Monday, September 24, 2012

Yom Kippur


The Mishnah teaches: “For transgressions against God, Yom Kippur atones; but for transgressions of one human being against another, Yom Kippur does not atone until they have made peace with one another.”

This past Saturday evening Ari and I went to the Bruce Springsteen concert at MetLife stadium.  A shout out to all of the JCB members I saw there.  Because of a weather delay the concert did not start until 1030 pm.  Bruce played until 2 am.  It was of course a fantastic concert.  At about 8 pm they ushered everyone out of their seats to take shelter inside because of the approaching severe weather.  Two hours later they made an announcement.  “We have resolved the situation.  It is now safe to return to your seats.”  Ari and I looked at each other quizzically. 

Are not the rains in the heavens?  During our prayers we pray, “Your might Adonai is everlasting.  You give life to all.  Great is Your saving power.  You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall…”  Some might disagree with this theology.  Perhaps you might offer scientific explanations about cloud formations and the power of nature.  But who would suggest that such matters are in human hands?

I recall a former teacher who appeared to believe that the British controlled the world.  He was a Bible professor so the university was forgiving of his theories about modern politics.  We knew that for ten minutes of every class we could stop taking notes as he spoke about secret meetings between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.  Thatcher was telling Reagan what to do.  We knew especially that we would not be tested on Britain’s new rain making machine.  (I promise I am not making this up.) 

Nonetheless I thought of my professor on Saturday night.  “We have resolved the situation…”  Who takes credit for the rains?   These matters are not in human hands.  Judaism steadfastly rejects such theories.  It rejects my professor’s conspiracy theories (as well as Mel’s) and his belief that human beings command the heavens.

Judaism rejects the notion that all is in our hands, that everything is controlled by human beings, and as well that nothing is in our hands.  We can say we’re sorry.  We can repair our relationships with others.  When approaching God, prayers can suffice.  With others the hard work of repair is always demanded.

On Yom Kippur we turn inward.  We examine our ways.  We seek to make amends.  “Sure it’s so hard to be a saint in the city.”  Nonetheless every year we are given an opportunity to turn, to change, to carve a different path.  Our lives are not entirely in our hands we recognize.  There are matters that we cannot control.

We cannot influence everyone around us, we cannot change how others might behave or even respond.  We can choose our own responses, our own actions.  We can carve out our own paths. While not everything is within our power, the direction of our lives is for us to decide.  We can always turn. 

The weather is beyond the design of human beings.  The rains are indeed outside of our hands.  Whether we sing or dance is within our power.  How we respond is always in our hands.

Now with these hands
I pray for the strength, Lord
With these hands,
I pray for the faith, Lord
Come on, rise up!

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