“Those who think they know everything annoy those of us who do” quips a Jerusalem colleague. Confidence. Human beings enjoy lots of it. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman has observed, “A remarkable aspect of your mental life is that you are rarely stumped.”
This week’s portion of Torah appreciates how overconfidence causes people to stumble. “Jeshurun (the Jewish People) grew fat and rebelled” (Deut. 32:15). More fascinating, a number of words in Moses’s poetic song – designed for memory to aid in Israel’s spiritual recovery – haven’t appeared since the Creation of the world. Words like ‘formless’ (tohu) and ‘hovering’ (y’racheif), point to a chaotic state from which order is established (Deut. 32:10.11). As nature is prone to reversals, human nature is too. Yet, restoration is also baked into our world, no matter how formless it can feel.
Outstanding Yom Kippur messages each autumn can offer something more than a spring’s collection of best Commencement addresses. Their spiritual heft reconnects us with God. We hope this precious bond will generate in us less anger and more forgiveness, as Rabbis Yehudah Mirsky and Jonathan Sacks elegantly convey.
And then, like a thunderclap, our Holiest Day ends with the news of another attack against Jews. “Several hours later” writes Rebecca Blady who was part of a group invited to share Yom Kippur in Halle, Germany this year, “with the threat of the gunman still at large, police units escorted us out of the synagogue to a local hospital to check for signs or shock and trauma. We prayed Neilah here to end the day with extra fervor.” Wicked acts like shootings in faith-warming communities must never be normalized. Rather, it is our resilience and recovery capacity that must grow more familiar.
What stays with us as Yom Kippur recedes? Consider the most memorable parts of your Yom Kippur experience. Chances are they had something to do with stirring stories and melodies. This is the function of Moses’s song. Songs, and the stories they tell, stay with us.
We call portions of food ‘helpings’. Interesting. It’s as if nourishment from helpings signify the most helpful things we can provide. The leftover crumbs from a Rebbe’s plate are known as ‘Shiraim’. May the melodic ‘shira’ linger in our hearts in the days and weeks to come. And may this inspire us to provide those who hunger for hope with another helping.