Thought for the Day: Yom Kippur 2022
“Instead of trying to impose values on others, we should strive to inspire them, of their own accord, to wish to do what is right and beneficial for themselves and society.”
I am often asked by parents: What is the best way for us to inspire our children to become decent and responsible citizens?
The Book of Deuteronomy surprisingly presents the precept of educating noble values by saying “put them in people’s mouths”. I would have understood an instruction to put such values in people’s consciousness or their hearts, why their mouths? A great 20th century British scholar, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, explained this with an analogy to feeding an infant. If you try to push the food down the child’s throat, it will be rejected. Rather, one needs to make the eating experience pleasant and even exciting. Once the food has been placed in the infant’s mouth, it’s now up to them to digest it.
I have come across many people who resent having been coerced into religious observance. Truly transformational religious experiences are invariably experiential rather than instructional, enabling conviction and passion to come from within. Instead of trying to impose values on others, we should strive to inspire them, of their own accord, to wish to do what is right and beneficial for themselves and society.
The most inspirational day on the Jewish calendar takes place this evening and tomorrow. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will be a day spent on stirring prayer services in the heart of vibrant communities, the experience of which will be appreciated all the more this year after a long absence to Coved. But most of all, Yom Kippur is a profoundly moving day of fasting and introspection, which has a singular purpose – to prompt us to revaluate our lives and give us a conviction to change ourselves and the world around us for the better.
Yom Kippur is an outstanding example of an opportunity for self-transformation through the inspiration which comes from within, stimulating people, of their own accord, to digest the tenets of their faith, and, as a result, to be moved to do something extraordinary.
On Yom Kippur, one does not feel compelled, but propelled. The motivation is not brief or fleeting, but a lasting sense of purpose and fulfilment; a chance to be moved from apathy to possibility, by transcending our ordinary experiences and limitations, our self-serving concerns and our materialistic aspirations.
Whereas we are usually motivated by external stimuli, the bliss of spiritual enrichment attained on Yom Kippur facilitates a calling that is self-generated from the deepest recesses of our personalities, prompting us to enthusiastically act with conviction.
Education is at its finest when the exemplars of good practice inspire it to be caught, not taught.