Serious, solemn, introspection even fear. These are the images that come to mind as we reflect on the meaning of Yom Kippur and the direction of our life. Yet our Talmudic sages declared that there were no happier days for the Jewish people save for the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. While we do not normally associate fasting with happiness on Yom Kippur we are not engaged in a "normal" fast. While the other fast days of the year, which mainly revolve around the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, reflect the mood of mourning our national tragedies, the fast on Yom Kippur is of a different nature. In fact the laws of mourning are suspended upon the arrival of Yom Kippur. "The tenth day of the seventh month there shall be a holy convocation for you, you are to afflict your souls, you are to do no work (Numbers 29:7)."
How does one reconcile happiness and fasting? "You have committed a terrible sin. Now I will go up to G-d and try to gain atonement for your crime" (Exodus 32:30). The Jewish people a scant forty days after Sinai violated the severe prohibition against idolatry. G-d was ready to destroy them and start again with a fresh nation, a concept already seen in the generation of the flood. After eighty days the prayers of Moshe on behalf of his people were answered and the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people was reestablished, and a second set of "tablets of the covenant" were given. Forgiveness, atonement and Torah; this renewed relationship with G-d is what Yom Kippur is all about.
Our relationship with man must parallel our relationship with G-d. In the aftermath of the golden calf G-d reveals to Moshe His 13 attributes, attributes which we are bidden to emulate. "Just as G-d is merciful so must we be merciful; Just as G-d is kind so must we be kind." Thus if Yom Kippur is a day that we renew and strengthen our relationship with G-d it must by definition be a day where we renew and strengthen our relationship with our fellow man. It is well known that Yom Kippur can only atone for sins between man and G-d. Wrongs we have done to our fellow man can not be forgiven by G-d. It is up to us to make amends. What is less well known is that many of our commentaries point out that if we do not seek forgiveness from our fellow man then we can not attain forgiveness even for those sins between man and G-d. After all if there is estrangement from our fellow man by definition there is estrangement form G-d. How can we hope to renew our relationship with G-d if those created in His image are distant from us?
With this perspective we can now understand the Talmudic description of the happiness of Yom Kippur. Our Mishnaic Sages tell us that Yom Kippur was a day in which marriage partners were chosen "and the maidens of Jerusalem would go dancing in the vineyards". It is especially on Yom Kippur, the day we draw close to G-d that we must draw closer to our spouse. Judaism posits that only through the marriage covenant can one truly come to worship G-d. The traits necessary for a solid marriage, caring, compassion, patience, being slow to anger match those of the 13 attributes of G-d. Through the marriage covenant each spouse grows reaching heights they could not have attained on their own.
The relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is often compared to that of bridegroom and his bride. "Your G-d will rejoice over you like a groom's rejoicing over his bride." Without the guidance of our Torah we are lost in the stormy sea of life and yes without faithful subjects the kingdom of G-d is incomplete. Let us, beginning on Yom Kippur renew our relationship with our families and fellow man and thus we will be able to renew our relationship with G-d. Gemar Chatima Tova.