Harvard Divinity School Student Ari Schwarzberg marked the final day of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur yesterday by challenging his audience to measure up to their potential in keeping with the spirit of the holiday at the Law School’s Pound Hall.
Delivered before a group of about 30 people, Schwarzberg’s lecture, entitled “Sefer Yonah: The Climax of the High Holidays,” explored the significance of the story of the prophet Yonah on a day known by Jews as the Day of Atonement.
“It is a day of prayer, a day of fasting,” said the first-year Divinity School student in an interview after the event. “All work is forbidden. We simply atone for our sins during the past year.”
The story of the prophet Yonah is traditionally read during the second-to-last service of Yom Kippur, according to Schwarzberg. Still, the Divinity School student said yesterday that it was “not often obvious” why the story had been chosen for the holiday and that he wanted to explore its “intellectual depth.”
Called by God to tell the city of Ninevah to repent, Yonah famously ran away on a ship only to be swallowed by a large fish.
When he finally did deliver God’s message, the story goes, the Ninevites repented, but Yonah was upset that God forgave them.
Audience members agreed that the story related to Yom Kippur because of its theme of repentance. On Yom Kippur, Jews strive to achieve “teshuva,” or “atonement.”
“God is teaching that he has a merciful side as well,” Schwarzburg said.
He also cited Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist who wrote about the “Jonah [Yonah] Complex.”
“We fear our highest possibilities,” Schwarzberg said, quoting the psychologist’s words. “We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moment.”
“I hope that I have conveyed that Yom Kippur is really about people realizing their potential,” Schwarzberg said.
Schwarzberg holds a B.A. in Jewish Studies from Yeshiva College and an M.S. in Jewish Education from the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education. He received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University.
“It is one of the necessary keys to be a leader of the Jewish people,” Schwarzberg said of being a rabbi. “I grew up in the Jewish tradition, and [it has] the potential to create an amazing morality-centered community.”
Yesterday’s lecture was organized by Harvard Hillel.
“Ari is an outgoing, articulate and knowledgeable member of the Orthodox minyan,” wrote Rabbi Benjamin C. Greenberg, one of the event’s organizers, in an e-mail. “I invite members of the community and visiting scholars-in-residence to address the Orthodox minyan and more broadly the larger Hillel population regularly.”