Approaching Lent from a Jewish perspective, specifically correlated to Yom Kippur, might appear odd and yet with hindsight, it might help to enrich its significance. But what exactly does Yom Kippur propose? On this day it is forbidden to eat, to work, to message the body with oil, to have sexual intercourse, and to wear leather shoes. Odd, or so it seems, but the representative value associated with each prohibition addresses an underlying concern: self-fulfilment (work), personal survival (food), inter-relationships (sexual intercourse), pleasure (oil) and procurement (shoes).
Contributing to human growth, all five are expressive of human potentiality; accordingly, they not only focus on what actually addresses it, but also serve to project personal aspirations. Mere emotionality does not suffice: rather, it’s important to consider one’s decisions and their consequences. Failure to do so eventually frustrates personal self-understanding. On the other hand, analysing our acquired experiences, at times evoking joy, other times pain, we realize that we also need to take a break and to move on in life. Thus a question arises: “What am I doing with my life?”
Though important, gratification, exertion, subsistence, and acquisition do not suffice: the person needs to reconsider its potentiality and its ability to relate to others. In so doing it finds itself immersed in time and space – the human dimension. It’s precisely within this dimension that our potentiality comes into play, but let us not confuse it with mere doings: rather, it concerns our being human.
Accordingly, Yom Kippur’ proposes an awareness regarding being, simultaneously addressing the person to greater insights with regards its doings. This is a maturing experience, because it empowers the person to reconsider itself positively, while not ignoring unresolved issues. Within a Jewish milieu this is particularly significant, because work and prayer are correlated: man’s search for meaning and its willingness to ‘listen’ (Shema’ – Dt 6,4-9) to G-d are interconnected. Man’s search and G-d’s calling are immersed in the daily routines of doing and dealing with others, precisely because it’s within this setting that both the human and the divine potentiality are encountered. On Yom Kippur everything is halted: listening to oneself is a prelude to listening to the Wholly Other.
Admitting one’s failures and pronouncing them is also envisaged on Yom Kippur: the necessity to articulate these failures, asking for forgiveness when necessary, is a growth experience, empowering the person to encounter divine graciousness and to outreach one’s heart to others.
Liturgically speaking there are special moments like Lent or Advent: intended as growth experiences, they empower the person to readdress its ways. Hence what is proposed on Yom Kippur can become one way to encountering Lent’s significance on a deeper level, because it allows us to comprehend the essentials, and whether or not these are actually addressed by G-d’s gracious presence and one’s intention to take one’s potentiality seriously within a faith orientated framework addressed by Abraham’s own journey.