web analytics
April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Carrying Both Pain And Faith


Share Button

No one understood more clearly than he that if the New Year and the Day of Atonement were a time of judgment and the days themselves a kind of trial, the Jewish people needed a defending counsel. For the key to these days was not strict justice but forgiveness. Had God not chosen the Jewish people? And did this not therefore mean that He loved them? And if He loved them, did He not wish to forgive them? If so, then the vital task was not to berate the congregation for their sins, but to plead with God to let mercy prevail.

This, Levi Yitzchak did. He did so each year in prayers of unprecedented audacity. He spoke directly to heaven. He did so familiarly, using the Yiddish language rather than the formal Hebrew of the prayer book. It was as if the synagogue in Berdichev had become the courtroom of the Jewish world, and in the hush before the judgment Levi Yitzchak approached the Judge and in words of passion sought to have the case dismissed.

One year he said, “Master of the Universe, Your people Israel have many sins. But You have much forgiveness. I propose an exchange. Let us trade our sins for Your forgiveness. And if You say that that is an unfair exchange, I answer that without our sins, of what use would Your forgiveness be?”

Another year: “Master of the Universe, You know that even the humblest Jew, if he saw a holy book lying in the street, would pick it up, kiss it and put it in a place of honor. But we, Your people, are a holy book. Your words are written in our lives. And we are lying in the street, crushed by poverty and persecution. Can You pass by and not pick us up?”

And on a year when Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbat: “Master of the Universe, You have given us many laws. And You, being just, are bound by those same laws. What we may not do, You do not do. But today is the Sabbath. And on the Sabbath we may not write. How then, as the books of life and death sit before You, can You write? There is only one cause that permits us to write on the Sabbath: to save a life. Write us, therefore, in the book of life.”

Where did they come from, these daring intercessions so close to being in contempt of court? From an ancient Jewish tradition, namely prophesy itself. For the greatest of the prophets pleaded on behalf of humanity. Abraham prayed for the cities of the plain. Moses, after the sin of the golden calf, said, “Please forgive them now their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book You have written.” The prophet was one who loved his people more than he reprimanded them. He knew their faults. But he pleaded their cause, and stood his ground even before the throne of glory. Levi Yitzchak gave fresh voice to one of the great themes of the Jewish spiritual drama, the triumph of forgiveness over justice.

His most daring prayer? Once, on Kol Nidre night, as the Day of Atonement was beginning, he looked around the synagogue and saw a man whose face was filled with tears. He went up to him. “Why are you crying?” he asked.

“I cannot help it. Once I was a pious Jew. I had a good livelihood, a comfortable home. My wife was devout. Our home was always open to strangers. Then suddenly He intervened. I lost my wife. My business collapsed. I had to sell my home. And I am left poor and homeless with six children to look after. I do not know how to pray any more. All I can do is come to the synagogue and weep.”

Levi Yitzchak comforted the man and brought him a prayer book. “Will you pray now?”

“Yes,” said the man.

“Do you forgive God now?”

“Yes,” he replied. “Today is the Day of Atonement; I must forgive.”

Then Levi Yitzchak turned his eyes upward towards heaven and said, “You too must do the same, Master of the Universe. You too must forgive.”

* * *

Caught up in this drama of sin and repentance, justice and forgiveness, estrangement and reconciliation, I begin to realize that being a Jew – being a human being – is not a matter of the here-and-now only. My life is more than this place, this time, these anxieties, those hopes. We are characters in a long and continuing narrative. We carry with us the pain and faith of our ancestors. Our acts will affect our children and those not yet born. We neither live our lives nor come before God alone. In us, the past and future have resided their trust. The battle of good against evil, faith against indifference is not won in a single generation. Never in earthly time is it finally won, and must be fought each year anew. In each of us the faith of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac still echoes. The pleas of Levi Yitzchak still resonate. The question is: Will we hear them? On Rosh Hashanah we ask God to remember. But on Rosh Hashanah God also asks us to remember. Before God lie two books; one of them is the book of life. It was many years before I understood that before us also lie the same two books. In one is written all the things to which human beings have instinctively turned: appetite and will, self-assertion and power. It was Judaism’s most fateful claim that this is not the book of life.

Share Button

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “Carrying Both Pain And Faith”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
FBI Wanted poster for Osama bin Laden
Pakistan Library Renamed to Honor bin Laden
Latest Judaism Stories
Reiss-041814-King

Amazingly, each and every blade was green and moist as if it was just freshly cut.

PTI-041814

All the commentaries ask why Hashem focuses on the Exodus as opposed to saying, “I am Hashem who created the entire world.”

Leff-041814

Someone who focuses only on the bones of the Torah makes his bones dry and passionless.

The following is President Obama’s statement on Passover (April 14, 2014). As he has in the past, the President held an official Passover Seder at the White House. Michelle and I send our warmest greetings to all those celebrating Passover in the United States, in Israel, and around the world. On Tuesday, just as we […]

The tendency to rely on human beings rather than G-d has been our curse throughout the centuries.

“Who is wise? One who learns from each person” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

In Judaism, to be without questions is a sign not of faith, but of lack of depth.

“I’ll try to help as we can,” said Mr. Goodman, “but we already made a special appeal this year. Let me see what other funds we have. I’ll be in touch with you in a day or two.”

Rashi is bothered by the expression Hashem used: “the Jews need only travel.”

Reckoning Time
‘Three Festivals, Even Out Of Order’
(Beizah 19b)

Two husbands were there to instruct us in Texas hold ‘em – and we needed them.

Question: Why do we start counting sefirat ha’omer in chutz la’aretz on the second night of Pesach when the omer in the times of the Beit Hamikdash was cut on Chol HaMoed?

M. Goldman
(Via E-Mail)

A few background principles regarding the prohibitions of chametz mixtures on Pesach may provide some shopping guidance.

According to the Rambam, the k’nas applies to any chametz on Pesach with which one could, in theory, transgress the aveirah – even if no transgression actually occurred.

She was followed by the shadows of the Six Million, by the ever so subtle awareness of their vanished presence.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

In Judaism, to be without questions is a sign not of faith, but of lack of depth.

Rabbi Sacks

You perpetuate a transformative event by turning it into a ritual.

There is much in this episode that is hard to understand, much that has to do with the concept of holiness and the powerful energies it released that, like nuclear power today, could be deadly dangerous if not properly used. But there is also a more human story about two approaches to leadership that still resonates with us today.

Nasi is the generic word for a leader: a ruler, king, judge, elder, or prince. Usually it refers to the holder of political power.

The account of the construction of the Tabernacle in Vayakhel-Pekudei is built around the number seven.

Vayakhel is Moses’ response to the wild abandon of the crowd that gathered around Aaron and made the golden calf.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you fail. Such is life.

In Judaism, monarchy had little or no religious function.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/carrying-both-pain-and-faith/2012/09/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: