Remembering Who We Really Are

Yael Eckstein  |  September 18, 2023

Yael and her children sitting on the beach with a shofar during Passover

It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. — Leviticus 16:31

At sundown on Sunday, Sept. 24, my family and I will join Jews across the world in observing the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. My devotions focus on this very holy day, a time when our attention is on receiving and giving forgiveness.

In Israel, there is a term of endearment that has always resonated with me. Whether we are talking to a complete stranger or a close friend, we often use the term neshama when addressing other people. Neshama means “soul,” and I cannot think of a more beautiful way for people to refer to one another.

As we go through our lives, enmeshed in the physical world, it’s easy to forget that we are not just our physical bodies. We are, first and foremost, “souls,” and we inhabit a body the way that a person drives a car. Just as a person is not their car, we are not our bodies; we are souls taking a journey on earth for as many years as God gives us.

The Bible directs us to set aside one day of the year as the ultimate “Sabbath rest,” in order to pause and reflect. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we dedicate an entire day to remembering who we really are, what our purpose is in the world, and asking God to forgive us for our past mistakes.

Remembering Who We Really Are

On this day, the Bible instructs us to “deny ourselves.” This refers to five specific restraints: we do not eat or drink, wash our bodies, beautify ourselves with creams and cosmetics, engage in marital relations, or wear leather shoes. But how does denying ourselves contribute to the purpose of this holy day?

The common denominator of all these activities is that they are physical pleasures rooted in the material world. The goal of these restrictions is to take our focus off physicality and remember that we are spiritual beings at our core.

All year long, we become distracted and confused by the physical pleasures of the world. On Yom Kippur, we deny our bodies so that we might indulge our souls. We remember that the body is temporary while our soul is eternal. We remember that material objects and physicality are a means to spiritual achievements, and not ends in and of themselves. And we see life for what it truly is—an opportunity to grow our souls by serving God and contributing to His purposes.

Your turn:

Knowing that you are a spiritual being at your core, what are ways that you might nourish and care for your soul?