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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘kippur’

For Better or for Worse

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

It’s time to move out of our homes and into our holy humble sukkahs. Now is the time when we renew our relationship with God, who has chosen us to form an inseparable eternal union – a marriage between the children of Yisrael and the Master of the Universe.

The Torah portion of Nitzavim, which is read just before the New Year, reveals to us that Hashem is our personal “husband,” for better or for worse. Rashi explains (Devarim 29:12) that we were presented with a covenant and a curse: “Since we are forever bound together, let Me teach you how to make Me happy.”

Nitzavim goes on to prophesize everything that has transpired during these thousands of years. This is highlighted by non-Jews gasping and stating, “Why has God caused this land to become desolate? Because they have forsaken God’s covenant.” Thus, on Rosh Hashanah we think of our past year’s sins. The sound of the shofar awakens our emotions. Then ten days of introspection and repentance bring on the great and awesome day of Kippur, of Atonement.

Consider: our God is perfect, and we are anything but. We may have been envious or lustful, or worshipped money, status or a host of other vices. Now we humbly return home to our Love. If we repent out of fear, our sins are forgiven. But if we repent because we truly love our Maker, he gives us an amazing reward – our sins become mitzvahs!

Hashem simply goes beyond the letter of the law in His love for us.

The Holy Ben Ish Chai points out that if you go beyond the four letters of the Hebrew word hadin (the judgment), you get to the Hebrew word sukkah. (The four Hebrew letters that come after the letters in hadin are the letters in the word sukkah). The sukkah is where we arrive after Yom Kippur, free of sins, under the wings of God’s Holy Presence.

Note that the first time sukkah is mentioned in the Torah, it is referring to the stalls our forefather Yaakov built for his animals. Why? Because when Yaakov arrived in Shechem with his family, he built a beis medrash for himself for Torah learning, but for his animals, his “wealth,” he built simple huts.

Yaakov took his children to the window and said, “Look at how I treat my wealth, dear children. Wealth is temporary; like the sukkah, it doesn’t go with you to the next world. But here in this house of Torah, we accumulate the mitzvahs that stay with us – which are eternal.”

We have now received our “new heads” for the coming year, as implied by the words Rosh Hashanah, head for the year, and Yom Hazikaron, a day of resetting our memory apparatus. We are cleansed of our sins on Yom Kippur, after which we enter, with our entire body, into our sukkah. We enter this mitzvah where we achieve oneness with our Lover – Hashem, Blessed be He.

What is it about the Nation of Israel that attracts the love of the One God Who rules the universe?

I came upon an answer on Rosh Chodesh Elul as I prayed the silent benedictions. We bless the day in the following way: “Mikadesh Yisrael v’roshei chodoshim – He sanctifies Israel and the first day of all months.” But it can literally mean “He sanctifies Yisrael and “brand new heads.”

Our nation is forever ready to admit our mistakes and begin all over. With the coming of each new moon, we are aware that we may start afresh.

This is also evident in our morning declaration of Modeh Ani, the origin of which is in the book of Eichah (3:23) which states, “Hashems kindness is new every morning – great is Your belief [in us, to improve in the coming day]. One of the reasons Hashem loves His people is that they are always willing to start over.

Two small examples that are actually big were related to me by Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, shlita, head of the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where I am currently studying.

The first: A man survived hell in a concentration camp only to discover that his entire family had perished – parents, siblings, wife and children. Everyone.

He Murdered his Daughter

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Guest Post by Suzzane Handler

Mental Illness is one of those subjects that is still pretty much taboo to talk about in the Orthodox Jewish community. And that can lead to tragic consequences. No more tragic than what happened in Cheyenne, Wyoming almost 80 years ago.

I think it is high time we start the conversation. I can think of no better time to do so than during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva. The following was sent to me by Catherine Goldberg whose opening words introduce Suzzane Handler. She wrote a book about her Orthodox grandfather – a man who murdered his own daughter.

My name is Catherine Goldberg. I’m a big fan of Emes Ve-Emunah and look forward to learning something new everyday every time you post. It always makes me think. I just wanted to share something I’m working on and I thought your community may be interested in.

I found this book called The Secrets They Kept. (It is) about an Orthodox Jew who murdered his youngest daughter who was schizophrenic instead of having her committed.

I got in touch with the author (whose) name is Suzanne Handler and she’s fabulous. We talked about how there’s a big stigma in the Jewish community that bad stuff like schizophrenia or abuse doesn’t happen to us. We both agreed this is not a safe way to think. There’s a lot of guilt and shame associated it with and when that’s internalized that can be really dangerous.

Secret keeping, especially throughout generations is devastating. (T)his book… says it’s OK to talk about this, and by sharing your story we can begin to move forward.

We also talked about what this has to do with forgiveness and Yom Kippur. Suzanne had to forgive her family for keeping this horrible secret from her. I think once she did forgive her family her quality of life improved significantly.

Maybe Yom Kippur is a good time to talk about this and how it relates to mental illness in the Jewish community.

In hopes of raising awareness, Suzanne sent me a little piece that she wrote about her story. She’s hoping that her story will get people talking.

The reason why I was so drawn to this is because a good friend of mine was schizophrenic and committed suicide during our senior year of college. He was Jewish too and I was really torn between this idea that Jewish law says you can’t mourn a suicide and realizing this kid was sick. We’ve made a lot of progress on how we approach mental illness but not enough. It would be amazing if by spreading Suzanne’s story I could raise awareness and money for schizophrenia research or something.

The following was written by Suzzane Handler:

What would compel a devout Jewish father to take the life of his own child?

On June 28th of this year, The Intermountain Jewish News (IJN) ran a feature article detailing the dramatic events contained in my book, The Secrets They Kept: The True Story of a Mercy Killing That Shocked a Town and Shamed a Family. For your convenience, I have provided the link to that piece below. Chris Leppek, assistant editor of the IJN and the person who wrote the article, has granted permission for his story to be reprinted, with the caveat that his name and that of the paper be appropriately cited. He does so in the hope that thoughtful discussions regarding the stigma of mental illness in our society will follow.

Here is a brief summary of the story: In 1937, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, my maternal grandfather, Sam Levin, shot and killed his 16 year-old daughter. The girl, Sally, had been diagnosed with dementia praecox (mid-century term for schizophrenia) and was to be sent to an insane asylum, presumably for the rest of her life. Declared incurable and a danger to herself and others, Sally begged her father to end her life, as well as his own, in a joint murder/suicide pact. On August 16,th of that year, my grandfather, exhausted and desperate from grief and indecision, finally agreed to Sally’s last wish. The girl died within the hour; my grandfather lived and carried the burden of his shame and sorrow to his grave.

Due to the stigma of mental illness then, as well as now, and the nature of my grandfather’s unimaginable crime, this story remained a secret in our family for over 70 decades. Following years of research and soul searching, I have now, at long last, come to the place where understanding meets forgiveness.

I am humbled that The Secrets They Kept: The True Story of a Mercy Killing That Shocked a Town and Shamed a Family, has sold over 8,000 copies and is currently #1 in Mental Health and #7 in Jewish Interest in the Amazon Virtual Book Store.

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