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Yom Kippur 5782-Bookends

Sep 15, 2021

Yom Kippur 5782-Bookends

It occurred to me this year that there is an interesting symmetry in the Bible readings for the 10 days of repentance.We begin on Rosh Hashana with the story of the birth of Isaac (which is traditionally connected to Rosh Hashana). The bulk of the reading on the first day however deals with the story of the close to death experience of Yishmael, after being sent away with his mother from the house of Abraham.In a twist of fortune, Yishmael survives.Rashi raises the obvious question -why did he survive? Surely he is to become the head of the Arab nations who will become bitter enemies of the Jewish people in the future.Rashi answers with the following comment:

WHERE HE IS — According to the actions he is now doing shall he be judged 'ba'asher hu sham' and not according to what he may do in future. Because the ministering angels laid information against him, saying, “Master of the Universe, for him whose descendants will at one time kill your children with thirst will You provide a well?” He asked them, “What is he now, righteous or wicked?” They replied to him, “Righteous.” He said to them, “According to his present deeds will I judge him.” This is the meaning in that 'ba'asher hu sham' [ of what is written: “[For God hath heard the voice of the lad in the condition in which he now is” -Genesis Rabbah 53

Rashi gives us a rule in the process of teshuva and kapara.Even if the person won't be able to keep up the commitments he makes (during the 10 days of penitence) , he will be judged at the moment of the commitment , as was Yishmael when he committed to do teshuva as he was laying in the hot sun on the verge of death.The key phrase is:   'ba'asher hu sham' and this dictates a good outcome.This is remarkable as the logic dictates that teshuva requires that you follow through on your commitments , which is the ideal outcome, but not always achievable.

The same message appears in the last Bible reading on Yom Kippur, the book of Jonah read at mincha.The story is well known and the message of the book is one of teshuva of the non Jews in Nineveh, which creates a great problem for the Jewish people who are not interested in teshuva and continue to worship idols.The Ninevites are also judged according to the principle of 'ba'asher hu sham' ,to be judged as they were at that moment of repentance, even if they did not keep up the commitment in the future.In fact Nineveh survives for another 140 years and the message for the Jews is clear-repent or face the wrath of the enemy, which eventually happened as we know. This is a powerful message for all of us at this time.

We go through the same motions every year, of repentance and new resolutions which are quickly forgotten as soon as Yom Kippur is over.But the hope is that we did become inspired during the 10 days of penitence at some point and that Hashem will judge us as well 'ba'asher hu sham' ,as we are at this holy time, even if our commitments may be short lived. These are the 'bookends' of the 10 days of penitence and give us a positive hope for the future.Our rituals at this time are of value and the prayer to God is that some of this positivity stays with us.Hashem wants to do kindness to us and we can help this process with a small step, even if it is only 'ba'asher hu sham'.

This applies even to the Jew who attends shul minimally during this time, as the experience of reaffirming Jewish connection and identity also has a great value.May Hashem judge us all for a happy and healthy New Year.

Shana Tova. Gemar Chatima Tova

Venue: Stern College Stern College



A thought for Yom Kippur.

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