Yom Kip­pur – hap­pi­ness and hard­ship

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIO­NS - STE­WART WEISS The writer is di­rec­tor of the Jewish Out­reach Cen­ter of Ra’anana. [email protected]­sion.net.il

One of my fond­est, most vivid mem­o­ries of Yom Kip­pur is sit­ting with my friends in the an­te­room of our lit­tle shul, shortly af­ter my bar mitzva, as the day ebbed away. Dusk sig­naled that the fast was soon com­ing to an end and that meant it was time for our an­nual rit­ual of fan­ta­siz­ing over what scrump­tious foods we planned to con­sume for our break-fast meal. Though pizza, hot-fudge sun­daes, burg­ers and fries were all tan­ta­liz­ingly on our men­tal menus, we knew that we would have to get past the honey cake and kichel be­fore we could sit down to what­ever our moth­ers had pre­pared for us.

I have writ­ten on these pages how Yom Kip­pur, in many ways, is the hap­pi­est day of the year. How it frees us from our phys­i­cal de­sires – if only for a day – al­low­ing our souls to soar, and giv­ing us an al­most an­gelic char­ac­ter. How it be­stows upon us the most amaz­ing and pre­cious gift: The abil­ity to start over, to le­git­i­mately “white­wash” our sins so that we can again con­fi­dently lift up our face be­fore the Cre­ator.

There is no deny­ing that, for most peo­ple, Yom Kip­pur and its set of re­stric­tions – no work, no food, drink or bathing, no sex­ual in­ti­macy – cause vary­ing de­grees of hard­ship, but I sug­gest that this, too, is not a bad thing. Suf­fer­ing is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of char­ac­ter build­ing.

We Jews, of course, know suf­fer­ing bet­ter than most – if not all – other peo­ples. From the very be­gin­ning, our path was any­thing but trou­ble-free and this re­al­ity is re­flected in the var­i­ous read­ings of the High Holy Days. Sarah and Han­nah ag­o­nize over the lack of a child; Abra­ham is told both to send away his first son, Ish­mael, and to sac­ri­fice his sec­ond son, Isaac (who, at age 37, is clearly trau­ma­tized by his near-death ex­pe­ri­ence).

The bru­tal mur­der of some of our great­est sages, re­counted in the mar­ty­rol­ogy read on Yom Kip­pur, re­minds us of the op­pres­sion we con­tin­u­ally faced, and still face, from cruel tyrants and dic­ta­tors. Later in the year, we will en­counter ef­forts to deny us our re­li­gion, in the Hanukka story; the at­tempt to wipe us out, on Purim; and the bit­ter slav­ery we en­dured for more than a cen­tury, as re­counted in the Passover Hag­gada.

Yet amaz­ingly enough, all these for­mi­da­ble threats failed to de­stroy us, failed to re­move us from the pages of his­tory. If any­thing, they ac­com­plished the very op­po­site of what our en­e­mies in­tended. They served to steel us, to make us stronger and more re­silient, pre­par­ing us to face the next cri­sis and go right on sur­viv­ing – in­deed, flour­ish­ing. Mirac­u­lously, ev­ery pe­riod of per­se­cu­tion we en­dured led to greater glory. Egyp­tian servi­tude was fol­lowed by our lib­er­a­tion, the giv­ing of the To­rah and our en­trance to the Land of Is­rael; the de­struc­tion of the Tem­ple re­sulted in the cre­ation of the sy­n­a­gogue and our per­va­sive in­flu­ence over the Di­as­pora; the hor­ror of the Holo­caust was fol­lowed close-on by the cre­ation of the State of Is­rael and the in­gath­er­ing of the ex­iles into the pre­mier Jewish com­mon­wealth of all time.

Just a few days ago, a poll was pub­lished pro­claim­ing that al­most 90% of Is­raelis – for whom com­plain­ing is al­most an Olympic sport – are sat­is­fied with their lives. This is a stag­ger­ing statis­tic, con­sid­er­ing the con­stant threats to our safety and se­cu­rity – not to men­tion the cor­rup­tion, traf­fic con­ges­tion and high cost of liv­ing that con­tin­u­ally con­front us – and it mys­ti­fy­ingly blurs the line be­tween hard­ship and hap­pi­ness. It’s coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but I sug­gest that the se­cret to our sat­is­fac­tion ac­tu­ally lies in the ad­ver­sity we face! It en­er­gizes and tones us, it chal­lenges us and, most of all, it guar­an­tees that life on a daily ba­sis here will al­ways be stim­u­lat­ing and never, ever dull. The net re­sult is that when all is said and done and we some­how suc­ceed in get­ting through our prob­lems, we feel very good about our­selves.

Ac­tor Ge­orge San­ders was a man who seem­ingly had ev­ery­thing: Beau­ti­ful wives (he was mar­ried to both Zsa Zsa Ga­bor and her sis­ter Magda); wealth and fame – he ap­peared in 90 films, win­ning an Os­car in a co-star­ring role with Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe. But when he com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1972, he left a suc­cinct and stun­ningly sar­cas­tic note: “Dear World,” he wrote, “I am leav­ing be­cause I am bored.” Thank­fully, that could never, ever hap­pen here.

Our brief en­counter with de­pri­va­tion over Yom Kip­pur helps not only to shape our spir­i­tual side, but also to mold our moral char­ac­ter. When we are hun­gry, we can ap­pre­ci­ate those who suf­fer on a reg­u­lar ba­sis from star­va­tion. When we are weary, we can bet­ter sym­pa­thize with those who work hard ev­ery day with too lit­tle re­mu­ner­a­tion and too lit­tle ac­knowl­edg­ment. When our eyes fill with tears of re­morse, our vi­sion sharp­ens and we can more clearly see the need not only to im­prove our­selves, but also to im­prove the con­di­tion of those around us, and even to im­prove the world it­self.

This day will go by fast – pun in­tended – but its hard-earned yet sweet lessons should stay with us long af­ter the honey cake is fin­ished. ■

Reuters) (Rein­hard Krause/

A MAN walks on an empty street in Jerusalem dur­ing Yom Kip­pur in this file photo from 2004.

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