Thoughts to Ponder Number 62
12 Tishrei, 5761; October 11, 2000
Dangerous "Day After" Yom Kippur;
In Thoughts to Ponder (12) we quoted an observation by Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik, z.l., in which he commented on the last part of the Torah reading of the second day of Rosh Hashana. Rabbi Soloveitchik questioned the reason why the sages decided to include an "irrelevant" portion in this reading, informing us that Avraham, after coming back from the "Akedath Yitschak" (the trial of the sacrifice of Yitschak), was told that Milkah, the wife of his brother Nachor, had given birth and that his second wife also gave birth to several children. (Bereshith 23:20-24) What is the reason for the inclusion of this portion on Rosh Hashana?
Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that the sages did so as to warn all Jews that even after such an overwhelming event as the Akedath Yitschak, little, if anything, was learned from this event. After hearing from Avraham what had transpired, his family went back to their normal day-to-day life, as if nothing had happened. While the Akedah was, no doubt, one of the most crucial moments in man's history, carrying enormous moral consequences for all mankind, even Avraham's family did not really take notice.
Such could easily happen on the day after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as well. While these days often raise us to the highest level of spirituality, the "day after" may turn out to be just another day in which nothing could even remind us that the day before was one of great moral and religious exultation.
Anywhere in the world, on the day after Yom Kippur, the synagogue service needs to be a completely different experience from what people are used to. Yom Kippur should still be in the bones of all synagogue participants. Its spirit should still be felt with every prayer. It is completely incomprehensible that synagogue services turn to their old ways in which prayers are, again, said as if "nothing happened." The truth is that no prayer in the coming year could ever be the same. Anything else makes jollity of Yom Kippur, the Ten Days of Repentance and the essential meaning of Teshuva.
Sincere synagogue participants who do not feel that the chazan and other participants try to implement a different and more spiritual service the "day after," should make it clear to their friends that such a situation is completely unacceptable. They ought to be taking action to change that situation. Nothing is more dangerous in religious life than indifference.
Delving further, one discovers a serious flaw in modern religious life. On some level it seems that many religious people do not fully believe in their prayers on the High Holidays. While crying to God hundreds of times on Yom Kippur that He is the only One, they seem to deny this fact the next day when their prayers are, again, said out of habit. By saying that God is the only One, people express their absolute belief that God is the only real Power in this world and the Source for all life. This knowledge, after being forgotten over the last year, gets re-discovered and re-established on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It should bring a transformation, wherein ever human being should wake up. He or she should see everything in a different light for all of the next year. If such is not the case then one's life contradicts one's beliefs. This is a serious matter. Even those who may not be so sure in their beliefs but still go to synagogue since they believe that Judaism may carry the truth and that prayers may, after all, be of help, will have to realize that their prayers cannot be the same. Anything less is "the curse of religious agnosticism."
All this reveals that synagogue attendance is in serious trouble and that the daily attendance of services is no longer an indication of serious religiosity. Even the observance of other religious observances such as Shabbath and kashruth are no longer the result of real religiosity. They may be nothing more than an expression of a traditional life style without a real religious commitment. While this surely has some value, it is far from enough. Religious life has to be devout. If it is not, it will ultimately disintegrate. God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance. This should wake up religious thinkers and leaders and make them realize that a different form of religious education is of the greatest necessity.
While this essay is written, the State of Israel finds itself in one of its most critical moments. Once more the existence of the Jewish State is at stake. anti-Semitism is on the rise in many countries, and Jews will have to wake up and understand their responsibilities.
-Any Jew who will enter his prayers or his religious obligations like he or she did only last week, without seriously and fervently praying for the wellbeing of Jews in the land of Israel, should truly ask him/herself what gives him/her the right to call him/herself a really religious Jew.
-Any religious Jew who dares to come late to synagogue services should look himself in the eyes and question himself about his religious integrity.
-Any religious Jew who goes his/her way and drinks his/her coffee, goes shopping and enjoys his meal, as if nothing is happening will, one day, not be able to look him/herself in the face.
-Any religious Jew who does not say special prayers and tehilim (psalms) for the welfare of Israeli soldiers, especially those who have been abducted, policemen and the general Israeli population will have to give responsibility to the divine court for this negligence.
In these difficult days, synagogue services throughout the world, should undergo a serious religious transformation. It is the obligation of every Rabbi to do everything in his power to make this happen. If he does not, he has gravely violated his mission. At this time in Jewish history no Jew can go about his way without undergoing the feeling that he has come to a cross roads: To be really religious or to admit that he is a religious disbeliever. To really stand behind his brethren or to admit that he is guilty of lip service.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
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