Sivan Rahav-Meir
Sivan Rahav-Meir צילום: אייל בן יעיש

* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (http://inthelandoftheJews.blogspot.com)

It may sound strange, but it's already Monday.

Here are five things to keep in mind through Yom Kippur.

1. How do we greet each other between now and Yom Kippur? With either "Chatima tova" or "Gemar chatima tova" -- May you be inscribed or May you be sealed (in the Book of Life).

2. We kep the Fast of Gedaliah. This fast day commemorates the murder of Gedaliah ben Ahikam by a Jew named Yishmael ben Netanyah. Gedaliah had been appointed governor over the remnant of Jews who remained in Eretz Yisrael after the destruction of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. This tragic murder marked the end of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel during the First Temple period and the exile of the last remaining Jews from their homeland.

3. Today is the eighth day of the Ten Days of Teshuvah. The first two days were Rosh Hashanah and the tenth day, of course, will be Yom Kippur on the 10th of Tishrei. These are "Yemei Ratzon" (days of favor) in which our hearts are open, the heavens are open, and it's possible to make positive changes more readily than during the course of the year.

4. It is customary to recite Selichot (prayers for divine forgiveness) up until Yom Kippur eve. Each night, tens of thousands will come to the Western Wall, yet Selichot prayer services will be held during these days throughout the Jewish world as well.

5. During the first ten days of the year, special additions are made to the daily prayers. Within the everyday prayer text, words are inserted that reflect the unique character of these days. Here is an example: *"And in the Book of Life, blessing, peace, and prosperity, deliverance, consolation, and favorable decrees, may we and all Your people the House of Israel be remembered and inscribed before you for a hap

And here are five questions to ask ouurselves in preparation for Yom Kippur

If I am seeking to change with the start of the new year, instead of asking: 'Am I doing the right things?' I need to ask: 'How do I do what I am already doing in a better way?"

If I am a parent, fine, but then I need to ask, as a father or mother, how do I fulfill my responsibility more completely? Am I parenting in a proper and meaningful way?

If I pray every morning, fine, but how do I pray? Prayer can be a mechanical recitation from a prayer book or a profound encounter with the Master of the universe, something that will touch me and bring about internal change.

If we will examine the commitments that give value to our lives -- Shabbat, marriage, Torah study, honoring our parents -- in terms of 'how' we can better fulfill each one of them, we will open ourselves to new worlds of possibility. Otherwise, we may remain stuck just where we are and fail to realize our potential.

It's much easier to ask little of ourselves. To be robots that merely check all the appropriate boxes. But this is like driving in first gear when we hold the steering wheel of a race car in our hands. Change is not only a matter of doing new things, but rather of improving and upgrading what we already do, of shifting into a higher gear.

And try to look at the day through the eyes of youngsters:

The innocence of children. It seems to me that this is what we need as Yom Kippur arrives. Yesterday, on a Zoom meeting of Nifgashot, a workshop for girls, the special answers I heard taught me a great deal.

I asked the girls what they felt now that Yom Kippur is almost here and they answered: Joy. "This is the day we enter dirty and come out clean," one of the girls wrote over chat. "This is the day that makes it possible to fix everything and start over. What's more fun than that?" Sometimes from a glut of Midrash, commentary, and quotations we lose the simple and joyful message of this day: "For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you."

We spoke about the custom of accepting upon ourselves a new commitment in the run-up to Yom Kippur. I asked which little commitment each of them was prepared to make and to keep. The answers were simple and wonderful.

"Not to speak lashon hara (insulting or negative speech) during the first recess at school."

"Not to make friends with girls who ghost or bully other girls."

"To take care of my little brother and sister more joyfully."

"To wash the dishes when mother asks me to."

When I asked what part of the day they liked the most, there was a division between Kol Nidrei (recited at the beginning of the evening prayers) and Ne'ilah (last of the five Yom Kippur services), but one of the girls wrote: "Even though I sometimes break the fast because I am young, it is still important for me to make it to the Ne'ilah prayer." And another simply said: "The first bite of food after the fast. You feel like an angel."

May we all merit, no matter our age, to connect with the essence of Yom Kippur.

The holidays of Tishrei are the perfect time for education through experience. From the Selichot and the piyyutim to the building of the Sukkah, from the seudah hamafseket (festive pre-Yom Kippur meal) to the niggunim (devotional tunes) sung during these days, from special holiday foods to the particular customs of each family. Even children of cell phone and computer screens get excited, with a twinkle in their eyes, from hearing and sometimes blowing a real shofar/ram's horn and from shaking an actual lulav/palm frond. This is the time to absorb unforgettable lessons that will leave marks on our children and on us that will last a lifetime.