manifestations of life. This is like the bio-electric charge that bounds neurons to activate our physical body. On Yom Kippur, when we take time to intend towards a more perfect world and inspire each other to do so, we are elevated to the status of angels. It is said that an angel has only one task to accomplish. Is it not true that no matter what dress our life story wears, underneath we are always tasked with the service of making the world around us better in some way?
During our daily morning prayer services (Shabbat and Holiday included), right before the Sh’ma we proclaim that the angels “give permission, one to the other to sanctify their Creator.” How perfect a metaphor for us this Yom Kippur to show up to synagogue, not only to pray for a good and successful year, but to give permission to each other to engage in our life purpose for the new year that has just begun!