Posts tagged " Yom Kippur "

Escape Yesterday

October 12th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

God spare us from these things, but have you ever wondered how someone who apparently had everything to live for, took his or her own life?  A young woman recently qualified as a physician, with grueling years of training behind her and on the threshold of a promising career, throws herself off her hospital roof.  A father parks his car on the George Washington Bridge, races to the guardrail and leaps over it to drop two hundred feet into the Hudson River. It took three days to recover his body.

Neither of these two sad victims had exhibited any mental instability.  It goes without saying that both were dealing with what must have appeared to be insurmountable problems. As a result, each made a perfectly calm and rational decision to end it. Permanently.  These are just two of the cases that came across my radar screen recently.  Both these tragedies involved individuals who felt that their predicaments were beyond help.

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Choose Life

October 11th, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

What if you do not want to pray for life? That thought ran as an undercurrent through my mind as I prayed the extra prayers during the Ten Days of Repentance that culminate with Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. Many of those prayers plead with God for the opportunity to live for another year. The soft whisper I heard was spurred by a beautifully written article, dictated by use of voice recognition technology because author Ben Mattlin cannot use his hands. Severely disabled from birth, he fights for life each day as he has done from infancy. During that time, he graduated from Harvard, became an accomplished financial journalist, married and raised two children, and achieved many other goals of which many healthy people only dream. In his article, he explains how much he values his life and how much value his life has. He was partially motivated to write by the legally sanctioned refusal of treatment to a fourteen-year-old born with the same birth defect as he, spinal muscular atrophy.

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Fishing for Life

October 6th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

What a blessings it is to be on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living.  One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low or miserable is having a purpose and passionately propelling oneself towards it.

As an ardent boating enthusiast, I find the behavior of the Bible’s most famous mariner, Jonah, to be quite baffling.  At the height of a furious storm that threatened the survival of their ship, the terrified sailors cast their cargo overboard to lighten the vessel.  Obviously, during such a tempest the safest location is high up on the struggling vessel from where escape might at least be possible.  That is why lifeboats on every ship are found on the upper deck.  Nobody in his right mind would voluntarily remain far down in the belly of the boat.

“But Jonah descended down into the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell fast asleep.”
(Jonah 1:5)

Clearly this was a man without a worry in the world.  But don’t envy him.  Only the dead have no worries.  That’s the clue.  To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.

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Do You Hear Me?

September 10th, 2013 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

It makes sense to live life cautiously.  Rational thought precludes taking risks.  Reason suggests that we carefully weigh all options and avoid stepping onto any path whose outcome cannot be clearly seen.  This safe approach reduces the likelihood of wasting one’s time and money, or harming one’s health.  It certainly has merit.

However, if the Wright Brothers, Alexander Fleming, and Guglielmo Marconi had followed this approach, we might travel only on slow boats, trains and cars.  We might succumb to bacterial infections, and communicate only by means of slow signals sent down copper wires.  Those pioneers acted riskily, expending time, money, and health.

Of course there are times for careful analysis before acting.  But as societies slowly decline and lose their vitality the equally important corollary often gets forgotten—there are also times for instant action.  One of the conspicuous characteristics of a degenerating, decaying people is much talking, endless conferences and symposiums, exhausting analyses, conferring, debating, reviewing and evaluating.  But not much action.

For this reason, we usually see more acts of heroism earlier in nations’ histories than later.  Once affluence has led to decadence, heroism becomes rare.  After all, few acts of heroism make sense when subjected to sustained scrutiny.

The Hebrew calendar provides a special day, an annual booster shot reminding us to keep our action instincts ready, lubricated, and powered-up.  This special day is called Yom Kippur, often translated as Day of Atonement.

It is the day on which Moses descended from Mt. Sinai after spending forty days writing the second set of Tablets.  (Exodus 34:28-29).  Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that the transformative moment for the Jewish people was their unconditional acceptance of the Tablets of the Law.  They didn’t ask what is written in it.  They didn’t hold symposiums to assess its value to an emerging nation.  They didn’t debate, deliberate or discuss it.

What they did do was instantly react with unconditional acceptance.

Long before they could possibly have read the approximately 80,000 words in the Torah they said:

All that God has spoken we will do and obey.
(Exodus 24:7)

Most translations of the original Hebrew verse use pretty much the same words I just used.  There is only one problem:  it’s not what the Hebrew says.

What the verse literally says is, “…we will do and hear.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the word ‘hear’ often means ‘understand.’   When a father yells at his child, “Clean up your room; do you hear me?” he is obviously not asking his youngster if he is talking loudly enough.  He is really asking, “Do you understand me?”

Furthermore, there is no word in Hebrew for obey.  In a book containing over six hundred of God’s rules and regulations wouldn’t you have expected to find the word ‘obey’ occurring quite frequently?

Regular Thought Tool readers know the significance of words not existing in the Lord’s language.  For now, suffice it to explain that the word obey doesn’t exist in Hebrew because it implies mindless following of orders and God doesn’t want mindless ‘obedience’ from us.

Instead, He wants us to struggle to integrate doing and understanding so we reach the height of always being able to think while we act and act while we think. He wants us to integrate the two. Action should lead to understanding and understanding leads to action. Neither should exclude the other. Students of Scripture don’t need to choose between, “He who hesitates is lost,” and, “Look before you leap.” They only contradict one another if they remain separate.  The fascinating response of the Israelites is that they will both act and understand, though in this case, action takes the lead. Yom Kippur, linked to the giving of the Torah, reminds us of Israel’s transformational response.

Among the self-analysis featured on Yom Kippur we examine how we use the gifts of time and speech. Among other topics, in our five audio CD Biblical Blueprint Set, we explore how understanding and improving in these areas not only pleases God but also benefits our lives. Get Day for Atonement by itself or acquire it as part of the whole set.

Day for Atonement front coverBiblicalBlueprintSet_____________________________________

This week’s Susan’s Musings: Hollywood Racists-Whatever That Means

Well-known TV actor and former president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ed Asner, gave us a peek into why the terms racism and racist should be deleted from our vocabulary. Mr. Asner was honest enough to acknowledge that Hollywood’s silence regarding the president’s proposed military action against Syria, raised questions.

Where were all the voices who stridently opposed military action when George Bush was president? While Asner raised a number of reasons, one in particular… READ MORE

Eat, Pray, Eat, Love, Eat

October 19th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

That may not be the most original title, but it pretty much sums up my recent trip to Jerusalem. Arriving just a few days before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, meant starting off with an intense prayer experience. Yom Kippur is an annual occurrence, and unfortunately, it is often wrongly perceived by many Jews and presented in many synagogues as an ordeal – 25 hours to endure, spending most of those hours in synagogue as prayers drone on, with no food or drink for either sustenance or distraction. That is a perversion of the holyday, keeping the externals while missing the soul.  In Jerusalem, at our children’s synagogue, the day was meaningful and exhilarating. Rather than feeling drained as nighttime ended the observances, the atmosphere around us was uplifting and invigorating. It was precisely what a day which allows us to start our relationship with God anew, clear of the past year’s sins, should be.

Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, followed with its own special prayers and activities. This is a holyday ideally meant to be observed in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, and each day was precious. The entire country was bathed in a festive mood and as we reconnected with long-time friends and family whom we rarely get to see, the week of celebration unfolded joyously. We had the privilege of joining my aunt and uncle for his eightieth birthday celebration, re-connecting with cousins and meeting their children and grandchildren. An added bonus during our visit was the opportunity to attend thought-provoking and inspiring. shiurim – Torah classes.

As for love, it permeated the entire trip. For starters, I was sharing stimulating days and evenings with my husband, surrounded by family and friends. Even more, there was the opportunity to step into our daughter and son-in-law’s lives, seeing how their relationship has grown. The piece-de-resistance, of course, was the arrival of their first child, our new grandson. I had reluctantly missed the early days of our most recent two granddaughters’ lives. Waiting for their appearances I helped with older children, allowing my daughters to head into labor rested. But the babies each delayed coming until I was no longer able to stay. My help was appreciated, but I was absent for the miracle of birth and those first irreplaceable days.

This time I shared in a long, arduous labor, marveling how my daughter stayed focused and calm throughout and at my son-in-law’s unwavering support. I heard the first breaths of a new life and participated over the next ten days as mother, father and son eased into being a family. I was re-introduced to the feel, smell and blessing of newborn being. I had the added gift of watching my own child emerge as a loving, competent and entranced mother.

Throughout it all, as the title suggests, food was an overwhelming presence. We enjoyed numerous top-rate meals in private homes. But, in addition to that, there were dozens of kosher cafes and restaurants within walking distance of us. So many, that despite prodigious effort, we were not able to try them all. Since we do not live in an area which provides much opportunity for kosher eating out, dining in Jerusalem was an incredibly fun activity. It wove its way around each of the other more important happenings, accompanying us back to the States in the form of an extra pound or two as a physical reminder of a trip which overflowed with spiritual and emotional bounty. 

 

 

A Balancing Act

September 14th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

I once had someone working for me in sales.  He was the hardest worker I knew.  He produced the nicest sales graphs—by the dozen.  He drew colored charts of projections—by the dozen.  But he never managed to make any sales.  He was always busy; he just wasn’t doing what he had to do when he had to do it.

Ancient Jewish wisdom offers an annual antidote to this common human failing. 

Many Jews will crowd into synagogues this Friday night and Saturday for Yom Kippur.  The Day of Atonement brings more Jews to worship services than any other occasion.  Even Jews who reveal themselves in public opinion surveys to be among the least religious of all Americans show up at synagogue on Yom Kippur.

There are some Jews for whom this day has become a ceremony marking the passage of time; a sort of Jewish Labor Day announcing the end of summer.

For others, Yom Kippur is the social event of the year at which they get to see old acquaintances.

Other Jews attend high holyday services propelled by guilt and as a last lingering contact with a Judaism that sentimentally links them to their parents and grandparents.

However, there is greater significance to Yom Kippur than these secular, social and sentimental motivations.

This special day celebrates one of God’s greatest gifts without which no society could long survive.  This is the schematic of order and structure. Without it our love of personal liberty would tip us toward civil chaos.

Our society flourishes in its diversity. Some of us specialize in providing food; others offer medical care.  Someone drives the bus or plane you ride, while other individuals build companies.  We can vote, dress and live in totally different ways than our peers. Within the magical environment we call a society each of us can flourish in whatever areas we choose. 

But with all this personal liberty some basic common framework must exist.  Without a shared vision for how society ought to look, one person’s liberty to do that which he chooses soon begins to impinge on another’s ability to live his chosen life.

Perhaps someone’s choice is not to work at all or to turn to drugs or alcohol.  Well that choice impacts everyone else as they are forced to hand over money they would rather spend on their own family or step over an intoxicated form on the sidewalk.  It is almost impossible to make choices that do not impact other people. We are all interconnected.

This produces a tension between personal liberty which we embrace and the need for us all to choose to curtail some of our liberties.

A great secret for both family and business success is learning to balance what we want to do with what we should do.  The Jewish High Holydays, comprising Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, impart the theme of that great balancing act and link it to the astrological sign of this period; Libra, the balancing scales.  The challenge not only for individuals but for society as a whole is to master this balancing act. When better to attempt it than during the Month of the Scales?

Perhaps one spiritual reason that Jews flock to services during these days of awe is to acknowledge that living successfully means accepting restraints.  For a society to survive every right has a matching responsibility; every freedom entails an obligation.  We all need to do what we have to do, when we have to do it.

We need help in setting the right balance in our lives because if enough people make bad choices, it ruins society for everyone.  A connection with God helps us balance our desire to do that which we please with our ability to resist that desire in favor of what is right.  And that can be a powerful magnet for gathering people together once a year.