Shabbat Talmud Study: On Yom Kippur Do We Change God’s Mind? Or Does God Change Our Mind?


During these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, at our morning minyan, we recite these lines from Avinu Malkenu (Our father, our king):

Avinu Malkenu, inscribe us in the Book of good life.
Avinu Malkenu, inscribe us in the Book of deliverance.
Avinu Malkenu, inscribe us in the Book of prosperity.
Avinu Malkenu, inscribe us in the Book of merit.
Avinu Malkenu, inscribe us in the Book of forgiveness.
Avinu Malkenu, grant us a productive new year.

What is the impact of these words? They leave our lips, and they go where? They do what?

How prayer actually works is a particular challenge for those of us who see ourselves as secular and rational. Many of us do not believe in God. Or we are not sure. The jury is still out on whether God even exists. Many of us do not believe in intercessionary prayer. Why do we pray to a God we are not even sure we believe in, for goodies and blessings, when we do not believe the world works that way? What is this?

In a great lecture that Micah Goodman delivered at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, he puts the question this way: On Yom Kippur are we trying to change God’s mind? If we pray hard enough, often enough, long enough, if we really, really mean it, if we have been fasting all day, then eventually will all that intensity change God’s mind and persuade God to grant us all the good things we pray for? If that is the vision of how prayer works on Yom Kippur, it may leave many of us unmoved.

On Shabbat morning, we will examine four sources brought by Micah-Ezekiel, Maimonides, Leviticus 16 and the avodah service-as well as a haunting story from Kohelet Rabbah about the famous rabbinic rebel, Elisha Ben Abuyah. These sources point to a different understanding of what Yom Kippur is all about.

See you on Shabbat morning at 8:30.

Shabbat shalom and shana tova,
Wes