Yom Kippur is a time for sober reflection. It is not something that we do often or eagerly, but it should define our Yom Kippur experience. We are bidden to (re)turn to God and to renew our relationship with Him (Deut. 30:2). The Torah assures us that this effort is not too difficult, it is possible and that we can do it. We just have to make that critical decision (Deut. 30:11-15). It’s like losing weight, exercising, or giving up cigarettes – we rationalize not doing it. We know that we don’t fully commit, either in our actions or in our belief.
In the end of his introduction to “Beliefs and Opinions,” Rabbi Saadiah Gaon (10th cent.) lists eight reasons why we are so reluctant to fully commit Jewishly. Each reason is accompanied by a biblical verse and his rebuttal. We will list them in a summary form.
Reason #1: People are averse to serious mental effort. They do not want to think too deeply about anything.
Reason #2: Hostility to a cerebral approach to Judaism in the first place. The value of such an enterprise is dismissed and negated.
Reason #3: We are too pre-occupied with our jobs, leisure, eating, pursuit of materialism, and satisfying our appetites.
Reason #4: Many are spiritually lazy. There is too little reflection and too much indifference. Some may think about it but not adequately.
Reason #5: Pride and contempt. It’s difficult to learn something new since that would acknowledge that until then there was ignorance. Thinking is a skill that needs to be learned.
Reason #6: Sometimes we hear disturbing, yet cogent ideas expressed by a non-believer that we cannot and do not rebut.
Reason #7: Sometimes the arguments from believers are weak and ineffectual. Saadiah compares it to a poor salesman of quality goods; e.g., when someone’s in the market for a Rolls Royce, a salesman is almost irrelevant.
Reason #8: Association of hatred for certain individuals who claim to represent Jewish values with Judaism. Confusing human weakness on the part of certain individuals with the system itself.
According to Saadiah Gaon, most arguments against full Jewish commitment are emotional rather than rational. People are entitled to their opinions but need to acknowledge the difference between knowledge and opinion.
This Yom Kippur we have the opportunity once again to make a commitment. Take a class, attend services more regularly, donate to a Jewish cause, read a Jewish book, and encourage your children to lead Jewish lives.