The Yom Kippur Machzor (prayer book) translated into English resembles a graceful bird of flight, an albatross, clumsily waddling along the ground; a ballerina in an astronaut's suit — on Jupiter; a romantic sonata performed by a jug band. All the more amazing, then, that there is one word — a key word — that the English language got right. Not just right, but exquisitely right. One could say, even better than the original. And that is "atonement". For this is certainly what Yom Kippur is about in its very essence: A day of "at one-ment."

How did this language know? Our sages had picked up on it long ago, that the Torah speaks about Yom Kippur as a day "once in the year". Of course, that could simply mean it is a unique day, distinct from every other day in all regards. But in a deeper sense, at the core of Yom Kippur lies a theme of "onement" and our act of being there — at that onement.

Yes, you'll tell me, I've got it all wrong. "Atonement" is simply the translation of the Hebrew Kapparah — any act that effects forgiveness, cleanses our soul of the stains it has acquired over the year and allows us and G‑d to make up and get on with things. What has that got to do with "oneness" or "onement"?

Everything. First of all, because atonement achieves at-onement. When the inner soul of man below and the Essence of Being above forgive and make up, they are at one once again.

And because at-onement achieves atonement. Because, in order to achieve atonement we must first arrive at onement.

But the rest of the year we are not at onement. Why? Because of the way we see things.

Looks are deceiving. With our fleshly eyes we see ourselves as aliens in a universe harshly cold and silent to the drama of emotions and desires, agony and ecstasy, aspirations, failures and achievements that make us human beings.

But a deeper sense tells us that, no, deep within this reality and entirely transcendent of it is an essence that resonates with the stirring of our inner hearts. For do not we also emerge out of this universe? If we have a heart, a mind, a soul, must not the universe also have such? "The One who formed the ear, does He not hear?"

We call that Essence, "G‑d." And so, we pray.

All year round we live apart from this Essence. Yes, we have a conscience driving us not to fall out of harmony with it in a sort of pas de deux. But it is a harmony of "should": We would rather do "this," but that other voice says we should do "that." So we do. But sometimes we don't. At least, not exactly as we "should." We fall out of sync. Like two musical notes not quite in tune, a dissonance ensues. We fall further apart. Our backs are turned to each other. There is no dance, no duet, only the friction of two disparate travelers acting out their own scripts.

But on Yom Kippur we embrace, our essence with that Essence Within and Beyond. And we say to one another, "The dance may be faulty, but the hearts are one." There is no longer "should". There is "is". All is forgiven. At onement.