Before You Talk To God On Yom Kippur, Please Read This!

Rabbi Paul Plotkin
6 min readSep 24, 2020

My Synagogue streamed services for Rosh Hashana. I was not interested. Knowing me I would have been distracted looking at my computer, the very definition by the way of “muktzah”, where I might inadvertently touch the keyboard, change the volume, or mute the Rabbi’s sermon. Moreover, I would be at the mercy of the cadence and the editing of the service by the people in charge. This is not to denigrate the service for others but thank God I know how to daven and do not need help running my own service. Moreover, this service came with a bonus. There was nothing and no one to distract me.

I brought a comfortable chair into the living room, opened a bottle of water, drew the curtain to the large window showcasing my backyard and sat back and soaked in the view. It was a gorgeous day, so the sun illuminated the green of the avocado tree, the blueness of the pool water, and the middle eastern look of the eureka palms that obstructed the street and the traffic. I could easily have been on a sound stage where all the visuals and sounds had been planned for solemnity and the grandeur of God’s creation, which in fact was what we were celebrating that day.

I took it all in with a deep breath, shut my eyes and began to chant a niggun, a wordless tune that just arrived in my mind or maybe more accurately, was released by my soul to influence my physical consciousness.

But for me and my singing, there was silence. There was no awareness of the clock, no end time, no concern for the needs of others, and with no sermon to deliver, no nervousness. I was free to interact with the prayers, their messages of hope and self-evaluation and of course the presence of God in all its simplicity. There were no questions of theodicy, theology, and the classic,” where are you and how can You let all this happen to us?” Those questions were for the weekdays, the secular days, not this day, not this birthday of the world day. This is the day that God is the deity I first connected with as a child. It was “my buddy” God who was nearby, who could calm me down when I was nervous, who I could appeal to, to help me out before a final exam, or who could help the Toronto Maple Leafs win during the Stanley cup finals.

On this day, I do not need nor want the God of doubts, of sophistication, of frustration, of silence and apathy or detachment. On this day I want the God who was like my mom when I was a child. Who I could run to when afraid, who could hug me and take me into her bosom and tell me it would all be ok, that it would all work out if I only worked hard and believed in myself. Her authority came not from within her, but from what I projected onto her and that more times than not was all I needed to achieve whatever it was that I yearned for.

I then opened my machzor and began to read.

Those who know me well, know I daven very fast. Part of it is the familiarity that comes from the repetitive nature of Jewish prayer. Some of it comes from being caffeinated just before services, though not so much on shabbat when the coffee is instant and horrible. I read at a speed that rarely allows the Hebrew words to enter my brain. Instead the hum and the speed chanting, is my version of chanting a mantra. It serves the purpose of clearing out the static and junk in my brain and clearing a lane for whatever is out there that wants to enter, to come on in. It is one of the ways that I learn what I am concerned with or what I should be aware of, or perhaps something that needs to be repaired. That is how I usually pray but not on this day.

I slow down, and at the lower speed I realize that my Hebrew comprehension is dramatically improved. Now the words are calling out to me and I am not only listening I am hearing, thinking and reflecting, and so it was that early on I paid attention to a devotional Rabbinic text, from the Mishna ( Sanhedrin4:5) The translation is from Mahzor Lev Shalem.

The Bible relates that God created Adam, a single human being, as the ancestor of all humanity. This teaches us that to destroy a single life is to destroy a whole world, even as to save a single life is to save a whole world. That all people have a common ancestor should make for peace, since no one can say to anyone else: “My ancestor was greater that your ancestor.” ….. That humanity began with a single human being proclaims forever the greatness of the Holy One. For humans stamp many coins with one die and they all look alike, but the Holy One stamped every human being with the die of Adam, yet no person is like any other. Therefore, every human must declare, “It is for my sake that the world was created.”

Suddenly a teaching of some 2000 years ago seemed as relevant as that day’s newspaper. Black lives matter, and red lives matter, and yellow lives matter, and white lives matter, and blue lives matter, and Jewish lives matter, and Christian lives matter, and Moslem lives matter, and Hindu and Buddhist lives matter, and atheist lives matter, and heterosexual lives and LGBTQ lives matter. We were all punched out of the die of Adam and though we all look different, pray differently, love differently, no one has a right to consider themselves inherently superior.

How can someone hold themselves out to be a religious monotheist and superior to another human being? If we see a stranger and all we see is the “other” we have a short circuit that has crippled us. Like malware that comes in uninvited and destroys our operating system; to forget that we all are from the same source and treat others as inferior, is to short circuit our very essence. Our Operating System is corrupted, and that is where we are today in our country and in most of the world.

Hasn’t Covid taught us all this lesson? It does not differentiate who it infects based on color and certainly not creed. It may kill more of one population then another but that has to do with the preexisting health of some populations which is another issue to address, but for now Covid shows us we are all from Adam. How is it that Covid knows and we deny?

Our Declaration of Independence reminds us, “that all men are created equal” and while it has taken a long time to understand “all men” meant black and white, male and female ( thank you RBG Z”L)straight and gay, there are still too many of us who have not yet gotten it.

On Rosh Hashana the Book of Life is opened and some names are inscribed. For most of us the next 8 days are about getting onto that list. Our big day in court comes on Yom Kippur. By Neila time we had better have made it because before the shofar is blown and the break fast begins, we are either in or out. Now is the time to be making the corrections to how we have handled other people. To them we have to offer repair and seek forgiveness. Then commencing Sunday night we need to start listening to the words, because atonement on that day is between you and God. Be inspired to not only talk the talk but start to truly walk the walk. My buddy God can read hearts. Be sincere, work hard to change, believe in yourself and it will all work out.

Have a deep day and an easy fast and be inscribed for good.

Gemar Chatima Tova.



Rabbi Paul Plotkin

I am a retired Conservative Rabbi. I was a pulpit Rabbi for 40 years. I supervise a chain of kosher Delis called Ben's .