Yom Kippur got me to thinking - as well it should!
Yom Kippur, as the name implies (day of reconciliation) is the day we agree and we try to "pay the price" for our ill deeds. We pray that The Price be remorse and not devastating punishment. Sincere remorse is painful punishment. We pray that The Price be self- awareness that leads us to an ego-death but not a physical one. Self-awareness can be unsettling and scathing enough.
We pray for these things - yet it is in OUR power, in OUR intention - to activate them in our lives. WE are the ones who can consider the impact of our (over)-tolerance or intolerance, our (over)-generosity or stinginess and so on. Imbalances in the psyche come in all shapes and sizes. WE are the ones who must evaluate what imbalances we suffer from and what the right medicine is for it.
While preparing for the fall holidays, I came across a teaching from Reb Kalanymous Kalman Shapira, a rebbe who was active in the Warsaw Ghetto. He teaches that a very good aid to this task of correcting imbalances is "to be aware of our mortality in the right way." Let's take this to heart.
I thought long and heard about what would be some of the wrong ways to be aware of mortality. For example, I could live in a state of dread, depression or despair. Or I could fling myself off into unending distractions and denial - trying to fill that vacuous place that knows I am finite and vulnerable.
I am in an age group - and in a time in world history - in which the opportunity to be aware of our mortality in the right way presents itself often enough. I see (we all see) the declining capacities of ourselves or our beloveds and friends. I see (we all see) beloveds confronting the diseases that will take them from us. We live with this constant inevitability.
How does it feel to know that a friend (or an ex-friend!) is frail and failing? The Jewish prayer for confronting this moment for ourselves or others is to say May their decline/suffering/death be a capparah (same word as yom kippur!) a payment and a reconciling. May grief and suffering (theirs and ours) wash away everything unworthy. This is an awareness of mortality that can deepen and enrich our living.
If we are flooded by a wish for the comfort and well-being of another (friend or foe) facing a hard trial - we are being aware of mortality in the right way.
If we are flooded by an appreciation of the preciousness of life and the minute to minute blessings we receive, we are being aware of our mortality in the right way.
For further contemplations on this topic, plan to join us for the weekend of December 9-11, when Dr. Simcha Raphael will be our scholar in residence. The weekend is sponsored by our Hevra Kadisha (burial association). Dr. Raphael is a nationally recognized expert on Jewish views of death and the afterlife. More details here. http://templeisraelgreenfield.org/~.
On another note, please hold me in your thoughts for a safe and successful trip to Israel and the West Bank, November 6-20. I look forward to sharing my impressions of current events when I return.