Posts Tagged 'Yom Kippur'

The Right Dove: A Study in Empathy

A few weeks ago, at Mincha on the afternoon of Yom Kippur we read the book of Yonah. There we saw a recalcitrant prophet unwilling to carry out God’s bidding. He was directed to speak truth to the power of Nineveh. Yadda yadda yadda…he was being vomited by whale. Finding himself back on dry land he is called a second time to prophesize to the people of Nineveh. This time he carries out the task, walking across the large city proclaiming, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Yonah 3:4) I was always troubled by what happened next. There we read:

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

Yonah 4:5

Maybe Yonah wanted to leave the city out of fear of what would happen when it was overthrown. But, then why did stick around to see what would transpire? It just seems cruel or at least insensitive. It is as if he were child watching ants getting burned by the sun being focused by a divine magnifying glass. What is the nature of Yonah’s character?

I was thinking about Yonah this week when reading Noah, this week’s Torah portion. Here we see that the world has been overthrown and Noah is trying to figure out when to leave the ark and return to the world. At first, he sends out a Raven, but it was to no avail. While the rain has finally stopped the water had not receded. And then he sends out a dove. That does not work either. There we read:

He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove from the ark. The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth. He waited still another seven days and sent the dove forth; and it did not return to him any more.

Genesis 8:10-12

So the dove came back and saved Noah, what is the connection with the story of Yonah? Well it turns out that Yonah- the name of the prophet means dove. One dove is sent by God to get them to leave their evil ways out of fear of destruction. After delivering the message he sits out to see if they will pass or fail this test. The other dove is sent by Noah who has seen the world destroyed to help him determine when he can re-enter the world. This dove could have just made it life on dry land, but instead returns to invite Noah and the rest of the Ark to join them.

The difference between these two doves reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from The West Wing. The context hardly matters:


Leo McGarry’s character says:

This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

West Wing

Like the doctor and the priest, Yonah the prophet is the classic consultant. He told the people of Ninevah what was wrong as if tossing down a script or prayer and then sat on the side to watch. The dove is very different. The dove shows Noah how to get out of the hole. He knows how to get out of the ark and live in the world. As if to say, “Yeah, but I’ve been out here before, and I know the way.”

This makes me pause and reread the story of the dove in a new way. Why did the dove carry the proof of land in its mouth and not in its talon? Just like the friend in Leo McGarry’s story, it is not about what you say that is important, it only matters what you do. Noah needed proof of land to leave the ark. The way out was not through words, but the doves actions of bringing back the olive branch in its bill. The world is sustained by empathy- our capacity to jump into hole.

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Yizkor: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

After a painful breakup, Clementine undergoes a procedure to erase memories of her former boyfriend Joel from her mind. When Joel discovers that Clementine is going to extremes to forget their relationship, he undergoes the same procedure and slowly begins to forget the woman that he loved. Joel wakes up, his memories of Clementine erased. He impulsively goes to Montauk and meets Clementine on the train home. They are drawn to each other and go on a date to the frozen Charles River in Boston. Joel drives Clementine home and Patrick sees them, realizing they have found each other again. Joel and Clementine receive their Lacuna records and listen to their tapes. They are shocked by the bitter memories they had of each other, and almost separate a second time, but agree to try again.

In short this is the plot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Michel Gondry. This is a visually arresting film that explores the intricacy of relationships and the pain of loss.

I was thinking about this movie as I prepare for Yizkor on Yom Kippur. We recite Yizkor four times a year in the synagogue: on Yom Kippur , Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot. Originally, Yizkor was recited only on Yom Kippur. Its primary purpose was to honor the deceased by committing to giving tzedakah in their memory, on the theory that the good deeds of the survivors elevate the souls of the departed. It also enhanced the chances for personal atonement by doing a deed of lovingkindness. It was the custom in medieval Germany for each community to read a list of its martyrs at the Yizkor service. The practice was eventually expanded to include the names of other members of the community who had died. Today, most synagogues publish lists of those who are remembered by congregants, which are distributed at the Yizkor services. In addition, the lights on all the memorial tablets in the synagogue are turned on.

Yizkor has evolved to become a practice of exploring the memories of people who played an important role in our personal and communal consciousnesses. In the context of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one is left asking, can you intentionally forget a foundational memory?

There are many directions I could take this, but for now I will reflect on this question in the context of one of my favorite lines from Torah. The people of Israel have sinned and God is not having it. God says that God will destroy the people and create a new people from Moshe. In response Moshe says, “And now, lift their sin, and if not, erase me please from Your book that You wrote.”(Exodus 32:32). Moshe is saying that we cannot just forget the foundational memory of the people of Israel even if they fell short. Just as Moshe demands to keep their memory wrapped up with his own, the memories of everyone we keep in our consciousness is reknit with our own identities with the recitation of Yizkor every year.

May their memories and our own be for a blessing. Gmar Chatima Tova

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.

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 hope to get saved to God’s desktop and on Yom Kippur we aspire to 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.

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


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