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The GPS and Yom Kippur

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum

Lost? Relax. Here's the way to get back on route.

I recently had the opportunity to travel with my wife from Cleveland to New York to attend a friend's wedding. Although we originally planned on flying, after learning that the wedding hall was almost two hours away from the airport, coupled with my propensity for getting lost in New York City, we decided to rent a car and drive instead.

After filling out the paperwork, the clerk at the counter asked if I was interested in renting a GPS for an additional ten dollars a day. Not being very technologically advanced, I was only vaguely familiar with GPS, or Global Positioning System; but I knew it could show directions to any destination and send help to people who were stranded.

Since we would be leaving on an eight-hour trip the morning of the wedding, and my sense of direction is not very keen, I decided it was a worthwhile investment. I pushed the little green button on the telephone-like device and gave the operator the wedding hall's address. I also gave her the name of a hotel, where I had booked reservations for the way home, and a synagogue where I could pray the following morning. Everything was programmed into the little device mounted on the windshield.

As we pulled out of the driveway, the device began talking. "Make first right to South Green Road...Turn left to Cedar Road...Turn right on Cedar Road...Turn right on 271 South...continue for 9 miles...."

I was impressed. It seemed to take all the anxiety out of long-distance driving. "Wouldn't it be great if we had something like a GPS in real-life?" I remarked to my wife. "'Go to such-and-such school... continue for four years... turn right and meet future spouse...say this-and-this to that person...' It would take so much of the hassle out of the quagmire of decisions and dilemmas we face each day."

My imagination was running away, and I didn't realize I had made a wrong turn. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the voice of the GPS: "Off course. Push button for re-routing."

I looked at the device in awe. I knew that it worked by satellite, but the realization that our every movement was being tracked was a little disconcerting. Guiltily, I quickly pushed the button and followed the instructions until the GPS informed me that I was, once again, "Back on route." I could breathe more easily.

And then it hit me: We do have a GPS in real-life! There is a Great Satellite that tracks all our activities, wherever we go and whatever we do. We can never hide any of our actions from God. He too communicates the proper moves we are to make through the Torah, guiding us through every difficult challenge and choice we face. We need only listen to the Torah and follow its instructions, and our dilemmas would be so much more clarified; our lives so much simpler and less stressful.

But sometimes we get distracted from the Communicator and we find ourselves lost. We may not even realize how far we have strayed off track. But even then the Great Satellite does not forsake us. Each year Yom Kippur comes to remind us we have strayed. We are given clear instructions how to return back on route, through the laws of Teshuva, repentance. Teshuva literally means a return. It is God's great gift to mankind, an opportunity to be rerouted even after we have strayed so many times, to be able to return to the proper path.

The Yom Kippur message might make us feel uncomfortable; after all nobody likes to be reminded his every move is being tracked and that he is "off route." But life is so short, and there is much for us to accomplish, it is truly an investment well worth the effort.

Yom Kippur is not a day to be dreaded. Were that to be so, it could not supersede the joy of the weekly Shabbat. Fasting as a display of dread and mourning is prohibited on Shabbat. Rather Yom Kippur is a day to be celebrated. It might take great effort, but it shows us how we can return ourselves back on route, and breathe more easily once again.


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