We Are Responsible for Each Other

Yael Eckstein  |  September 16, 2021

Yom Kippur prayers

“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” — Leviticus 16:34

Today, Jews around the world observe the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, with a 25-hour fast, prayer, and reflection. Because this is a non-working holiday, this devotion was prepared in advance for you.

There is an old story about a small Jewish town in Eastern Europe. It was the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish year. The synagogue was packed with worshippers enveloped in their prayer shawls and dressed in white as they waited in anticipation for the opening notes of the traditional once-a-year liturgical singing to begin.

The rabbi arose from his seat and slapped his hand on the lectern to get the attention of all the assembled. “We cannot begin the Yom Kippur service. We are awaiting a very important member of the community,” said the rabbi with a tone of authority. “Please be patient.”

There was a murmur throughout the synagogue as everyone turned to their neighbor to see if they knew the identity of this mystery guest. He must be a person of significant status for the rabbi to delay Yom Kippur worship because of his absence.

Finally, when it was well past the scheduled time for the service, the rabbi once again stepped up to the pulpit. “Please rise to begin the service. Our guest is arriving.” All heads turned to the door only to see the town drunk, Velvel, amble in, looking confused and disheveled as always. Velvel was not only a homeless drunk, many suspected him of the rash of petty thefts that had plagued the community over the past few years.

“Where is the special guest?” people wondered. “Perhaps he entered before we turned around.” Some people stepped out the door to look around to see if anyone else was on their way.

We Are Responsible for Each Other

Later, at the conclusion of the service, the rabbi summoned the elders of the community. He said to them, “Tonight is Yom Kippur. It is on this day that Almighty God, our Father in Heaven, promises us that He will wipe away the sins of His people. We come before Him as a community. Each of us is responsible for every other. What good are our pleas for God to wash away our impurity if we don’t come before Him as we are, with all of our imperfections on full display? When we pray for atonement and forgiveness, we pray for the entire community of Israel.”

In a subtle act, but powerful lessons, the rabbi showed the people that they are responsible for each other and for the need for making atonement for the community — a lesson we all can benefit from learning.

Your Turn:

Take a moment to pray for those in your community who struggle with challenges that keep them away from a godly life. Think of ways to reach out to them.

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