Saturday, September 25, 2004

Memories: Yom Kippur 5765

Jews have long memories. Indeed, as Rav Soloveitchik often pointed out, our sense of time is two-fold. First, there is chronomatic time, physical time. This is the time we watch slip by as the sweep second hand goes around our watches, never to return. There is, however, another dimension of time awareness that characterizes us. We live in an eternal present, where the past is immediate and ever so accessible. We summon up memories and experience them now. Today, for example, we not only recited the Avodah, the description of the service on Yom Kippur in the Bet HaMiqdash, we performed it verbally. The Hazzan was the Kohen Gadol. The people were standing in the courtyard. We heard the Kohen Gadol invoke the Ineffable Name of God, and fell on our faces. Past met present met future, as the threnodies and elegies after the recitation of the Avodah empasized the implications of the destruction of the Temple in mesmerizing rythm.

Recent memories were conjured up as well. When it was time for Yizkor, for the memorial prayers, the custom in Israel is to add a special paragraph for those who fell in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. When it came time, there was silence. Noone knew what was happening. It turned out, that the Hazzan couldn't get the words out. Each word choked him, and seared into the hearts of everyone there. 1973 was today, it was yesterday, it will be tomorrow. At the same time, as the present war enters its fourth year, other voices were choked over loved ones, friends and neighbors who've been murdered for riding buses, drinking coffee, datring to live here. All of the almost 1500 people murdered in the last eleven years were invoked in this Yizkor. Everyone prayed that these would be the last. Noone said it out loud. The feeling, however, was tangible.

Right after Yizkor, though, the mood changed on a dime. There was a Brit (a rare enough occasion on Yom Kippur). Everyone segued into happiness at the little boy now initiated into the covenant of Abraham, who grazed these very hills. The contrast was quite tangible, with what had gone before. I was reminded of something told me by a very dear man, Rabbi Moshe Besdin z"l, who is the unsung hero of the Teshuva movement. Now I didn't attend his school. I'd gone straight to RIETS in the midst of my PhD at Harvard, and ws in the Rav's shiur. However, I also had a shul and Rabbi Besdin (who I don't think knew my name), like to feed me with ideas for sermons and on Sunday would come looking for me to see how I'd done.

Anyway, once he came up to me at dinner and pointed out to me that Tosafos says that anyone who doesn't attend a Brit or a weddng is excommunicated by God. That, in fact, is why the common custom is to inform people of a Brit and not to invite outright, i.e, so that people don't get caught up with refusing. The truth is, however, that Tosafos, quoting the Jerusalem Talmud, doesn't talk about the Brit or the wedding ceremony. It refers to the party engendered by the ceremony. So what's the big deal about going to a party? Rabbi Besdin, with his usual twinkle in his eye, said that Tosafos is referring to a person who bemoans the continuity of the Jewish People. Why celebrate when the fate of Israel is to be hated and persecuted? Such a person is cut off from God, because he lacks the faith, the conviction and the insight to rejoice in a better future for Israel and for the future redemption. That rejoicing (without the meal) was what swept the congregation today. It's the response to our tangible Yizkor.

I think that's what you walk out of Yom Kippur with in the Land of Israel. Hope: for Divine forgiveness, for peace, and for the strength, the super-human strength with which we've been endowed to still try to be normal (and succeeded). That's alot to celebrate, as the hammers have made a racket all night as the sukkot go up.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Any comments about YU eliminating the program that Rav Besdin A"H ran very effectively?

Anonymous said...

Any comments about YU eliminating the program that Rav Besdin A"H ran very effectively?

Jeffrey said...

I wasn't aware that they were closing JSS.

Lonely Man of Mechqar said...

They closed it and didn't close it. Its been revamped into a "mechinah" program. See:
http://www.yucommentator.com/news/2004/08/30/News/New-Judaic.Morning.Program.Debuts-703501.shtml

Anonymous said...

For better or worse they are changing JSS away from what Rav Besdin A"H wanted and ran. I have a tough time believing that as great a man as R. Besdin was-the program was dependent on one man.
We have a situation where YU hired a Hillel head who is clearly not a talmid chacham-who is changing Jewish Studies Programs at YU.
YU should not have the inclusiveness of Hillel. I went to YU and belonged to a Hillel in graduate school

Gil Student said...

If that is the reason we do not invite to brissen, why do we send wedding invitations?

Menachem Butler said...

If anyone is interested in writing an article about Rabbi Besdin to include in the YUdaica section, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

Maybe try R. Steve Riskin-I believe he wrote about him once for the OU-it could easily be adapted.

Menachem Butler said...

I've been trying to get into contact with Rabbi Riskin to have him write an article about Rabbi Besdin, but email has proved unsuccessful. I guess that I'll get into contact with his NYC office and leave a message there. Thanks!