This evening marks the beginning of Yom Kippur. Today on his blog, Tikkun, Rabbi Michael Lerner writes for all of us. Isaiah 58 is read on this morning of the holy day. Yom Kippur is about repentance or return, about restoring broken relationships. It is a joyous day, an opportunity to begin again.
Tonight at Occupy Wall Street, a Yom Kippur service, Kol Nidre, will be held. A good time for us to ponder Isaiah’s words in our own context—the widening gap between the poor and the rich, the oppression of dictators and occupying powers, the problems with our health care system in the US……and I’m sure you can think of many more.
Rabbi Lerner writes:
The prophet Isaiah stood outside the ancient Israelite Temple and denounced those fasting on Yom Kippur, who nevertheless were participating in an immoral society. Said Isaiah (in a statement that is now read in synagogues around the world on Yom Kippur morning though its message mostly ignored when it applies to some Jews' participation in some of the most exploitative practices of Western capitalism or in support for the current right-wing government of Israel even as it engages in oppression of Palestinians):
Look! On the very day you fast you keep scrabbling for wealth;
On the very day you fast you keep oppressing all your workers.
Look! You fast in strife and contention.
You strike with a wicked fist.
You are not fasting today in such a way
As to make your voices heard on high.
Is that the kind of fast that I desire?
Is that really a day for people to "press down their egos"?
Am I commanding you to droop your heads like bulrushes
And lie around in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast day,
The kind of day that the God of the Burning Bush would wish?
No! This is the kind of fast that I desire:
Unlock the hand-cuffs put on by wicked power!
Untie the ropes of the yoke! Let the oppressed go free,
And break off every yoke!
Share your bread with the hungry.
Bring the poor, the outcasts, to your house.
When you see them naked, clothe them;
They are your flesh and blood;
Don't hide yourself from them!
Then your light will burst through like the dawn;
Then when you need healing it will spring up quickly;
Then your own righteousness will march ahead to guard you.
And a radiance from YHWH will reach out behind to guard you.
Then, when you cry out, YHWH will answer;
Then, when you call, God will say: "Here I am!"
If you banish the yoke from your midst,
If you rid yourself of scornful finger-pointing
And words of contempt;
If you open up your life-experience to the hungry
And soothe the life that has been trampled underfoot,
Then even in darkness your light will shine out
And your moments of gloom turn bright as noonday.
Then the Breath of Life will always be your guide,
Will soothe your own life in your own times of dryness
And strengthen your bones when they are weary.
Then you shall be like a garden given water,
Like a wellspring whose waters never fail.
Those who spring from you shall rebuild the ancient ruins
And you shall lay foundations for the coming generation.
You shall be called "Those who mend torn places,"
You shall be called "Those who build lanes to live in."
If you refrain from trampling my Renewal-time (lit.: Shabbat)
And from being busy-busy on My holy day;
If you will not only call Renewal-time* delightful
But also turn far from your usual way
And set aside your business and your chatter
To be yourselves the rays by which God's Holiness
Can turn this world into a radiant joy ---
Then indeed you will find delight in YHWH.
For then --- when you have joined the lowly ---
I will set you all with Me, Astride the heights of earth.
Then --- when you feed others --- I will let you eat your fill
From what is truly due you as the heirs of Jacob.
Now! For this word comes from the Mouth that Breathes all life.
-------translation by Arthur Waskow