The importance of rituals and religious rites in our lives
This week we find ourselves reading a section of the Torah that deals with a holiday that takes place at a completely different time of the year. Not unlike when we read the stories of the Exodus in January and February, we find ourselves this week reading about Yom Kippur. In Parshat Achrei Mot we read about the actual service that took place in the tabernacle and later in the Great Temple in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur. As you read about the pageantry of the ceremony, with the public drawing of lots to pick the scapegoat, and the detail of the sacrifices that are brought on this holy day, it is easy to get drawn into the ritual. One can almost imagine oneself there, participating in the yearly rite.
I find that this sense of hands-on involvement in Jewish life is often lacking in our current model of worship service that involves mostly liturgy and prayer. Where is the excitement of witnessing the High Priest dressed in his regal uniform sending off the scapegoat into the wilderness? Where is the anticipation of watching the priests confer the sins of the Israelites on the other goat and preparing that goat to be slaughtered and offered on the altar? How do we mimic the graphic scene of blood being splattered on the altar? How do we create the expectant moments of fear as the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies for the one and only time of year to pray for forgiveness for all our sins?
The answer is that we cannot. But it shows how powerful actual rituals and rites were in the lives of our ancestors and can be in our lives. Reading about the service both on the Shabbat of the yearly Torah reading cycle, and on Yom Kippur itself, allows us a chance to relive the moment, even if it falls short of its previous grandeur.
People tend to connect with the things they can see and feel and touch. Perhaps we need to create more ways for people to interact ritually within worship services. Though I am not advocating bringing back animal sacrifice, there are ways we can bring a sense of greater participation in our traditions.
Let’s work together to find ways to make Judaism and more meaningful in our lives.
Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel has been Midbar Kodesh Temple's spiritual leader since August
2008. Rabbi Tecktiel was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in May of 1996. He holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees, one from List College and one from Columbia University. He also holds a Masters of Arts from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
You can follow him on Twitter @RabbiMKT