Posts Tagged 'Yom Kippur'

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.

cloud computing platform, cloud server hosting, data infrastructure, dedicated cloud hosting, virtual cloud server icon

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.

Cookie Thief: Meilah and the Blessing of Yom Kippur

As part of mourning process for the passing of my father I arranged a group of people to learn the entire Mishnah in his memory.  Yes, there are a few masechtot left if you want to grab one before Sukkot. Among other masechtot that I learned I got to learn Meilah.  This masechet deals with the laws concerning the trespass-offering and the reparation which must be made by one who has used and enjoyed a consecrated thing (Leviticus 15-16). Or in other words what does it mean to lift/steal from God?

I was thinking about this recently when my shul’s rabbi shared the The Cookie Thief by Valerie Cox. The poem reads:

A woman was waiting at an airport one night, with several long hours before her flight. She hunted for a book in the airport shops, bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book but happened to see, that the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be. . .grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between, which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.

So she munched the cookies and watched the clock, as the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock. She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by, thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”

With each cookie she took, he took one too, when only one was left, she wondered what he would do. With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, as he ate the other, she snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother. This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude, why he didn’t even show any gratitude!

She had never known when she had been so galled, and sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate, refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.

She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat, then she sought her book, which was almost complete. As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise, there was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.

If mine are here, she moaned in despair, the others were his, and he tried to share. Too late to apologize, she realized with grief, that she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

Like the thief we are all very quick to see ourselves as the victims and we often overlook all that we have done wrong to others. Interestingly, after the Temple was destroyed and the idea of trespass of consecrated offerings was irrelevant, the Rabbis borrowed from this idea to explore how we might create meaning in our daily lives. We learn in the Gemara:

The Sages taught in a ToseftaOne is forbidden to derive benefit from this world, which is the property of God, without reciting a blessing beforehand. And anyone who derives benefit from this world without a blessing, it is as if he is guilty of Meilah– misuse of a consecrated object. (Berachot 35a)

Interestingly with this Rabbinic conception, without an expression of gratitude in the form of a blessing we are all cookie thieves.

I was thinking about all of this as we prepare to enter into Yom Kippur. This holy day is meant to repair our relationship with God for all of the cookies we have taken in the year, but it does nothing to repair the relationships we have ruptured between ourselves by acting poorly or judging each other unfairly.  May we all be blessed with much gratitude, many blessings, and a commensurate amount of cookies in 5779.

Gmar Chatima Tova

Shabbat Shabbatot

It seems strange to have Yom Kippur on Shabbat. It feels like I am missing out on Shabbat this week. In so many ways it is central to my personal sanity and family’s sense of sanctity and rhythm.  My friend Zev just posted this on Facebook:

The great Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was very calm when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat and explained why it was so. It is known we are commanded as not to write on Shabbat, that it is a desecration of the holy Shabbat! Just for saving a life one is allowed to write. And therefore G-d can only write us in for a year of life as writing is only permitted for saving lives but for no other exception. We will surely be blessed and inscribed and sealed for a great year filled with all good both physically and spiritually!

Living my whole life within a structure of Jewish law is the normal of my existence. One of the most wonderful unintended consequences of raising children within a legal system is that we as parents are not the originators of all the rules of the household. They have to keep Shabbat because it is the law, not just because Abba said so. Nothing gives me more pleasure then when my children challenge me to keep these rules. There is an order bigger then any one of us in which we find out place. This means that I can be an authority, but not an authoritarian. Similarly it is an amazing idea to project the idea that G-d also has to keep the laws of Yom Kippur  and Shabbat. In so many levels this imagination brings be comfort and sense of order. May we all be blessed to have meaningful Shabbat Shabbatot.

Gmar Chatima Tova

Generous Orthodoxy: Revisiting Welcoming LGBT on Yom Kippur

As an Orthodox Jewish in preparation for Yom Kippur I pause to take stock of who I am individually and who we are collectively. Am I doing everything I should be doing to make this world a better place? A couple of years ago I was is in a similarly reflective mode when I got to thinking about our tradition of reading a list of sexual prohibitions  in the Yom Kippur afternoon service (Leviticus 18:1 – 30). Why would we read the primary religious source used to substantiate homophobia on our most holy day of the year? While I still do not have an answer to this question, I feel that silence on this issue is its own sin. At that time I wrote a letter to my children if they are gay with 8 promises. What has happened since that time?

While there have been some efforts to be more welcoming to LGBT members of our Jewish community, advancement is really slow going at best. While it is clear that we still have a lot of work to do towards making it safe to be an LGBT member of our community, this year I got to thinking beyond just our community. There have been horrible set-backs in society at large. Bigotry, hate, and even violence toward LGBT people world-wide is a real problem. I would be fool hearty to think that this passage in Leviticus is the cause to this hatred and bigotry. People tend to fear what they do not understand. Nonetheless as an Orthodox Jew I feel that I have a responsibility to relieve this suffering and not to contribute toward it. We are the People of the Book, we have to take responsibility for how we share that story. The day of Yom Kippur itself atones for our sins between us and God. We still need to do the work of healing the wounds of sins between us and other people.

I was thinking about this recently I was listening to Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell. In this podcast Gladwell shared the powerful story of Chester Wenger, a 98-year-old Mennonite minister who chose to confront his own church over a question of deepest principle. As pastor in one of the most traditional of religious communities he made the hard choice to officiate at the marriage ceremony of his gay son. Gladwell argues that this is a case of what theologian Hans Frei called Generous Orthodoxy. This paradox of Generous Orthodoxy seems resonant with my ideals of Open Orthodoxy. Wenger offers us a master class in the art of deeply respectful, openhearted, and religiously important dissent.

I will be thinking about this idea of Generous Orthodoxy this Yom Kippur when saying the Unetanneh Tokef prayer. There we say:

Teshuva– Repentance,

Tefilah – Prayer,

and Tzedaka– Charity

will annul the severe decree.

How will we confront our own day of Judgement before God? We will strive to do Teshuva.  It is clear that we all have work to do to make sure we are the best people we can be. On Yom Kippur we will do plenty of Tefilah. There is much to be said for recognizing that we do not have all of the answers. We come together to seek out support from each other and Beyond to make meaning in our lives. And we will give Tzedaka– charity. Wait- I will not being carrying my wallet. Will any of us give charity on the day of Yom Kippur? Might I suggest that on the day of Yom Kippur the charity we are being asked to give is not monetary. Maybe we are being asked to be generous in our orthodoxy itself. So yes I will read the passage from Leviticus, but I will also stand in judgement saying the Unetanneh Tokef. Saying these works I will try to be offer up my wholehearted understanding of orthodoxy. If I need to risk my own sense of self to ensure that everyone feel safe and welcome so be it. Maybe if I could just be a little bit more like Chester Wenger my severe decree against me will be annulled.

Also see:

Unforgiven: Preparing Myself for Yom Kippur

Yesterday I was walking from Grand Central to work listening to Pandora. Seeing that we are in the 10 Days of Repentance  between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur it seemed particularly timely hearing Iron Horse‘s  bluegrass cover of Metalicca’s Unforgiven. Here is a sweat live recording that is worth listening to:

 

The song deals with a person’s lifelong struggle against the forces that try to subjugate him. He is dubbed ” Unforgiven” because he has not actualized his full potential. The day of Yom Kippur itself atones for our sins between us and God. We clearly use it as an occasion to heal the wounds of sins between us and other people. Listening to this song, I pause to reflect on the possibility that I need to spend some time atoning for the sins between me and myself. As we learn in the song ” that old man here is me”.  Each of us are simultaneously the protagonist and antagonist in our own personal narratives. Have we actualized our full potential? The good news is that the story is not yet over. We can still decide where it goes from here. As we prepare for Yom Kippur, how can we forgive ourselves for the past and work harder to be the person we want to be in the future?

Möbius Torah: The Media and Message of Torah and Teshuva

Recently my dear friend Shalom Orzach was in touch because he wanted explore making another contemporary daf of Talmud. Together we had made one exploring Leah Goldberg’s Pine and the Landscape of Israel  and it was a lot of fun. Despite being very busy I was up for the challenge. It seemed like a great way of preparing for the High Holidays. Pretty quickly we started batting back and forth different texts that we might want to play with in the project. You really have to love Google Docs. Out of this process emerged two interested strands dealing with Teshuva and the question as to where or when is the beginning of our story.

In general this project was in pursuit of putting modern and relevant content in the standard form of the Vilna Daf.

Image result for daf talmud

In general it is an amazing way to portray a conversation over time, but seeing the themes involved I thought we might push ourselves.

Marshall McLuhan once coined  the phrase “The medium is the message“. What would it take for us to find a way to ensure that the form of a medium would embed itself in any message it would transmit? This inspired our creation of Where To Begin: Unending Learning for the 10 Days of Repentance  (Möbius Torah 1.0). To make a Möbius Torah please:

  1. Print this page our on Ledger (11×17) sized paper. This will ensure it is big enough to read.
  2. Cut out the table on the sheet.
  3. Fold along the dotted line with the writing facing outwards.
  4. Bend Paper  into a circular shaped cuff.
  5. Tape the ends to create a möbius strip as in this picture.Image result for mobius strip
  6. As you learn it turn it and turn it again because there is no beginning and no end to learning Torah.
  7. Alternatively you can just learn the text without the arts and crafts project, but that would not be as much fun.

With Möbius Torah 1.0 we hope to create a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message the Torah is perceived. Please print this out and enjoy. It has been a pleasure playing with Shalom in the bringing you this Torah. As always I would love your input and ideas for other ways to make revelation relevant, engaging,  and more accessible. So please do be in touch.

Gmar Chatima Tova

How Great are Commandments?

Despite only being eleven years old, Yadid decided to fast this year on Yom Kippur. Being that he is not yet a Bar Mitzvah (13 years old) he had no obligation to do so. We were clear with him that if he ever wanted to eat or drink he should stop fasting. At the end of the break Adina, Yadid, Libi and I were headed back to synagogue for Mincha. At this point Yadid asked, ” Is it harder for people who do not see themselves to be obligated to keep mitzvot to fast on Yom Kippur? I mean since I know I can eat it makes it even harder for me not to eat.”

At the time Yadid’s question makes me think about  Lech Lecha, this weeks portion. Here our nation’s journey begins with God instructing Avram (soon to become Avraham) to leave his birthplace and set out to start a new people in a new land. What a novel concept? A people collected by common belief as opposed to an accident of birth place. But if we were paying attention to the end of  Noah, last week’s portion, we would have seen that the destination for Avram’s travel was not new at all. Terach, Avram’s father, had set out with his family toward the land of Canaan, but never got there. While it seems that Avram was more successful than his father in terms of getting to the land of Canaan, as we see later in the this Torah portion in Avram’s travels to Egypt he was equally unsuccessful as his father in terms of staying in Canaan. How are we to compare the Avram’s divine quest with Terach’s life journey?

In the Gemara in Kidushin 31a (in a totally different context) we learn that,  “Greater is the one who is commanded and does then the one who is not commanded and does”. This sentiment can be explained with a basic understanding of the human need to combat authority. It  is more meritorious to overcome our need to rebuff authority and comply than to just do something for its own sake. It is interesting to ponder the opposite of this adage. How would you compare one who is commanded and does not comply to the one who is not commanded and does not comply? The first one is testing the limits of authority, but still might be in a relationship with the authority. The later is just not doing anything at all.

Surely Terach’s intentions were good, but we do not know them. At first Avram is successful in following God’s direction to go to the land of Canaan, but soon after he gets there he does not stay. But still he aspires to go and does eventually comply and settle in the land of Canaan. In many ways we are all still beneficiaries of this aspiration and this relationship. Beyond the scope of going to Israel, we all fail to fulfill God’s commandments, but with clear expectations it is possible for us to try again and succeed.

Yadid’s question was special in that it came with a certain openness. I hope Yadid maintains this openness for many years beyond his becoming a bar mitzvah. There is still more depth of the question, but alas even thinking about it makes me hungry.

– Borrowed from older post

 

Shabbat of Shabbats: Yom Kippur and Camp

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of reading a very touching piece by Dr. Oliver Sacks z”l in the New York Times. In the piece, the world-renowned neurologist reflects on his youth growing up in a traditional Jewish house and having Shabbat with his family. He shares the heart-wrenching story of his leaving that world. Through a turn of events before the end of his life, he revisits Shabbat with family. About this rediscovery he writes:

The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything, and I found myself drenched with a wistfulness, something akin to nostalgia, wondering what if: What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? What sort of a life might I have lived? (Sabbath- NYT August 14, 2015)

This depiction of the Sabbath brought me back to camp. Camp was really the first place that I truly connected to “a stopped world”.

Is there anything better than Shabbat at camp? What is there not to love? It is amazing, you get all cleaned up, get on your nicest clothes, partake in better food, have some less structured time with people you love in a place filled with beauty and memories. It is the gold standard of food, folks, and fun. I often hear from people, “I do not keep Shabbat at home, but for me Camp is the Shabbat of my year.” On one level, this is so beautiful. This sentiment expresses their love of camp and Shabbat. They have found holiness in their lives in these amazing immersive experiences. On another level, it makes me sad. Do Shabbat and camp need to be all or nothing? These peak experiences at camp two months a year might preempt other amazing experiences 10 months a year, or worse for years in their lives when they can no longer come to camp.

I pause to reflect on Shabbat in preparation for Yom Kippur a day described as “Shabbat Shabbaton” (Leviticus 16:31, 23:32). On a simple level, it means a day of complete cessation of work, but on a deeper level is a day to reboot our system. Yom Kippur is a day in which we spend time reflecting on how we can repair what is broken and return to a better version of ourselves. For me, that means going back to camp.  It is a day we can give ourselves permission to take the best part of camp and Shabbat and bring them into our lives. What would it mean to take time every Shabbat to grab some unstructured time within a beautiful place and eat some yummy food with people you love? Yom Kippur asks us not to let perfection get in the way of success. We do not need to wait until the end of our lives to “wonder what if“.

Gmar Chatima Tova and Shabbat Shalom

Ruthless Interrogation: Ta-Nehisi Coates, the High Holidays, and the Making of a Mensch

Recently I had the joy of reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is written as a letter to his 14-year-old son about the black male experience in America today. Coates puts forward a disturbing and convincing characterization of our country’s past and ongoing violence against black men. While Coates’s depiction is bleak and not one filled with hope, his profound ability for personal reflection itself is uplifting and inspiring. I have no doubt that I will reflect on this book and my own issues around white privilege for years to come, but seeing that we are in the middle of the High Holidays and about to enter into Shabbat Shuvah, it seemed both timely and timeless to share one of Coates’s reflections now.

Coates recalls that when he was his son’s age and got in trouble his mother would give him writing assignments. About this Coates writes:

Your grandmother was not teaching me how to behave in class. She was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing- myself. Here was the lesson: I was not an innocent. My impulses were not filled with unfailing virtue. And feeling that I was as human as anyone, this must be true for other humans. If I was not innocent, then they were not innocent. Could this mix of motivation also affect the stories they tell? The cities they built? The country they claimed as given to them by God? ( Between the World and Me p.30)

His even-handed view of his own limited humanity opens a whole vista to understanding the flawed dream of America. Despite all of our differences, we are all the same flawed creatures. This inspires me to look deep inside at my own limitations in preparation for Yom Kippur.

This 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)

Like Coates’s story from his adolescence, in this time of year we are all in the middle of our own writing assignments. Which book will be inscribed in?

Seeing that today is Global Character Day, I wanted to draw your attention to Tiffany Shlain‘s new movie the Making of a Mensch, which I had the honor of helping with and came was release today. Inspired by Coates, this Gemara, and this movie I suggest we all experiment with a Mussar practice of regularly keeping a journal so you can all “ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing” ourselves. In the process we will create new habits ensuring that we will inscribed in the right book. Gmar Chatima Tova.

-For more resources on Mussar check our this new page: Accessible Wisdom

-Check out my friend Jonah Canner’s Yom Kippur Journal Practise


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