Posts tagged " Yom Kippur "

Find Yourself in a Fish

October 7th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

What a blessings it is to be able to bounce out of bed each morning on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living.  One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low, miserable and even depressed is having a purpose, knowing it, 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 very height of a furious storm that threatened the very 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.  Many victims of the Titanic drowned down in bottom decks of the doomed liner.

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.  And that’s the clue.  To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.  Jonah was an avoider of challenges. 

God elevated Jonah and made him His prophet.  God dispatched him on a challenging mission to Nineveh.  Instead of confronting the challenge, Jonah elected to avoid it and attempted to escape to Tarshish.

Jonah represents you and me.  He represents leaders in politics and in business.  He represents parents and preachers.  Jonah had been given a life mission by God.  Just like each of us, he had been given the gift of a real purpose for living. 

From each of us, God expects specific performance and achievement in some specific mission.  After all, if God is to be taken seriously then He must be taken personally too.  We must each distill our own life experiences and our own spiritual adventures into the essence of what it is that we alone have been created to achieve. 

Life itself demands no less, but the search is challenging, even dangerous, and the mission, once found is always formidable.  Having problems and worries is a barometer of life. Confronting them is the elixir of immortality.  But Jonah preferred escape.

In reality, only one escape exists: view life as meaningless and seek solace in entertainment.  Distract ourselves to death.  Jews are fond of the toast, L’Chayim—to life!  What that really means is affirm life.  But the only way to affirm life is by embracing your own moral mission with all its challenges. 

Attempting escape means choosing an empty alternative.  It means abandoning your own great moral challenge. It means a life in which the dull gray monotony of existence becomes almost indistinguishable from death. 

Jonah tried to abandon his Divine destiny.  Instead of traveling to Nineveh as commanded, he attempted to evade his whole purpose for living by escaping to Tarshish.  Since evading one’s mission is an embrace of death, it is no wonder that Jonah was content to die in the sinking ship. 

When we try to avoid our mission, it is not because we consider the attempt to be futile.  It is because nothing has awoken us.  Only one thing could awake Jonah to his destiny and help him find his own redeeming mission in life:  three days in the belly of that fish. 

It was an unimaginable place of wet darkness where Jonah huddled among the giant pulsing organs of life.  Was this living cave to become a grave—the end of his life, or was it to become a womb—the real start of his life?  It could have gone either way.  The choice was Jonah’s to make. 

The one time in the Jewish calendar that the book of Jonah is read in synagogue is late in the afternoon on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  As the sun starts setting and the famous fast day is ebbing away we read:

Jonah left the city and sat at the east of the city.  He made himself a booth there…” 
(Jonah 4:5)

It is quite impossible to read that verse without thinking of the Festival of Sukot, sometimes called Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths that commences just five days later.  Yes, the book of Jonah read on Yom Kippur really does hint at the forthcoming Festival of Booths.

As if to parallel that chronology, of all the many laws governing conduct during the Day of Atonement, the final regulation, the last word as it were, is that Jews ought to commence building their booths for Sukot immediately following the conclusion of the fast.

The idea is that every day is connected to its yesterday and its tomorrow.  Rosh haShana, New Year, is linked to Yom Kippur by the Ten Days of Repentance.  In turn, Yom Kippur is linked to the next holy day, Sukot by the final reading of the day, the Book of Jonah. 

It is interesting that much of the information surrounding Jonah is disclosed in the tractate entitled Booths.  (Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah Chapter V)  It is there that we discover Jonah’s identity and origins.  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that he was the son of the widow who was Elijah the prophet’s landlady in the first book of Kings, chapter 17.   The lad had died and, in response to the entreaties of his bereaved mother, Elijah brought him back to life. Later in his life we encounter him as the prophet Jonah.  This helps explain why he seemed so fearless of dying during the storm.  After all, he had died once before and had been resuscitated once before—by Elijah the prophet. 

The lesson to be learned is that there are three avenues to finding our mission and thrilling to our purpose.  First, it can be dark and frightening days in the belly of the fish.  This is to say, some experience that has the potential either to bury us or birth us anew. Second, we should relate deeply to the interconnectedness of days.  If today lacks clarity, know that tomorrow will soon arrive. Finally, rebirth is possible.  The old Jonah died in that fish, just as he did as a lad.  In both cases, he was restored.  Finding our purpose is the same as being restored to life.  And bounding out of bed each morning is a joyful reaffirmation of the life you live.

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(Days of) Awe Inspiring

October 3rd, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

The Jewish calendar resembles a jigsaw puzzle more than it does a collage. Holy days do not stand alone, but are linked to other dates in the calendar so that we are constantly being propelled to the next notable date while still retaining fumes from the previous one. Even this chock-filled time of year with Rosh HaShana (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Simhat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah) doesn’t spring up in isolation, but is connected to an earlier summer date of tragedy that is strongly linked to a lack of brotherly love among the Jewish people. Indeed, as we head to the Day of Atonement which falls next Wednesday, we are reminded that God does not forgive sins between man and man; those we need to take care of directly with the injured parties.

If we are tuned into the power of this time of year when all mankind is judged, our sensitivities are heightened. This gave even greater power than usual to the news story I saw this morning. You can read the details yourself, but here is a brief synopsis. Just over a year ago, in a terrible tragedy, off-duty police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her neighbor Botham Jean when, according to her,  she mistakenly entered his apartment instead of her own and shot him, thinking he was an intruder who threatened her.

I did not follow the details of the trial, but at the end of it, after she was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison, the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean said, “If you are truly sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you,” and then asked for permission to hug his brother’s murderer. That act of grace and compassion took my breath away.

There are so many elements of the killing and what followed it that can and should be discussed in the larger picture of our judicial system, our police, racial tension and other matters. The judge’s actions after the trial, too, when she also gave Amber Guyger a hug along with a Bible, provide an opening for discussion. This exchange of ideas should not be the domain of internet trolls and angry, vulgar diatribes, but of actual meaningful conversations. As worthy as those conversations are, I am not going to discuss those matters here.

I simply want to say that in a society that sometimes seems to be full of incitement towards hatred from so many different avenues, Brandt Jean’s words and actions stand as a beacon of light. During this unique time of year, a period known as the Days of Awe, each of us who tries to maximize our opportunity is aware of not only needing to ask forgiveness from those we have harmed but also of being in the position of granting forgiveness to those who have harmed us. In doing so, we are reminded that God judges us as we judge others. If we are quick to assume error rather than ill-will on the part of others, God will lean towards leniency when assessing our own actions towards Him. If we show compassion to others; God will similarly show compassion to us.

There are hurts that go deep beneath the surface and losing a beloved brother ranks high on that list. Mr. Jean’s largeness of spirit, fueled by his Christian beliefs, challenges us all to become greater people able to relate to others soul to soul. He is probably unaware of how the timing of his beneficence coincides with this period in the Jewish calendar when God judges all mankind, but for me and others the power of his lesson is truly magnified at this time.

P.S. Writing and speaking in public, as I do, is scary. Not only are mistakes “out there” even when later corrected, but each reader comes with his or her own perspective. At this time, I do ask forgiveness if something I wrote or said over the course of this year caused pain to any of you.

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Yours, Mine and Our Sins

October 1st, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

But everybody’s doing it.” Is there any parent who has not heard that cry? Perhaps your child wants to go to an inadequately chaperoned party. Maybe a teenager wants to read the latest best-selling book that his or her parents see as morally suspect. No matter the issue, children want to be part of a group.

We adults are susceptible to this desire as well. We buy new clothing and cars so that we ‘fit in’ with a certain crowd; we watch popular movies because ‘everyone’ is talking about them. Sometimes we even vote with our social group rather than researching and making an informed decision.

We are not only influenced by others, but we are also the influencers. When I succumb to complaining, cowardice or anger, I affect my spouse, children, neighbors and co-workers. Contaminated by my attitude, they will be more likely to behave the same way. If I lower my standards and speak rudely or profanely, others will more easily do so as well.

We are in the Jewish High Holy Day period that began with Rosh HaShana and reaches its climax next Wednesday on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a time for intense introspection on one’s life, achievements, failures and goals. Simultaneously, it is a time for communal reflection and involvement. When we enumerate our sins on Yom Kippur, each individual has his or her own list, yet the format we recite is in plural language. Sentence after sentence begins with the words “We have sinned…” rather than, “I have sinned.”

Isn’t this strange? Even orphans say, “We are guilty of not appreciating parents.” Even the most upright among us say, “We have stolen.”

This interaction between our unique lives and the larger community is one of the universal messages of Yom Kippur. It is a time to strip away the illusion that we are independent and self-directed and to recognize how much of the wrong way that we think and act is a function of following the crowd. It is a time to recognize our own responsibility not only for ourselves but also for others.  As we take an annual moral inventory, we need to assess with clarity the inescapable intertwining of our lives with the lives of the many different groups of people with whom we share life on earth.

After starkly facing our failings during this period, we emerge from the holy days with optimism and conviction. It is wrong to think of peer pressure only as negative. When we smile despite our pain, we also influence others. When we express gratitude and are gracious to others, the effects of that ripple outward as well. If we are courageous and cling to standards, immune to what ‘everyone else’ is doing, we make it easier for others to do so as well.

This is a good time of year to set the odometer back to zero and reject becoming ensnared in the failings of society, no matter how widespread they are. It is a particularly conducive time to commit to being leaders in exemplifying moral greatness.

Yom Kippur teaches us to work from the inside out, in contrast to tyrants who impose their will on others while indulging themselves. When we change ourselves, we change our families. When we change our families, we change our communities. When we change our communities, we change our country. When we change our country, we change the world.

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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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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.

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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 Susan's Musings 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.

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