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Yom Kippur ~ Yizkor

Yom Kippur ~ Yizkor

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YOM KIPPUR ~ YIZKOR 5774

 

Stamford has a very prominent Russian Jewish immigrant community ... there is an older gentleman there by the name of Boris Yakubovich, who over the course of his lifetime in the Soviet Union rose quite high in the ranks of the Army ... Russian army life in the 70's and 80's was rather interesting, and he describes a particular military briefing of senior officers that he participated in:

The Commanding General at the Russian military academy gave a lecture about potential problems and military strategy, and then asked if there were any questions. One officer stood up and asked, "Will there be a third world war, and if so will the Russians take part in it?" The general answered both questions in the affirmative.

The officer asked, “Who will be the enemy?"

"All indications point to China."

"But General, we're a nation of only 150 million people - compared to China's 1.2 billion! Can we win at all, or even survive?"

The general gave a very fascinating answer: "Just think about this for a moment. In modern warfare it is not the quantity of soldiers that matters, but the quality of an army's capabilities. For example - in the Middle East we have had a few wars recently where 5 million Jews fought against 150 million Arabs - and Israel was always victorious!"

After a small pause, an officer from the back of the auditorium raises his hand ... "General, do we have enough Jews?"

40 years ago - to the day! - the Jews faced one of the greatest threats to their existence ... massive Arab armies launched a surprise attack against us as we all stood in Synagogue, observing the holiest day on our calendar ... and ultimately, with the help of G‑d - but with one too many sacrifices - we prevailed ...

To call our victory in that war "a Divine miracle", is on one hand an understatement ... the odds of the numbers and the shocking element of surprise was SO overwhelming, it was more than a "typical miracle" ... but at the same time, the nature of HOW that miracle manifested itself, was very much due to the attitude of the Chayalei Tzahal:

Moshe Levy was a sergeant in the IDF Special Forces and is one of only forty people to be awarded the Israel Hero Medal. The unit he led defended the Budapest Outpost, the only Israeli bunker on the Suez Canal to withstand the Egyptian attack ... during that battle he lost his right arm ... here's how he describes the battle:

(Watch him tell the story right here: www.chabadgreenwich.org/1076655)

"In our unit of 98 men we had only religious guy ... Zandany was his name ... The Saturday after Yom Kippur, one of the commanding generals contacted me and said, 'Moshe, you guys must dig a line, behind you no one will stop the Egyptians until Tel Aviv ... we dug in ... and then it was quiet ... 11:30 on Shabbat ... Avner asks me: Moshe, how we gonna stop the tanks with these rockets? We'll maybe be able to scratch the tanks' paint a bit ... As I'm sitting there, Zandany runs up with a Tehillim, a Book of Psalms in his hands, and calls out: Guys, with this we're going to stop the Egyptians! ... He opened the book and started reading the Tehillim ... all the guys grabbed their helmets and began responding in prayer ... then I stopped Zandany for a second, I stood up from the trench and I said to my men:

'Let me tell you guys, when Avner asked me how are we going to stop the tanks, I didn't have an answer ... I was looking for an answer ... and Zandany just gave us the answer:

We all feel very close to G‑d now ... (these are "secular" Israelis speaking...) ... We are not here to protect Tel Aviv, we are here to protect a history of thousands of years ... we are here to protect the past, present and future of our nation ...'

The Egyptians - and their 120 tanks - started shooting and coming ... and Zandany was reading Psalms ... we blew up many tanks, and the rest all turned back ... "

Those are the words of Moshe Levy, may G‑d bless him and keep him well ... (you can see the recent interview he gave about this on our website - AFTER the holiday ... )

In IDF lingo, these men knew one thing: "ein bereirah!", there is no choice except winning ... they knew they were protecting so much more than a country - they were protecting history itself. The destiny that G‑d had set for His people, He now placed in THEIR hands - they UNDERSTOOD that ... and they accepted that burden with ENTHUSIASM ... and therefore prevailed! ...

40 years is a very important milestone ... 3 weeks ago, Moses tells us that 40 years following the great events at Sinai, the Jewish People have risen to a level of full intellectual maturity ... and are now empowered to understand ... to heed ... and therefore to successfully implement ... all of the Torah's lessons they were given 40 years prior at Sinai ...

As we stand here on this very day, Yom Kippur 2013 ... exactly 40 years since that fateful moment in Jewish history ... we must recognize the awesome responsibility that we carry ... it behooves us to reflect on what it meant to fight the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and what it means for all of us and each of us to continue fighting ... collectively as a people ... and perhaps more importantly - individually, each in our own little Yom Kippur "war" that we face every year on this day ... and indeed every day of the year ...

******************

Conventional wisdom - and a quick glance around the room - will tell you that in the hierarchy of holidays, Yom Kippur is right up there at the very top ... the day we gain atonement ... our sins are erased ... clean slate ... ready to take the new year on with a fresh start ... what could be a more meaningful holiday ...

But the Talmud gives a very interesting depiction of "Holiday Hierarchy" - and it's not exactly what most people think:

The Mishnah in the end of the tractate of Taanit tells us: "Israel had no greater holidays than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. On these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards and dance."

Dance? On Yom Kippur?? Yes, dance!

Yom Kippur is a great holiday - not because of the holiness ... nor the fasting ... nor the prayers ... nor the confessions ... we have those at plenty of other times over the course of the year ... Yom Kippur is a great day, because of something entirely different:

This day is great because it shares a theme with the holiday of the 15th of Av - it is A D A Y O F I N T E N S E J O Y ...

the most intense type of joy ... the joy of RECONCILIATION ... the joy of reunion ... the joy that comes on the heals of dissension and separation ... violation and sin ... the sin of the Golden Calf and the sins that brought us Tisha B'av ... there is nothing as joyous as healing those wounds ... those wounds that separated us ... those wounds that sundered the bond between G‑d and Man ...

But for the Talmud to declare Yom Kippur as the greatest of holidays because of its theme of Joy, is not to simply describe for us what Yom Kippur REPRESENTS, that there is a great joy which follows reconciliation ...

No! The Talmud is telling us that JOY IS THE ESSENCE of the day .... for it is the experience of JOY which BRINGS reconciliation!

And this is perhaps one of the greatest contributions of Torah to the emotional well-being of mankind: "Serve G‑d with Joy" the Psalmist tells us ... Joy and happiness is not an end that we pursue, it is rather a MEANS, a tool that G‑d IMPLORES us to use .....

... for there are 2 ways to engage in battle with our shortcomings (as Tzvi Freeman so eloquently writes www.chabadgreenwich.org/1625044 ) :

There was a time when people would spend every evening of the days before Yom Kippur (and especially just before Yom Kippur) pondering their sins, their faults, and just everything wrong, bad and crummy about themselves. They would cry and sob from their hearts, fall asleep weeping, and then they would get up the next morning with a pure soul to serve their Maker. They often did this on other days of the year, and it worked pretty good then too.

Nowadays, when someone ponders his failures, it almost inevitably leads to depression. When pondering a past sin, a person starts asking himself why he did such a stupid thing, remembers what a geshmak it was, and ends up doing more....

We must turn the process on its head! ... instead of falling into the trap of dealing with our weaknesses and leading ourselves into a downward spiral of depression, we must START OUT .... with ACTIVE JOY!

It is not the journey of repentance that will lead the Jew to Joy ... rather it is the effects of Joy that PUTS the Jew on a journey to rise above and AWAY from our weaknesses! ...

Today, we must do teshuvah by focusing on the light from which our soul originally came. When you are running towards the light, filling your life with more wisdom, more understanding, more mitzvahs; more JOY, love and beauty; the light gets brighter and brighter, and you want to reach out and talk directly, sincerely with your G‑d . . . it's only THEN when it hits you: the crummy messup from the past is holding you back, like a useless backpack weighing you down, like a lump of clay in your heart, like a wall between you and the true place of your soul. That’s when a genuine, aching remorse overcomes you, just swelling up all on its own from the bottom of your heart. That’s when you scream, ‘Get off my back!’ You look behind for a sec, throw that junk away, and fly ahead. That’s when you repent. But not until then.

During the ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, there’s a lot of light. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. Don’t go wasting that away. Especially, don’t go spending the holiest time of the year dwelling on stupid things you did. Why waste the holiest day of the year dwelling on everything you messed up? Instead, reach towards the light. Feel the joy and the love and allow the presence of an Infinite G‑d, Creator of all things, who awaits your return to Him, to draw you in His direction ...

*************

But my dear friends, if we are to take the lesson of this holiest day to heart ... then this Yom Kippur paradigm of Joy as a tool ... Joy as a Mitzvah ... Joy as a TRIGGER for a meaningful journey ... is a paradigm we must use every day of the year ... for there is too much at stake ... we are constantly confronted by stress ... by failure ... by pain ... and the trap of allowing those feelings to dictate our reality is too dangerous ... WE must dictate the reality .... it is in our hands to shape our journey .... and it is only with joy we can make it a beautiful one ...

3 years ago, my family suffered a terrible tragedy with the loss of my beloved brother Mendel ... the Shiva was of course a very painful time ... one night in middle of that week, well past midnight, the crowds had gone home and our immediate family was sitting around in the kitchen ... my siblings and I turned to our father with some rather harsh expressions about something that disturbed us ....

As the throngs of people had been coming in over the first few days to comfort us, my father kept invoking a story ... it is the story of Maryashie's great uncle, who together with a colleague of his, was sentenced to a terrible prison sentence for their Jewish activism in the Soviet Union ... these 2 friends were placed in adjacent cells ... but the only way they could communicate was by bending down to speak to each other through a trough that ran through the floor of all the cells - the "latrine" trough ... so the story goes that Reb Mendel bent down into this trough full of human waste ... only so that he could convey a very important message to his friend - "Are you there? Do you hear me? Remember! Remember! Simcha! We must be filled with Simcha! With Joy!"

The implication of this story - as my father recounted it in the midst of what was one of the most pain-filled moments in our lives - was that despite it all, we must be joyous!

We - the kids - were ... mad. "Stop telling stories about being joyous while our faces are thrown into dung ... It just makes no sense! Our 36 year old brother was just torn from us ... after Shloimy and Blumy had gone before him ... and you're telling us we should be joyous?!?!"

My father, G‑d bless him, was quiet ... he heard us out and he knew exactly what we meant ... and we never heard the story again from him for the rest of Shiva ...

But in hindsight ... I understand what he was saying .... he wasn't saying "Oh, let's just be joyous, the pain is not that bad" .... He was saying "This darkness is harsh ... these circumstances stink ... this loss is painful ... in fact, it's so painful that we're in danger of being overwhelmed by it .... and therefore it's up to us to brighten the journey ahead of us, or to - G‑d forbid - succumb to depression ... And do we really have a choice? .... ein bereirah ... there is no choice ... a Jew does not give up ... a Jew does not succumb .... a Jew marches forward ... he forges a path of light in the FACE of the darkness .... a path of joy in the FACE of the sorrow ... a path for himself ... a path for all those around him or her ... for a brighter world ... "

It is THIS conviction of expressing JOY, of emanating LIGHT, of shouting with ENTHUSIASM .... precisely at the moments of sorrow, darkness and despair ... that gave a group of young men the strength to face down 120 Egyptian tanks .... that gave a grieving father the strength to comfort his children ... and that gives each of us the power to turn our lives into productive, meaningful and happy journeys - by actively CHOOSING joy .... WE must dictate the reality .... it is in our hands to shape our journey .... and it is only with joy we can make it a beautiful one ...

Stress happens. (Or as they say in Natucket, "fog happens"...). How we choose to deal with it, is what makes ALL the difference ....

We're about to say Yizkor ... to remember the lives of those who came before us ... When we invoke the memory of those who have passed on, it causes us to take to heart the most important things in life ... on this most important day of the year ...

This is the first Yizkor that our community is saying since the passing of a great community leader who over the years became a close personal friend to many ... and an inspiration to all ...

Steve Oster - Sender Hillel ben Aaron Yoseph - lived a life that embodied this principle of CHOOSING joy as a means of forging a path ... of CREATING that meaningful journey we all search for ... but more than just eulogizing him today, I want to take 3 ideas that he exemplified .... 3 ideas that draw this principle down into real life ... 3 steps that we can all use and draw upon whenever we face the challenges of life and desperately need to change the direction into one of JOY... for after all Steve was first and foremost a man of action ...

1) Focus on what you have ... be grateful for your blessings ...Modeh Ani ... Steve never stopped talking about all the good things he was blessed with ... this was true especially in his last year, when he had every reason to complain ... instead of struggling with what stresses you ... focus on what blesses you ... take some time out during the day to reflect on what G‑d has given you. Men: put on Tefillin! Ladies: Light the Shabbat Candles – your days and weeks will change!

2) Do something for someone ... there is nothing more guaranteed to get you out of a rut .... out of a bad mood ... out of a depression ... than just simply engaging in an act of kindness ... Steve was always happy, probably because he never had time - with all he did - to be sad! ... to say it does wonders is an understatement ... Donate to Chabad! www.chabadgreenwich.org/donate

3) Immerse in Torah .... we are creatures of intellect ... the mind leads ... put your mind into the right place and you'll naturally be happy to be a Jew ... Steve was not a Yeshiva student … but he showed us that it’s never too late to become a Torah Scholar …

These ideas will set you on a path of joy – raise yourself up and embrace this path - for the potential that is released when we begin to live this way is unimaginable ...
 

 

Rosh Hashanah ~ Day One Speech          Yom Kippur ~ Kol Nidrei Speech
 

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