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Steve Jobs and Yom Kippur

October 6, 2011 | by Dov Moshe Lipman

How Steve Jobs prepared me for the holiest day of the year.

I have experienced Yom Kippur 39 times in my life. But I have never been as prepared as I am now for my 40th one.

And I have Steve Jobs to thank for it.

Steve Jobs, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple, Inc. as well as chief executive of Pixar Animation, died yesterday at the age of 56 from pancreatic cancer. As a result of his death, many of his speeches and presentations have been spreading like wildfire across the internet, and one has struck the most perfect of chords in me as a preparation for the Day of Atonement which is quickly approaching.

Jobs was the guest speaker at the 2005 commencement exercises for Stanford University and I want to focus on three things which he highlighted in his speech which he delivered after his cancer was diagnosed and also temporarily cured.


I often find myself upset with God on Yom Kippur. Last year I prayed all day and pleaded for all the things I wanted Him to give me and now, looking back, not only did I not receive everything I wanted but things oftentimes turned out worse. Jobs told stories of having to drop out of college and actually being fired from Apple, the company which he himself started. But, in both cases, what looked like something bad and even disastrous for him actually worked out for the best and were "the best things that could have ever happened." As he explains, "it was awful tasting medicine but I guess the patient needed it."

How can I, in my limited understanding of history, destiny, and the universe know what is best for me? How dare I approach God this Yom Kippur with complaints about this past year. Steve Jobs taught me that I must be willing to swallow even the most awful tasting medicine because the Doctor knows best and I, as the patient need it.


Jobs related that when he was 17 years old he read a humorous quote which made a lasting impression on him. "If you live each day like it will be your last, some day you will most certainly be right." Jobs said that he awoke every day and looked at himself in the mirror and asked himself if he was living the day he would want to live if it was his last. And if he went a few days with the answer being "no," he knew it was time to change course. As Jobs went on to explain, "Your time here is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."

Yom Kippur is THE day on the Jewish calendar when we confront our mortality. Those who passed away this past year had their fate sealed last Yom Kippur and this Yom Kippur God will seal our fates for the coming year. I always knew this and used the day to plead to God to bless me and my family and friends with life. I approached the prospect of death with fear and turned that fear into imploring God that it should not happen. But, as Jobs said it, "death is likely the single best invention of life." Therefore, instead of it simply hanging over me with fear, I must embrace it and use it to enhance my life.

Thanks to Steve Jobs I am now entering Yom Kippur not as the selfish person pleading with God to grant me life, but trying to internalize and apply in practice the message of the judgment which will be sealed on that day. God forbid, this could actually be it. This could be the last Yom Kippur. While spending the day in synagogue, I am going to ask myself: Am I living the life I want to lead if it is my last? Am I relating to my wife, my children, my parents, my siblings, my extended family, my neighbors and my friends as if today may be my last? Am I using my unique talents and skills to contribute to my country, my nation, and the world to the fullest as if today will be my last chance to do so?

As Jobs expressed it best, "Knowing that I can be dead soon helps me make the most important decisions in life based on what is real and true and not based on fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, pride, or any other external expectations." I am going to spend time on Yom Kippur analyzing my decisions and life through that lens of clarity.

And, amazingly, the laws of Yom Kippur will help me accomplish this. How so?


"Don't let the voice of other people's opinions drown out your own inner voice." One profound statement made by Steve Jobs, with shattering implications. He goes on to teach us, "You must have the courage to follow your heart and intuition" because "somehow you already know what you want and what you want to become." I now understand that Yom Kippur is all about removing all external distractions and trying to figure out who I really am at my core. No food. No drink. No time for socializing. No physical pleasures. Just me and my spiritual side, the real me. Time for me to figure out what the real ME wants with all distractions removed.

Thank you Mr. Jobs. Your life and words had a meaningful impact on one searching person at just the right time, and I have no doubt there are millions of others just like me who you have touched as well.

May you rest in peace and may all of us have a most meaningful Yom Kippur.

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