catching the waves

Perhaps just as important as going through the day of Yom Kippur, with all its introspection, is the wrap-up afterwards. After all, what’s the good of a heshbon hanefesh, “accounting of the soul”, without a follow-through?

(See this for a discussion how the Mussar movement made this a daily activity).

So what do I remember now?

What comes to me was a smattering of things, much of which, like a dream, I’ve already forgotten. I should have written it last night, but I will let that instinct go, since the only thing going on was the digestion of food after the fast, which was drawing most of my energy into my stomach. The other bit of energy was used to clean up the house, including all the leaves that came in every time someone walked in, and therefore some of the leaves outside, too, so that they don’t come in. Sisyphus, move over.

Because of all that has happened in the last year, I had to find a way to make peace with the prayer Unetaneh Tokef that is featured on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Here is the problematic part for me, via Wikipedia.

וְכָל בָּאֵי עוֹלָם יַעַבְרוּן (תעביר) לְפָנֶיךָ כִּבְנֵי מָרוֹן. כְּבַקָּרַת רוֹעֶה עֶדְרוֹ. מַעֲבִיר צאנוֹ תַּחַת שִׁבְטוֹ .כֵּן תַּעֲבִיר וְתִסְפֹּר וְתִמְנֶה וְתִפְקֹד נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חָי. וְתַחְתּךְ קִצְבָה לְכָל בְּרִיּוֹתֶיךָ (בריה). וְתִכְתֹּב אֶת גְּזַר דִּינָם:בְּראֹשׁ הַשָּׁנָה יִכָּתֵבוּן וּבְיוֹם צוֹם כִּפּוּר יֵחָתֵמוּן כַּמָּה יַעַבְרוּן וְכַמָּה יִבָּרֵאוּן מִי יִחְיֶה וּמִי יָמוּת. מִי בְקִצּוֹ וּמִי לא בְקִצּוֹ מִי בַמַּיִם. וּמִי בָאֵשׁ מִי בַחֶרֶב. וּמִי בַחַיָּה מִי בָרָעָב. וּמִי בַצָּמָא מִי בָרַעַשׁ. וּמִי בַמַּגֵּפָה מִי בַחֲנִיקָה וּמִי בַסְּקִילָה מִי יָנוּחַ וּמִי יָנוּעַ מִי יִשָּׁקֵט וּמִי יִטָּרֵף מִי יִשָּׁלֵו. וּמִי יִתְיַסָּר מִי יֵעָנִי. וּמִי יֵעָשֵׁר מִי יִשָּׁפֵל. וּמִי יָרוּםוּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רעַ הַגְּזֵרָה “All mankind will pass before You like a flock of sheep. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the destinies of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by upheaval, who by plague, who by strangling, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity avert the severe Decree!”

At his predestined time and who before his time? And what about the whole why good people suffer? I understand that it is written to help people who are really powerless to take some kind of control over their lives, but the overall message reinforces the powerlessness. After all, even though we are, in the end, powerless, meaning that all of our power comes from another source, we do have some control over our reactions to all that befalls us. Attitude really is everything.

There’s a problem with the translation here for the last line of מַעֲבִירִין–it’s not really avert, as it says here, since these do not prevent the severity of the decree, but they modify it. It really means “causes to pass”. That’s really the only way to understand it.

I think it’s a poetic use of the word  יַעַבְרוּן –pass–mentioned in the first sentence here–a form of chiasmus, inverted parallelism. We pass in front of G-d, as sheep pass through a sheepfold, but we bring our actions with us. It’s actually more poetic than philosophic.

And since we know plenty of cases of people who donate large amounts of charity who then end up in jail…it goes both ways. Doing the three steps of Teshuva-Tefillah-Tzedakah is not a dance that guarantees any kind of good life.

There’s another word that caught my attention and that was Shalom. We can say that attaining a sense of Shalom–of peace, well-being, calm, contentment–is often something we need help attaining. We can reach just so far ourselves, but perhaps that’s why it is the last line of the Priestly Blessing. If we can achieve that kind of contentment, that goes a long way to helping us control our destinies. As I said, attitude!

I also noticed a lot of our synagogue members who have become their parents. That was pretty awesome, in all senses of the word, both for children who are now adults, and my generation, taking on the jowls and grey hair of seniority.

There was another interesting experience I paid attention to over the day. Often, when I go to the Kotel in Jerusalem and try to be part of a minyan coming from the other side of the mechitzah, I get the feeling that I’m surfing, trying to catch a minyan wave and usually just falling off. Actually, I don’t even try to catch up anymore; it’s just too hard on the concentration.

But this Yom Kippur here in the Diaspora, very far away from all of those good waves, I found myself having the same kind of reaction. This time, it was good. Closing my eyes during Neilah, I could just let the waves wash over me. I was also singing/praying, but hearing the different sounds from all over the room was a great experience. Because we are not identical and our prayers should not be.

So, just for fun, I enclose three different representations of waves.
Circling: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

DSC_0355 IMG_4970




6 thoughts on “catching the waves

  1. Thank you for the post. Are you saying that while we cannot control what happens to us, we can control our attitude, and as a result of our attitude, our personal experience of what happens to us? Wishing that we were going for a walk together right about now. Love, Purple.

    1. It’s by our actions that we can adapt our attitude–that’s what I think the Tefillah, Teshuvah, Tzedakah are about–it’s how to correct our behavior and therefore our attitude. But what is Teshuvah but attitude and then action, as best as we can?

  2. Okay. This feels so important, I really want to understand. So, are we to come away from this very difficult & seemingly harsh prayer with only the knowledge of our powerlessness, & then to use that knowledge as an incentive to control the only thing we can, namely, our Tefillah, Teshuvah, & Tzedakah? And by these, the actual “who shall perish” doesn’t change, but with the correct attitude, we modify the harshness?

    1. The “correct” attitude will help you achieve the changes that you need to make or at least guide you to then cement your positive attitude, which can modify the harshness because we can accept it better. Does that make sense?

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