Archive for the '8.1.3 Yom Kippur' Category

Winning the Lottery: Yom Kippur and Gift of Life

And who by fire, who by water

Who in the sunshine, who in the night time

Who by high ordeal, who by common trial

So starts “Who by fire” by Leonard Cohen. Here he sings his modern version of the traditional Hebrew prayer “Unetanneh Tokef“, chanted on Yom Kippur. In this prayer we discuss who will be inscribed in the Book of Life on Rosh HaShanna and sealed in that book on Yom Kippur. This prayer evokes the precarious nature of life. 

In saying Unetanneh Tokef we are awakened to the perception of Damocles coming to an awareness that Dionysius’s sword is hanging overhead. Our lives are in peril. But it is not just a sword, it might be by fire, water, etc. It seems random and strangely sobering. It is as if we are reliving our own version of Shirley Jackson’s Lottery

The random nature of our mortality is underscored within the Temple sacrifice of the scapegoats we commemorate on Yom Kippur. Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Cohen Gadol took two goats and presented them at the door of the Tabernacle. Two goats were taken and by lot determined its purpose. One would be selected to be for God, which was offered as a blood sacrifice, and the other to be the scapegoat to be sent away with all of our sins into the wilderness and pushed down Azazel, a steep ravine, where it died.

We see this same idea of random lots again on Purim. There we see that Haman wants to kill all of the Jews. There in the Megilah we read:  

On the first month, that is, the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, pur—which means “the lot”—was cast before Haman concerning every day and every month, [until it fell on] the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar. (Esther 3:7)

The holiday’s name Purim comes from “pur” the random selection of when Haman and his allies were going to commit genocide. But, what does this have to do with Yom Kippur?

Some say that Yom Kippur which is referred to in the Torah as Yom Kippurim. While this is traditionally translated to mean “The Day of Atonement”, some say it actually means “ The day that is like Purim”, or Yom K’Purim. Both Yom Kippur and Purim are days in which we are aware of our mortality and our collective lot in life. Both seem random, but it seems that the lot of the scapegoat is fated, where Esther steps forward to serve her people and in so doing affirms her and our collective destiny. What is the role of our agency in determining the outcome? On Yom Kippur we acknowledge that it might seem random (who by fire and who my water), but affirm our own agency like Esther K’Purim in determining the outcome. 

I was thinking of this idea of agency and chance in the context of people testing their DNA through Gift of Life. What are the odds that we have in our body the cure for someone else’s disease? What a blessing to have in our agency the capacity to save another human life? We might not be able to determine who by fire and who by water, but we can save people from an extraordinary number of terminal illnesses.  This is an amazing way to commit our lives to a higher purpose. Continued efforts of Gift of Life have led to 23,000+ matches and 4,300+ life-saving transplants. We cannot win that lottery unless each of us get tested and donate if they are a match. May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Yearly Yearning: Another look at Hunger in Jewish Life

To live as a Jew means that we do not just eat to live. And at the same time, we do not simply live to eat. We have a complicated and nuanced relationship with food. We center Jewish moments around particular foods: from honey dripping on apples on Rosh HaShanah, to the drops of it on our first approach to Jewish text, to salt on the challah on Shabbat, to debating the merits of a hamantaschen vs latkes, our culture is replete with a cornucopia of flavors. We feast to celebrate our survival and success. We fast to remind ourselves of past troubles, purify our inner being and to cement our relationship with God. We bless what we’re going to eat and express gratitude for what we have eaten. Food bonds us to our family, friends and faith.

With the advent of the month of Elul we start our preparations for the High Holidays. Part of our preparation is, not surprisingly, around food. While we might spend some time thinking about the symbolic foods we will have at our Rosh Hashanah table, or the best brisket recipe to use, fasting on Yom Kippur takes center stage. Are we going to decaffeinate to avoid the headache? How hungry will we be? What is the best thing to eat to prepare for the fast? As much as we say, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” we are already thinking, “What will I break the fast with this year?” 

While global poverty, food insecurity and urban deserts are problems that need to be addressed, each of our personal hungers are never fully resolved. The nature of our being means that we are only sated for a limited time. We will always need more. Maybe reading all these words about food are even making you feel a little peckish!

Similar to fear and pain, hunger is an essential warning sign. The sensation of wanting nourishment reminds us of the fragility of our bodies, and our ongoing need for physical sustenance. This feeling helps us live. What about the other things that make us hungry? We crave things beyond just food — be it love, connection, sleep, wisdom or meaning. What are the other yearnings that inspire us and plague us?

The two of us, a rabbi and a psychologist, started to wonder about this broader issue of what are we yearning for. The research has pointed out that many of us identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Many are disappointed in the offerings of traditional religious practice. Many of us are seekers who do not yet know what we are seeking. What do we yearn for? How might Jewish professionals and innovators respond to the needs and hungers of those who are dissatisfied with our traditional offerings?

The prophet Amos reminds us that while we may yearn for food and water, a time is coming when people will hunger for meaning in their lives. (Amos 8:11). Maybe that time is now? We have the opportunity to use this time in Elul to prepare for the High Holidays. And not just getting ready for the physical fast, but we also have the opportunity to open ourselves up and explore our souls. Working through the often closely linked lenses of psychology and Judaism, we drafted a resource to assist Jewish organizations, congregations and any gatherings of Jews in a search for meaning that is relevant both to this time in our history and the Jewish calendar. Please share it with people. We would love your comments and suggestions. We also want to invite you to join in this exploration, please share your yearnings with others in the comments. Maybe our shared yearnings will give added meaning to both our communal and our personal yearly experience of the High Holidays.

*Originally published in eJp with Betsy Stone who is a retired psychologist who consults with camps, synagogues, clergy and Jewish institutions. She is the author of Refuah Shlema, a compilation of her previous eJP articles, recently published by Amazon.

Glimpsing the House of Tomorrow

From the start of Elul through Shemini Atzeret, we recite Psalm 27. There we read, “One thing I ask of the Lord, only that I seek: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, to frequent God’s Temple” ( Psalm 27:4). On a simple level, when meditating on this we are beseeching God to allow us to return and stay in the Temple. Do any of us pretend to understand what it was like to be in the Temple? What are we really asking for? 

Maybe we are seeking the feeling of home.  

My name is Avi Orlow. Over 20 years ago, I was honored to start as a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) while its beit midrash, or study hall, was still nascent. There, I felt that sense of home described in Psalm 27. I came to YCT with a deep love for the Jewish people, and thanks to my education there, I left it years later with a profound appreciation for what Judaism has to offer humanity. I look back fondly at how after every class we would discuss how we might transmit the experience of YCT’s spiritual environment to the outside world. 

Many of us yearn to create a sense of home in multiple areas of our lives. For me, I have attempted to replicate that feeling of comfort in both my professional and personal spheres. It is not surprising, then, that my professional growth has run parallel to that of my family. The same spring I was ordained by YCT in 2004, I became a new father. I was fortunate enough to have our son’s bris, and then his pidyon haben, at YCT. Soon after these events and my graduation, our growing family packed up our books, the BabyBjörn, and our life in New York as we prepared to take on the bigger world.

Along the way, my career has taken me all over the country. First, I spent four years as a Hillel rabbi at Washington University in St. Louis where we opened our home to students. While I loved working on campus, I moved on when given the chance to impact how thousands of young people every summer understand Jewish camp to be their home away from home. I have spent the last 13 years at Foundation for Jewish Camp where I have traveled the country learning from and with Jewish camps all over North America about how to spread joyous Judaism. During that time, my wife and I have been blessed with three more amazing children.

While I have helped build the home that is my family, I have never forgotten the home I knew at YCT. My connection to YCT has waxed and waned over time, but I have always stayed curious as to the successes and challenges of my fellow alumni in our efforts to bring the goodness of the YCT beit midrash to the world. Many of us started at YCT with little more than a vision for what Open Orthodoxy could mean. In some moments, I haven’t always been sure how much impact our small school has had on the world.

Recent events, however, have made me realize that the home we all built together at YCT is being realized in unforeseen ways across generations.

A few weeks ago, I was picking up some of my children at the Camp Stone bus stop in White Plains, New York, where I live. I was expecting to see the usual neighborhood YCT suspects: Rabbis Jack Nahmod (‘05), Seth Braunstein (‘06), and YCT faculty member Chaim Marder. Our children are all friends from the neighborhood and we send them to the same camp. 

a school bus stopping on a road with its doors open while a line of small children with backpacks walk in a line to get onto the bus

I was surprised, however, when I spotted Rabbi Seth Winberg (‘11), the executive director of Brandeis Hillel, at the stop. It was his daughter Hadas’s first summer at camp so she had flown there. She had assumed, however, that she would know people on the way home, so she came back on the White Plains bus. Rabbi Seth had come in from Boston to pick her up. As we chatted and caught up, the buses rolled up the street. Rabbi Seth found Hadas, and I found my daughter Emunah. I asked Emunah if she knew Hadas. She responded, “Of course I do, Abba! We just sat next to each other on the nine-hour ride home from camp.” What are the odds, I thought to myself!

When we got home, Emunah did not want to talk with us. We were not surprised. She just wanted to talk with her camp friends. She talked with her friend Amollia for over an hour. Later that night, she was having trouble falling asleep. It turns out that when you work in camping as I do, your kids do not get homesick at camp. Rather, they get campsick at home. To calm her down, I asked her to go through a list of her friends. I stopped her when she told me about Amolia Antine from Maryland. Her father, Rabbi Nissin Antine (‘06), from Potomac, was ordained two years after me at YCT. Truly, what a very small world! It was astonishing to me that, without any direction or interference from me, my child had just naturally gravitated toward the children of other YCT rabbis.

When Kalil Gibran’s Prophet is asked about children, he responds:

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

Emunah discovered these people on her own. She is her own person, and she is finding friends who share her interests and her values. It is amazing to see the emergence of the next generation of YCT as our children build their own community. 

This time of year, when I get to L’David 27, I reflect on how the world is sometimes a very big and a very scary space. I cannot say that I want to hide from it in the Temple, but there is a part of me that yearns for the comfort and holiness of the beit midrash I knew as a rabbinical student. I know that the YCT rabbis are each doing what we can to share this experience of home from the beit midrash with the larger world. And while I might not be able to gaze upon the beauty of our children’s “house of tomorrow,” I find that even a glimpse is heartwarming, affirming, and worthy of meditation. 

-Reposted from YCT Blog

Zero-Based Budgeting and Avinu Malkeynu

For many of us who actually work off a budget, be if for profit, for not-for-profit or personal we just roll over one year’s budget from the last. Developed by Peter Pyhrr in the 1970s, Zero-based budgeting (ZBB) is a method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified and approved for each new period. ZBB starts from a “zero base” at the beginning of every budget period, analyzing needs and costs of every function within an organization and allocating funds accordingly, regardless of how much money has previously been budgeted to any given line item.

zero_based_budget_process_ppt_example_file_Slide01

There are positives to ZBB:

  1. Accuracy: This type of budgeting helps companies to evaluate every department to ensure they are appropriately funded.
  2. Efficiency: It helps judge the actual needs by focusing on current numbers rather than the momentum of previous budgets.
  3. Reduced waste: It can remove redundant spending by re-examining potentially unnecessary expenditures.
  4. Coordination and Communication: It allows for better communication within departments by involving employees in decision-making and budget prioritization.

There are also drawbacks of ZBB:

  1. Bureaucracy: Creating ZBB within a company can take enormous amounts of time, effort, and analysis that would require extra staff. This could cause the process to be counterproductive in cutting costs.
  2. Bloat: In using ZBB, managers can skew proposed budgets to characterize expenditures on pet projects as vital activities, inventing a “necessity” for them.
  3. Intangible Justifications: This type of budgeting requires departments to justify their budget, which can be difficult on many levels. Departments such as advertising and marketing have to justify expenses they may or may not use in the next year due to the fluctuation of the market. This could cost them profits in the future due to not being able to justify a certain amount.
  4. Managerial Time: ZBB comes at the cost of time and training for managers. This means spending significantly more time every period on the budget.
  5. Slower Response Time: Due to the amount of time and training is required to do ZBB, managerial staff could be less likely to revise the budget in response to a changing market. This means that it will take longer for a company to move money into departments that need it the most at the time. ZBB could potentially leave gaps in a company because the budget might not react to departments’ sudden needs

Performance measures are a key component of the ZBB process. At the core, ZBB requires quality measures that can be used to analyze the impact of alternative funding scenarios on program operations and outcomes. Without quality measures ZBB simply will not work because decisions cannot be ranked or evaluated. Traditionally, a ZBB analysis focused on three types of measures:

  1. effectiveness,
  2. efficiency, and
  3. workload for each decision unit.

I was thinking about this yesterday near the end of Yom Kippur when singing the end of Avinu Malkeynu. There we say:

ah-vee-noo mahl-kay-noo chah-nay-noo vah-ahh-nay-noo kee ayn bah-noo mah-ahh-seem ahh-say eeh-mah-noo tzih-dah-kah vah-cheh-sed vih-hoe-shee-ay-noo- Our Father, Our King! favor us and answer us for we have no good deeds; deal with us charitably and kindly with us

Every other time I said this it came off as a child pleading to their Father to save them. Yes we know we are crap and have done nothing good, but since you love us as a parent loves a child you will save us. But here during Neilah at the end of Yom Kippur after a day in which we have already repented and we have done teshuva I got to thinking about what this means. Maybe after the slate has been cleaned from year of sin, it has also been cleared from any good we have done. We too have to go through a ZBB for our lives. For better and for worse nothing will roll over from last year.

So let’s get to work and make 5782 everything we want it to be. Here is to a year filled with health, happiness, effectiveness, efficiency, and good decisions.

Reb Asher the Dairyman: Will We Hear Him This Year?

For various reasons I recently found myself reading Isaac Bashevis Singer‘s In My Father’s Court recently. I just love his depiction of the old world and his story telling. Each of the stories helps to paint a different aspect of Singer’s early life growing up the son of a Hassidic Rebbe and Rebeitzen. His family had moved from the country into Warsaw. In the stories we see Singer himself exploring the world beyond his own.

Isaac Bashevis Singer

There is one story there I can not get out of my mind. The title of the story Reb Asher the Dairyman already had me thinking I could reconnect with Shalom Aleichem‘s Tevye. But this is a different story. Reb Asher was tall, broad, strong, with a black beard, large eyes, and “the voice of a lion”. He volunteered in Singer’s Father’s makeshift High Holiday minyan as the Hazzan. Singer also tells how Reb Asher takes him under his wing to bring him to the train to see more of the outside world. It is clear that Reb Asher is a friend of the family.

There we read:

One year, at the close of the Day of Atonement, this same Asher, our friend and benefactor, saved our very lives. It happened in this manner. After the day-long fast, we had eaten the repast. Later a number of Jews gathered in our house to dance and rejoice. My father had already put up the first beam of the Sukkah. Late that night we had at last fallen asleep. Since benches and pews has been set up in the bedroom, and the entire house was in disorder, each of us slept wherever he could find a spot. But one thing we has forgotten- to extinguish the candles that were still burning on some of the pews. Late that night Asher had to drive to the railroad station to pick up milk. He passed our house and noticed that it was unusually bright. This was not the glow of candles, or of a lamp, but rather the glare of a great fire. Asher realized that our house must be burning. He rang the bell at the gate, but janitor did not rush to open it. He too was asleep. Then Asher set to ringing the bell and beating on the door with such furor that at las the Gentile awoke and opened the gate. Asher raced up the stairs and knocked on our door, but no one answered. Then Asher the mighty hurled his broad shoulders against the door and forced it open. Bursting into the house, he found the entire family asleep while all around, benches, prayer stands, prayer books, and holiday prayer books were aflame. He began to call our in his booming cantorial voice and finally roused us, and then he tore off our quilts and set to smothering the conflagration.

In My Father’s Court (166-167)

In some way we see Singer depicting Asher reliving the Midrash of Avram discovering God when stopping to investigate a castle that is has it’s lights on and/or is engulfed in fire. But in another way this story from the old world seems prescient in describing our moment in history today. Just like the Singer family we have fallen asleep and the world is burning. Be it global warming and its forest fires, political fervor, raging racism, or this evolving Covid-19 plague, our reality feels like it burning to the ground. How do we deal with trauma? How might we address the underlying root causes?

As we prepare for Yom Kippur I pause to think about the voice of the Hazan. Will I allow myself to get lost in the nostalgia? Will his voice lull us to sleep with a false sense of comfort? Or, will the booming “voice of the lion” wake us? We will only be saved when we face the issues burning all around us. As we prepare to stand in God’s Court during Yom Kippur we should all be blessed to be saved by our friend Reb Asher on his way to the railroad station to pick up the milk.

Once and Forever: Purim and Yom Kippur

I recently reconnected with a dear friend who shared a deep Torah from the Aish Kodesh on Purim. He teaches:

We read in the Tikkunei Zohar that Purim is like Yom Kippur. This is hinted-at in the way that on Yom Kippur, one must fast and do teshuvah (repentance / return) not only if one feels like it, but whether or not one wants to do it. This is an enduring decree from the Holy One of Blessing. Rejoicing on Purim is similar. One is obligated to rejoice on Purim, not only if one is happy in oneself, or is in a situation where it’s easy to feel joy. On the contrary: even if one is in a low place and completely broken-hearted, body and spirit laid low, it’s still an obligation to seek out whatever tiny spark of joy is possible, and welcome that spark into the heart. On both of these holy days, there’s a flow from on high to us here below. Just as Yom Kippur itself atones for us, even if our teshuvah feels inadequate, just so on Purim. Even if a person isn’t feeling joyful the way one’s supposed to, and therefore one’s service of God doesn’t feel whole, even in that case the salvation and joy of Purim will flow — and that potential is open to us even now.- The Piazeczyner aka The Aish Kodesh, Purim 1940

R’ Kalonymos Kalmish Shapira z”l was exploring how one might experience joy despite living through the worst acts of human cruelty during Holocaust. But I do believe that there are other lessons learned from the connection between Purim and Yom Kippur.

On Purim we read the book of Esther, and one of the most poignant moments in it is when Mordechai beseeches Esther to intercede with Ahashverosh for her people. There we read:

Mordecai had this message delivered to Esther: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” ( Esther 4: 13-14)

Mordechai wants to convince her to put herself at risk and come out of the closet with her hidden identity to save her people. But instead of arguing that we really need her and that our existence is held in the balance, he claims that if she does not act for her people our salvation will come from somewhere else, and she will be the one lost from our communal memory. It seems like some ancient reverse psychology. And it works- she saves her people.

It is fascinating when you compare Esther response to a human call to duty with Yonah‘s running from God’s call to prophesies to the people of Nineveh that we read on Yom Kippur. Instead of doing his job, Yonah runs away. What learn from this juxtaposition?

To offer one answer this question I want to share with you the chorus from Ahat Uletamid, by Ishay Ribo. I just love his music. He seems to have all of the right words, tunes, and emotions. I would offer you to listen to the whole song:

The chorus goes:

And I wish to do as Your will, as You wish Really and truly, once and forever With no screens, with no masks, without wanting to please Really and truly, once and forever

Like no other time this Covid Purim I am experiencing a desire to live without screens or masks. Ribo is articulating the commitment to be like Esther and not Yonah and answering the call when needed. On Purim and Yom Kippur we strive to live as our true selves. If we want to live fully and authentically we cannot stay hidden.

Basking in the Shade: Some Thoughts on Sefer Yonah, Sukkot, and the Nature of Teshuva

From the start, Yonah evades God’s command to prophesize in Nineveh. When he finally does his job, Yonah seems disappointed by his success. The people do the work of repenting, but where is Yonah? We read:

Now Yonah had left the city and found a place east of the city. He made a sukkah there and sat under it in the shade, until he should see what happened to the city. (Yonah 4:5 )

Yonah thinks or hopes that they will fail and he will experience schadenfreude. Yonah is incredulous that repentance could work.

Celebrating Sukkot: Feast of Tabernacles | Cedars-Sinai

Like Yonah, in a few days we too will find ourselves sitting in a sukkah. We might also conclude that people cannot change. Then, in Kohelet, we will read, “There is nothing new under the sun!” (Kohelet 1:9). After spending all day thinking about our sins, what makes us think that we could be anything other than sinners? 

We learn, “A disorderly sukkah which casts more shade than sunlight is kosher” (Mishnah Sukkah 2:2).  Our lives are messy and it is still true that nothing might change under the sun, but if we can bask in the shade of the sukkah, we might imagine a new reality. 

Albert Einstein said, “ Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” We cannot evade the will of God. We cannot hide in the bottom of a boat or in the gullet of a whale. But under the shade of a Sukkah, we are invited to think past the harsh logic of sin and punishment. We need to find refuge from the relentless sun. We need to open ourselves to the possibility of change. Because imagination is the prerequisite for redemption, and it will take us everywhere.

-From the YCT, IRF, Maharat Machzor Companion – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 5781/2020

The Curtain of Accountability

Yom Kippur is an opportunity for us to reflect on our past and to prepare to do better this coming year. It is an opportunity many of us are yearning for, to restart with design and purpose on our life’s journey. Confronting the myriad issues facing us in 2020, it feels that this is going to be an important Yom Kippur.

In preparation for this day, we recall an important story about four figures who embarked on their own journey into a strange land, trying to ameliorate their perceived inadequacies. It turns out each of them already had everything they were seeking before entering this enchanted world, yet they needed to go on an important journey together, in order to remember. Most would immediately recognize this plot line from the Wizard of Oz. The tin man was always the most empathetic, the lion was full of courage, the scarecrow was brimming with wisdom, and all Dorothy had to do to return to Kansas was click her heels together. (This is also the story of the four who entered Pardes, but that is another article)

As we look out on the current state of affairs, we see a world that desperately needs accountability at every level: personally, professionally, locally, nationally, and globally. Not an accountability as punishment or consequence, as we might see in the prayers or the media. Rather, we seek accountability as a construct and means for personal improvement. Accountability is an intentional process to do what we said we would do, as we said we would do it, when we said we would do it. Now is a chance to look inwards to explore our own personal and individual avenues towards accountability.

When the Temple stood, the apex of the Yom Kippur service was when the High Priest pulled back the curtain in front of the Ark of the Covenant to enter alone into the Holy of Holies to offer a communal atonement sacrifice. Today, we too can pull back the curtain of our most vulnerable internal lives, and remember, or discover, that our tradition is all about accountability and an invitation to do teshuva – return home. As Dorothy said, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!”

The path has been there for us the entire time in the practices and techniques of the wisdom of our tradition. Yom Kippur is not about punishment, but about a chance to reconnect and achieve self-actualization. As we prepare for Yom Kippur, we are inspired by the idea that we can all find our brains, hearts, courage, or even our way home.

And as we set out on this path, we think about who joins us on this journey. Together with our accountability partners we can support each other along the way. Together we can help each other find our strengths, and confront what we are avoiding. None of us needs to settle for thinking about our deficiencies or what we wish we could or would do differently, alone. Along with our fellow travelers we can commit and follow through on moving beyond intentions to actions. How do we show up for our family members, friends, and colleagues as true companions on life’s journey?

The yellow brick road is long and it leads in the right direction. But a well-planned path is not enough. To get to where we want to go, we might think about setting aside time each day to plan for tomorrow, creating time in our calendar to do the things that are due. The step-by-step consistency of doing the work will help us get closer to the Emerald City. Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

In 5781 let’s do what we said we would do, as we said we would do it, when we said we would do it. The road to greater accountability is not always easy. Along the way we will all fall short. The question is not if we fail but how we get back on track. On Yom Kippur, we are invited to be proactive and seek accountability for ourselves, our communities, and the world. When we pull the curtain back we are not disappointed to find that the wizard is a mere mortal, rather, we are inspired when we discover accountability is no further than our own backyard.

-from eJewish Philanthropy. Written with Diana Bloom a consultant, and trainer who is passionate about supporting individuals and organizations to bridge the gap between their intentions and actions. Her humorous, engaging, and straightforward style, along with realistic, actionable tools help others achieve greater accountability in their professional and personal lives. 

 

Returning the Hug: Facing the Judge on Yom Kippur

I find that people are often incredulous that Rosh HaShana is called Yom HaDin– the Day of Judgement. Isn’t that Yom Kippur? Actually Yom Kippur is about what happens after judgment, namely atonement.

I was thinking about this distinction this year as I have been following the Amber Guyger case. On September 6, 2018, off-duty Dallas Police Department patrol officer Amber Guyger entered the Dallas, Texas, apartment of Botham Jean and shot and killed him. Guyger said that she had entered the apartment believing it was her own and that she shot Jean believing he was a burglar. On October 1, 2019, the second day of Rosh HaShannah Guyger was found guilty of murder. As reported in the New York Times, the next day, Mr. Jean’s brother, Brandt Jean, took the stand to address Ms. Guyger after her sentencing to ten years in prison. He turned to Judge Tammy Kemp for permission to express his forgiveness. “I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please?” he asked, looking up toward the judge’s bench. “Please?” After a pause, the judge agreed. As he walked toward Ms. Guyger and wrapped his arms around her, Judge Kemp used a tissue to wipe tears from her eyes. After Judge Kemp had spoken with and hugged Mr. Jean’s family, she emerged from her chambers, flipping through the pages of a Bible. She approached Ms. Guyger at the defense table and handed her the book. “You can have mine,” she said. “I’ve got three or four more at home. This is the one I use every day.” Afterward, Ms. Guyger stood up and reached her arms toward Judge Kemp. The judge briefly shook her head, before returning the hug.

A former Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, was sentenced to 10 years for murder in an unusual police shooting case. At the end of the trial, Judge Tammy Kemp gave her a Bible and a hug.

While there is much to write about the systemic racism brought up in this case, for now I just want to pull out one thread of the power of a hug. As we prepare for Yom Kippur I find these hugs compelling from each perspective. From the vantage of Ms. Guyger, while few of us have or will ever do anything as horrible as what she did, we all have unintentionally or intentionally done bad things and hurt people this year. Does sin make us beyond salvation, irreparable, or unworthy of compassion?

And what about from the the point of view of Brandt Jean? While Yom Kippur allows us to atone for our sins between us and God, it does nothing for the wrongs we have done to each other. Repairing those relationships is work each of us need to do. What would it take to get to his level to forgive someone who killed someone we love? I for one know I have some work to do.

And from the bench, what did it look like for Judge Tammy Kemp? After the ordeal of the trial and the sentencing her job was done. With the simple gift of her personal Bible she communicated compassion. She was telling Ms. Guyger that while she is guilty and will do time she is not beyond salvation. And with the simple humane embrace the Judge expressed that this sinner was still worthy of love. Thank your Judge Kemp for reminding what can happen after the Day of Judgement.

This picture of the judge hugging Ms Guyger is what I will be thinking about at when the Neilah service this year. As the gates of Yom Kippur are closing we make our final appeal. The ordeal of the trial will be over, we have received our sentence, hopefully we will have made peace with the people we have wronged, and we stand up and reach our arms toward the Judge. The Judge briefly shakes God’s head, before returning the hug. With the compassion of the Judge we remove the Rah HaGezerah– not the judgement, but the bad part of the judgement. In the end we appeal for the relationship with God. With the divine response of a simple hug God tell us that we are worthy of God’s Love. We just need to reach out for that hug.

Getting Uploaded to the Cloud: Rethinking the Media of Yom Kippur

Before Marshall McLuhan  popularized the idea in his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man Aan educator Angus MacLean coined the phrase “The method is the message.” For McLuhan it morphed into the idea that “The medium is the message.” McLuhan uses the term ‘message’ to signify content and character. The content of the medium is a message that can be easily grasped. And the character of the medium is another message which can be easily overlooked. McLuhan says “Indeed, it is only too typical that the ‘content’ of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.” For McLuhan, it was the medium itself that shaped and controlled “the scale and form of human association and action.” It means that the nature of a medium (the channel through which a message is transmitted) is more important than the meaning or content of the message.

I was thinking about this last year on Yom Kippur during a walk with Yishama right before Neilah. My 12 year old and I needed to stretch our legs before the last service so we walked around the block from the synagogue. As we were headed back into the synagogue some said, “Gmar Chatima Tova“. Yishama asked me what that means. First I translated it for them- that the other person was wishing that we ” End with a Good Seal”. He looked at he if I was crazy so I launch into explain the Rabbi Kruspedai’s three books.

There in turn made me think of a Gemara in Rosh Hashanah where we learn:

Rabbi Kruspedai said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: Three books are opened [in heaven] on New Year, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the in between. The thoroughly righteous are immediately inscribed definitively in the Book of Life; the thoroughly wicked are immediately inscribed definitively in the Book of Death; the doom of the people in between is suspended from New Year till the Day of Atonement; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the Book of Life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the Book of Death (Rosh Hashanah 16b)

So we say on Rosh Hashana we should be inscribed in the Book of Life and on Yom Kippur we should be sealed in the Book of Life. Again Yishama looked at he if I was crazy. He understood is a nice salutation, but it was lost to him.

If McLuhan and MacLean are right, what is the meaning of the media/method of a Book of Life? What might this mean for a child of the 21st Century? I turned to him and said, “On Rosh Hashana we saved to God’s desktop and on Yom Kippur we should be uploaded to the Cloud.” This made sense to Yishama and had meaning.

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If the media is the message, a book might not continue to work for his generation. It is uplifting to know that being “saved” does work. It also makes me rethink all of the metaphors we use for God. To that ends, on this Yom Kippur I hope that we are all blessed to be uploaded to the Server up on high.


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