How Can we Possibly be Ready for Yom Kippur?

The following is a letter I wrote to my Synagogue in Efrat a day after the harrowing murder of Ari Fuld and a day before Yom Kippur. I was trying to figure out how to prepare myself for the ‘day of judgment’ in light of the last terrible 24 hours. Here is a copy of that letter.

Dear friends,

We certainly got beaten up this week. It’s hard to collect ourselves and prepare for Yom HaDin. It’s hard physically after having cried so many tears yesterday and the shock has still not worn off. But it’s hard also philosophically, theologically; how do we stand before the Ribbono Shel Olam without the nagging question of injustice which is occupying our minds and hearts. For this we sacrificed? Left our lives in America and gave up so much, for such senseless tragedy? זו תורה וזו שכרה?? (This is the Torah and the reward for keeping it??) Every single Facebook post, email and whatsapp that I received yesterday began with the ubiquitous ברוך דיין האמת, which rolls off our tongues despite its harsh theological significance.

The line comes from the famous Mishna in Brachot(9:2)which states: על בשורות רעות הוא אומר ברוך דין האמת. (Upon hearing terrible news one says Blessed is God the judge)

And the Mishna continues later to state: “חַיָּב אָדָם לְבָרֵךְ עַל הֲרָעָה כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמְּבָרֵךְ עַל הַטּוֹבָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר ‘וְאָהַבְתָּ אֶת ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ’ וגו’ ‘וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ’ – בְּכָל מִדָּה וּמִדָּה שֶׁהוּא מוֹדֵד לְךָ, הֵוֵי מוֹדֶה לוֹ”.

כְּשֵׁם – Just as we bless God for the good, we are obligated to bless God for the bad.

The Rishonim (rabbinic sages) offer us explanations which are pretty hard to read in light of Ari’s הי”ד murder. I can’t imagine any of us find easy the notion of an ‘obligation’  of blessing God for what our eyes beheld (especially the interpretations of the Rishonim as to the way to accept the terrible things that befall us–Rambam writes we must ‘accept with joy’; Shulchan Aruch’s says we must have a  ‘complete understanding and desiring soul’; Mishna Berura’s says we should ‘see it as a kapara (atonement) for sins’; Ohel Yaakov’s explains God is ‘giving us bad so that we may appreciate the good’;).

Instead, I choose to draw upon a more approachable response to tragedy found in the Gemara Menachot 29b, and the case is similar to ours, a horrible murder.

אמר לו אדם אחד יש שעתיד להיות בסוף כמה דורות ועקיבא בן יוסף שמו שעתיד לדרוש על כל קוץ וקוץ תיליןתילין של הלכות אמר לפניו רבש”ע הראהו לי אמר לו חזור לאחורך הלך וישב בסוף שמונה שורות ולא היה יודע מה הן אומרים תשש כחו כיון שהגיע לדבר אחד אמרו לו תלמידיו רבי מנין לך אמר להן הלכה למשה מסיני נתיישבה דעתו חזר ובא לפני הקב”ה אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם יש לך אדם כזה ואתה נותן תורה ע”י אמר לו שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם הראיתני תורתו הראני שכרו אמר לו חזור [לאחורך] חזר לאחוריו ראה ששוקלין בשרו במקולין אמר לפניו רבש”ע זו תורה וזו שכרה א”ל שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני

Moshe famously is told that the future will bring a scholar named Rabbi Akiva who will uncover the mysteries of Torah. When Moshe travels in time to attend Rabbi Akiva’s shiur, he doesn’t understand a word! Depressed, he is only revived when Rabbi Akiva quotes a Halacha from Moshe at Sinai. Moshe tries to understand why he was the one chosen to present the Torah to Bnei Yisrael when there exist Torah giants like Rabbi Akiva. God responds, “SILENCE! That is what I decided.” When Moshe inquires about Rabbi Akiva’s reward for his deep understanding of God’s word, he learns that his fate is to be gruesomely murdered by the Romans. Moshe shrieks, “This is Torah and this is its reward?!?” God once again replies with the exact same words: “SILENCE! That is what I decided.”

We note that the Gemara has God silencing Moshe twice, once for not understanding a gift from God, and once for not understanding a tragedy. Perhaps this Gemara explains the necessity of the Mishna to equate the bracha for good things with bad things. The blessings and shefa (overabundance) we receive, the ability to live in Eretz Yisrael and raise our children here, the joy we experience in being a part of the beginning of the geula (redemption)—all that we may take for granted, or perhaps wonder why we are zocheh to deserve these gifts when previous generations were not. Comes along the Mishna and Gemara and remind us to humbly accept this bounty and recognize God for it. Similarly when tragedy strikes, our ONLY response is humble acceptance, silence, and recognizing God for it despite its seemingly nonsensical reality.

In this light we now approach Yom HaDin, battered and bruised, body and soul. We may come saddled with our questions and taanot (claims), but we must check them at the door and humbly follow in the traditions of our forefathers in praying the age-old tefilot…and at the same time realize our unique position in history. Acknowledge God for the gift of Eretz Yisrael and the responsibility to fight for it as Ari hy”d had his entire life, and then bow our heads in silence and humility at the terrible price we sometimes pay to enjoy this incredible land.

Let us hope and pray that our future is one in which the frightening word ‘כשם’ no longer exists and we only bless God out of thanks for the good He provides for us and our families and all of Am Yisrael.

Gmar Chatima Tova.

 

 

About the Author
Rabbi Avi Baumol is serving the Jewish community of Krakow as it undergoes a revitalization as part of a resurgence of Jewish awareness in Poland. He is also the Emissary of Shavei Israel in Krakow, Poland. He graduated Yeshiva University and Bernard Revel Graduate School with an MA in Medieval JH. He is a musmach of RIETS and studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shevut. He served as a rabbi in Vancouver British Columbia for five years. Rabbi Baumol is the author of "The Poetry of Prayer" Gefen Publishing, 2010, an editor of The Israel Bible (Volume on Tehillim) and author of "Komentarz to Tory" (Polish), a Modern Orthodox Commentary on the Torah. As well, he is the Editor of the book of Psalms for The Israel Bible--https://theisraelbible.com/bible/psalms
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