Tag Archives: Yom Kippur

A Yom Kippur message: A better world starts within ourselves, not by blaming others.

As almost everyone Jewish, and many non-Jewish people know, the holiday of Yom Kippur is rapidly approaching. This Sunday night when this solemn day begins, Jews all over the world will celebrate in whatever fashion they deem most appropriate to them. I wanted to speak to a theme that was different than most of the themes of the day, and somewhat unfortunately I found it to be a very easy thing to do. The theme I wish to focus on is that of personal responsibility.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not by any means saying that there is a mass neglect of individual accountability. For me to do so would not only be overly judgmental, it would be contrary to the theme of this piece. For if I am to make the point I wish to make, it is very simple to do so. All I need to do is look to myself first and foremost.

We live in a world where people are not only prone to finding blame, they are obsessed with it. In so many of the discussions we have nowadays, finding culpability in what ails our communities, countries and planet seems to be our number one priority. The tendency to do so is so great here in America that it has begun to resemble the beginnings of an actual Civil War. But I present the following question. Are we correct for assigning blame to those we find responsible for the problems we’re exposed to on almost a daily basis? Well the truth is that we have every right as human beings to use our cognitive abilities and moral compasses to reach conclusions and take whatever action we feel can be helpful in bettering our world. That being said, as Yom Kippur approaches, I for one realize that there is only one place to start this process ethically and honestly. That is by looking first to myself and my own behaviors and actions.

The reality is that if our priorities were to look at ourselves first we would be collectively much better off than we are today. Again, since I want to maintain some semblance of credibility I will look only to myself and mention those things I feel I must focus on before I look to change anyone else. For me personally, my strong belief in God helps to keep me humble. That being said, it’s far too easy for someone to be pleased with themselves, and I for one know that I will concentrate on having a greater amount of humility. My personal belief that God is the boss, so to speak, is enough of a basis for me to realize that ultimately the power does not lie with me.

I will do my best to be better to my fellow human being. Not just those who are like me, be it religiously, racially or philosophically, but all my fellow human beings. On Sunday night until Monday evening I will spend much, if not the majority of the day making my plea to God that I will be forgiven for those actions I’ve done wrong and for anything I have done to hurt others. Imagine the greatness of a world in which everyone tried to improve on that issue alone. I will watch my words. I will make every attempt to use my voice to say things that are positive and helpful, and use as little of my time speaking ill of others, something that always breathes life into negativity.

I will do my best to give of my time and effort to those who need my help. If I am not qualified to do so based on lack of qualifications, I will do my best to improve upon my qualities and work towards being someone who can make more of a difference in the future than I do today.

Lastly, I will look to set a good example. While I do not know if I will always succeed in doing so, partially because so many of us have varying opinions, I begin today by setting the example of looking to myself rather than to someone else in regard to what needs improvement. If we all looked to ourselves first we might just find we have much less time to blame others for everything we feel is wrong, and with any luck we will help others do the same. If we want a better world, we need to start by bettering our personal worlds, something we can only do that by bettering ourselves.

For anyone I did wrong or for anyone I caused any pain in the past year I ask your forgiveness, and I wish that we all see a healthy, safe, productive and happy year ahead.

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Our connection to the departed and a Yom Kippur Message

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This past week, having just celebrated the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in the same city where my parents are buried, I found myself inclined to do something I generally don’t feel an inclination towards doing. That would be to make a visit to their gravesites.  Now don’t misunderstand where I am coming from.  I have the highest level of respect for both of my parents and their memory.  In fact, my actions in honoring them and remembering them in the synagogue and in thought and discussion are not anything to be ashamed of.  I truly do my best to reach the highest level of honor and respect for both my mother and father.  It is merely the fact that although I believe in showing the utmost respect to cemeteries and individual gravesites, I personally do not put a lot of spiritual meaning into the physical location of the remains of our loved ones.  A feeling I know I share with others.  And yet, the day after Rosh Hashanah, without encouragement or even suggestion, I found myself wanting, almost needing to visit the graves of my mother and father.

I did not come away somber or haunted by my visit, in fact I’d be more likely to describe it as comforted and fulfilled, but I was intrigued to the point of inquisitive.  So I looked up the reasons why it is customary to visit our loved one’s graves between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and found all the answers I would expect.  The fact that it is a time of self-examination, soul searching and a time where we address God’s choice of who lives and who dies all would make sense in being a factor as to why it is an appropriate action during this time.  For me personally it didn’t explain why the urge came to me to do something I previously never felt the urge to do.

Whether you call it metaphysical, spiritual or hocus pocus nonsense, there are those of us who believe in what could be described as other worldly impacts or events.  I for one believe in the connection between the living and the dead, and as someone who believes in God, I believe in God’s involvement in at the very least, steering the souls of the living and the dead together.  Although I unequivocally respect everyone’s personal belief, regardless of how different it may be to mine, I find it to be particularly clear to me during this time of year that there is significantly more going on than just being born and when the time comes, dying.  If prayer is a conduit to another being or another realm, it stands to reason that a successful plea during the time of prayer would increase that connection and possibly lead to thoughts or feelings we otherwise might not have experienced.  I maintain that my desire to visit the place where my parents were buried is something to be grateful for, since it may very well mean my prayers were at the very least, somewhat acknowledged, and that maybe I was lead in a direction that will strengthen my physical and or spiritual future.  Regardless of whether or not the specifics are clear to me now or ever.  As I stood at the graves of my beloved parents I said the following words to myself.  “OK, I am here and listening. What is it you are trying to tell me?”

I know some reading this will say that what I am speaking of is more psychological than spiritual, but the fact remains that just as I can’t prove my theory, so too someone who thinks things just don’t work that way can’t prove it wrong.  I guess my question to those feeling that way is, why would you need to?

So as Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar approaches, and many who do not spend much time in synagogue will show up for Yizkor, the service honoring our departed loved ones, I leave you with this message for the coming year.  Wherever you need to go to find guidance, support or answers, be it God, your living friends and relatives, or those you remember with love and honor, let no one tell you what works best for you.  Just make sure that if you are asking questions, you keep your ears, heart and soul open to the answers.

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What does Never Again mean to you?

Yad_Vashem_BW_31This year more than most, I did some serious introspection on Yom Kippur.  Like anyone else I have my moments of introspection throughout the year, but as it is for many, on Yom Kippur it’s a priority, and on this Yom Kippur it was more of a priority than usual.  As I regularly put my opinions out there for people to read, and I may have some influence on those who take the time to read them, I needed to come to a personal conclusion as to whether or not I am taking the correct approach.  As I was doing this, 2 words kept popping into my head.  Those 2 words were Never Again.

Unless someone is supremely egotistical there is no way they can be 100% sure their methods are always correct.  However, often they can be sure their motivation is pure.  My personal motivation, one ingrained in me by my personal background as the son of Holocaust survivors, is to do my part, however small it may be, to fight against evil, be it blatant or deceptive.  For me that is the meaning of Never Again.  I believe it is critical to the survivor of the Jewish people and to all of all civilization to be aggressive instead of passive when confronted with threats.  We must always try to do what is right, but as my father of blessed memory taught me, that sometimes means not being very nice.  But when the words Never Again reverberate through my very soul, I am far more concerned about our safety than I am about whether or not I am being nice.

The 18 year old soldiers fighting in the IDF or the American military are more heroic than I will ever be, but we all have our war. To me Never Again means exposing and damaging threats within my own personal capabilities, to whatever extent my efforts have an impact.  If that impact is merely galvanizing others than it’s already a worthy fight.

We all must do what we think is right.  What is important is that we at the very least do something, for apathy and inaction can and ultimately will be our worst enemy.  I have no doubt that the concept of Never Again is as important to those reading it as it is to me.  That doesn’t mean it has the same meaning.  Which leaves me with the question, what does Never Again mean to you?

 

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Yom Kippur thoughts

???????????????????????????????????????As I write this on the eve of Yom Kippur, I would like to do two things. First is give a brief overview for those who don’t know much about the holiday, and the second is share some of my own personal thoughts and introspection of this very important day.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.  It is the culmination of a 10 day period that begins on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.  This 10 period, known as the 10 Days of Repentance, is the time we are judged by God and based on what we have done till now, and the degree of penitence we show, our future year is determined.  The book opens for each person as Rosh Hashana begins, and closes as Yom Kippur ends.  Jewish people even greet each other in this time with the phrase that conveys the wish that one will be written and inscribed for a good year.  We fast, which is not just food but liquid as well,  for 25 hours, as it begins around the time of sunset and ends the following day at darkness.  The fasting is part of the prohibition of anything that involves what is considered earthly pleasures, such as physical intimacy and the wearing of any leather, particularly leather shoes.  The idea is that we should be so connected with our spiritual connection to God that we should put ourselves in a position where we won’t be distracted by the pleasures and physical needs we have on most other days.

There are 2 days in the Jewish calendar when we are required to fast for 25 hours.  One is the 9th Day of Av, which is widely accepted as the saddest day of the Jewish year, and the other is Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year.  I once heard a Rabbi say the following when speaking of these 2 days and the law of fasting.  On the 9th of Av who would want to eat knowing how sad it is and on Yom Kippur who is able to eat knowing what’s at stake?  As I like to say about Yom Kippur, it’s for all the marbles.

Although I accept the points I’ve shared till now, I wish to share my own personal perspective, a perspective I am fairly certain was probably shared by someone much greater than I will ever be a long time ago.  As scary as Yom Kippur is, and as important and solemn as the day is, it is also the greatest day of the year, for it represents the greatest gift from God.  That gift is opportunity.  The opportunity to stop and reflect with an open heart, to ask your fellow human being for forgiveness, and most of all to ask God to allow you to start over and put your mistakes behind you.  It’s a wonderful and beautiful concept, and as the sun sets tomorrow, as awestruck as I will be, I will also be grateful.  Grateful for another chance.

To all those who do, I wish you an easy fast, and to all of you I wish you the happiest, healthiest and safest days ahead.

 

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