Although it is customary to perform a cheshbon hanefesh – an audit of the soul prior to Yom Kippur, it may be imperative for a rabbi to perform this task post facto, as well. I’m not referring to my spiritual well-being, I’m referring to matters that are often more important. The holiness of Yom Kippur relates primarily to matters between man and God, while the essence of life’s holiness involves our interactions with our fellow man. More important questions are often ignored as our focus is on the day’s lack of food and other hardships. Yet even if the pangs of hunger lingered, these difficulties are forgotten as soon as the shofar sounds.
However, other issues can have ramifications that last longer. Questions like: Did all those walking into our shul feel at home? Were they welcomed properly? Were those unable to participate in the traditional prayers find solace and comfort in the services we provided? Did our weekly parishioners feel that their needs were taken care of adequately? Did the rabbi speak too long or too short? (As impossible as that may sound). How was the Chazan? The feedback thus far was complimentary as many commented on a positive experience and pleasant atmosphere. They noted the multitude of children (over 30!) as well as the unique diversity of the attendees. Some mentioned how pleasantly surprised they were at how comfortable an orthodox synagogue can be, even for those who are used to attending other synagogues. Our visitors’ comfort level was in large part thanks to our unique explanatory service led by Miriam Engel. The words of the machzor resonated even with those who were unfamiliar with it.
The Kol Nidrei sermon was slightly different than other Yom Kippur sermons. The audience was hushed and I opened by quoting the mah nishtana. It seemed strange to discuss the Passover Seder on Yom Kippur, especially when the questions regarding food were dismissed. This left only one question to be asked; why on every night of the year do we refrain from dipping, however tonight we dip twice? The metaphor was not lost on the large crowd who realized that the dipping had nothing to do with vegetables and salt water. The message was in reference to the words of Kol Nidrei and the vows we recited in the year that just passed.
The war against Gaza is still fresh in our minds but the promises made from the depths of our hearts have slowly begun to dissipate. The Kol Nidrei reminds us that although we can absolve the vows that we don’t recall, we can never absolve the vows that we made to show solidarity with the people of Israel. We can never emulate the dedication of 64 soldiers who paid the ultimate price or the tens of thousands of soldiers and reservists who lay their life on the line every day.
Yet we can do our part by supporting and advocating on their behalf. It’s not that our shul doesn’t require funds – it certainly does. It is just that this year we realize that it is imperative that we live up to the ideals that we proclaim from the pulpit. Even a shul has to be willing to sacrifice; even our shul has to be willing to do with less so we can assure that those who are fighting for us realize that we are willing to sacrifice for them. May the prayers we say on the festival of Sukkot, asking that the Almighty spread his tabernacle or sukkah of peace, be answered in the affirmative.
Indeed, may the coming year bring health and happiness to all. And may we continue to do our part in supporting our brothers and sisters in Israel, not only with words but with deeds. May we remember that the cost of the war was in excess of two and half billion dollars. As important as prayers may be, sometimes words alone can’t get the job done. On behalf of Medinat Yisrael and the people of Israel, let me say thank you and yasher koach for all your generosity thus far. May we continuously be blessed with the desire and ability to help others.
Chag sameach and shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Jack Engel