web analytics
August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Kol Nidre’

Carrying Both Pain And Faith

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a kind of clarion call, a summons to the Ten Days of Penitence that culminate in the Day of Atonement. The Torah calls it “the day when the horn is sounded,” and its central event is the sounding of the shofar.

More than any other, the sound of the shofar has been the signal of momentousness in Jewish history, italicizing time for special emphasis. It was the ram’s horn that sounded at Mount Sinai when the Israelites heard the voice of God and accepted the covenant that was to frame our religious destiny. It was the ram’s horn that accompanied them into battle in the days of Joshua. And it would be the ram’s horn that would one day signal Israel’s return from exile, gathered once again in the Promised Land.

On Rosh Hashanah the shofar becomes a herald announcing the arrival of the King, for at this time of the year God is seen not as a father or creator or redeemer, but as the Sovereign of life enthroned in the seat of judgment. The imagery of the prayers is royal and judicial. The world has become a vast court, and its creatures pass before the King of Kings awaiting his verdict.

“With trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn Raise a shout before the Lord, the King… For He comes to judge the earth” (Psalms 98:6, 9).

Before Him are the books of life and oblivion, and we pray to be written in the book of life.

At times the imagery of the day can seem remote, because monarchy has become for us less judicial, majestic and grand. Kings and queens no longer enter palaces to the sound of trumpets and preside over issues of life and death. Nonetheless, Rosh Hashanah still conveys a sense of expectancy and moment. Its two days are Days of Awe whereby we are conscious of standing before God – our past exposed to scrutiny, our future unknown and in the balance.

The New Year and the Day of Atonement are vivid enactments of Judaism’s greatest leap of faith: the belief that justice rules the world. No idea has been more revolutionary, and none more perplexing. There are questions that challenge faith, and there are questions that come from faith. Those who asked about the apparent injustices of the world were not figures of doubt; they were Judaism’s supreme prophets. Moses asked, “O Lord, why have You brought trouble upon this people?” Jeremiah said, “Right would You be, O Lord, if I were to contend with You, yet I will speak with You about Your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?”

They did not ask because they did not believe. They asked because they did believe. If there were no Judge, there would be no justice and no question. There is a Judge. Where then is justice? Above all else Jewish thought through the centuries has been a sustained meditation on this question, never finding answers, realizing that here was a sacred mystery no human mind could penetrate. All other requests Moses made on behalf of the Jewish people, says the Talmud, were granted except this: to understand why the righteous suffer.

As tenaciously as they asked, so they held firm to the faith without which there was no question: that there is a moral rule governing the universe and that what happens to us is in some way related to what we do. Good is rewarded and evil has no ultimate dominion. No Jewish belief is more central than this. It forms the core of the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the rabbis and the speculations of the Jewish mystics. Reward and punishment might be individual or collective, immediate or deferred, in this world or the next, apparent or veiled behind a screen of mystery. But they are there. For without them life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The faith of the Bible is neither optimistic nor naive. It contains no theodicies, no systematic answers, no easy consolations. At times, in the books of Job, Ecclesiastes and Lamentations, it comes close to the abyss of pain and despair. “I saw,” says Ecclesiastes, “the tears of the oppressed – and they have no ‘comforter.’ ” “The Lord,” says Lamentations, “has become like an enemy.” But the people of the Book refused to stop wrestling with the question. To believe was painful, but to disbelieve was too easy, too superficial, too untrue.

A Family Torn Asunder

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Last week I shared a tragic letter of family disintegration. What could have been a most beautiful mishpachah was torn asunder by one son and his wife who decided to sever all relationships with their siblings. Despite all the efforts on the part of the parents and the siblings, this son and his spouse remained refused to be reconciled. When simchas came – births, bar mitzvahs, weddings – the parents were invited but never the siblings. To add insult to injury the parents were treated disrespectfully on all of these occasions.

Over the years the gap only widened. The cousins did not know one another and the family feud, for which no one could really find an explanation, festered and poisoned the atmosphere. The immediate problem that prompted the letter was an upcoming simcha to which, as usual, the parents were invited but not the rest of the family. The parents wanted to know whether they should attend or finally put a stop to this shameful state of affairs by declining – and whether, if they decided not to go, they should state the reason or make up some excuse. The following is my response.

My Dear Friends:

Perhaps it was not by coincidence that I received your letter at this time – the most catastrophic period in our long and painful history. As we remember the tragic destruction of our holy Temple, the razing of Jerusalem, and our people taken in chains into the darkness of exile, we must ask, “Why did such a tragic fate befall us?”

The answer is well known: sinas chinam – hatred between Jew and Jew. It was hatred that brought on this horrific calamity, and it is hatred that continues to consume us to this day. But as much as we know this, we have yet to absorb this simple truth and apply it to our lives. Sadly, we have become so conditioned to this venom that we no longer know how to identify it. We view it as “normal” rather than abominable. It doesn’t even occur to us that it must be expunged from our minds and hearts.

Our First Temple was destroyed because of three cardinal sins: idol worship, murder, and adultery, but after seventy years of Babylonian exile the Almighty forgave us and returned us to our Holy Land. Our present exile however, is almost 2,000 years old and we have yet to be redeemed; we have yet to shake off the shackles that keep us chained in jealousy, animosity and, yes, hatred. In Israel and in all the lands of our dispersion the germ continues to fester and infect us with its deadly venom.

I will never forget the words of my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, after our liberation from Bergen Belsen. With tears streaming down his holy face he said, “Noch azoy ah churbon men darf kushen un lieb huben yeden Yid” – “After such a cataclysmic conflagration, we have to kiss and embrace with love every Jew.”

Every Kol Nidre night, before commencing the sacred prayers, my father would weep and plead for parents and children, brothers and sisters, to reconcile and make peace.

Alas, it hasn’t happened. Even the Satanic horror of the Holocaust has failed to wake us up. So the question to your letter remains: What to do?

Before addressing your dilemma, I must tell you that I write with pain. There is nothing as agonizing for parents as to see walls of hatred separating their children. May Hashem have mercy on us all.

Those of you who have read my columns or consulted with me regarding personal problems can testify that I try not to put forth my own opinion but rather to find a Torah example for guidance. You ask whether you should attend the forthcoming simcha and suffer silently as you have in the past, or whether you should once and for all put your foot down and refuse to participate.

Do we have an example that could shed light on your dilemma? The answer, tragically, is yes. Even as your son and his wife refuse to allow their siblings to come to their simcha, so it was in the days of the Second Temple in the shameful story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, in which one Jew ejected another from his celebration in Jerusalem. Our Heavenly Father, Who desires to see all His sons and daughters living in harmony, does not countenance acrimony and hatred among His children. Despite the meticulous religious observance of the generation of the Second Temple, our Father’s fury raged and He set His House and the entire city afire and cast us all into exile.

An Unforgettable Rosh Hashanah

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Last Rosh Hashanah 5771, I walked with a heavy heart to the small synagogue in the hospital at Tel Hashomer. Two and a half months had passed since my son David’s terrible accident, and he was still unconscious. The doctors remained split. Some tried to explain that this type of injury did not leave room for optimism. The days, weeks and months that passed seemed to wither our hope.

The first day of prayers passed unremarkably. I arrived at the hospital synagogue early, chose an inconspicuous place in the back row, hid myself in my prayer shawl and attempted to concentrate on the words in the small prayer book. From the anonymity of the crowd and my general distress, I was able to feel alone with my Maker and to verbalize my supplications. Nobody paid any attention to me. That, at least, is what I wanted to think.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I once again set out for the synagogue at the same time and with the same heavy heart. Once again I took my place at the back of the small synagogue. But as the time for the blowing of the shofar approached, a murmur wafted through the congregation. Everyone turned around, calling my attention to the large wheelchair that was cumbersomely making its way to the front of the synagogue.

I did not understand immediately why everybody was looking at me until I realized that it was David laying/sitting in the chair, and that the person pushing him was my wife Tzippy, who had decided to set out on the difficult trek with the unwieldy chair from one end of the hospital to the other – so that David would hear the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. I quickly approached them. Suddenly, I realized that I had not been alone in my prayers. Everybody in the synagogue was praying with me. I found myself standing with David at the front of the room, and when the time came to read the Torah, I was called up to make the blessings.

To me it was an obvious act of God as the portion of the Torah to which I was called up was the story of the akeidat Yitzchak (the binding of Isaac), read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. I recited the blessing of the Torah and read along in a whisper straight from the Torah with the congregation’s Torah reader.

“Take your son, your only one, whom you love,” the holy letters crashed into my being straight from the parchment, as my whole body began to tingle. “…And the two of them walked together.”

At that moment I felt that the letters were talking about the father and son standing right there. My son, at my side, and I were now being brought to the akeidah. Tears that I had repressed deep inside me since the accident welled up and out of my eyes, straight onto the holy Torah scroll.

At the end of the prayers, I walked lightly to the rehab ward. My heart was no longer heavy. I felt that with this prayer session I had accepted God’s judgment that leaves no room for fear. Perhaps this is also how Abraham and Isaac felt during those fateful moments. All the prayers, blessings and acts of kindness by members of the nation of Israel – big and small, more observant and less observant – that had flooded us since the accident enveloped me. I felt that everybody had prayed for David and that I had prayed as hard as I could, and now it was in God’s hands. Whatever He decided, I would accept. That was a huge relief.

Rosh Hashanah 5771 ended. The Ten Days of Repentance flew by quickly. Three months had already passed since the accident and David was still unconscious. I decided to spend Yom Kippur at home with our other children. Just moments before the sun set on Yom Kippur eve, Tzippy called from the hospital. “David is talking!” she shouted almost hysterically. “Talk to him and hear for yourself!”

“Shalom,” I heard the familiar voice of my son, weak but clear.

At the end of the conversation I wrapped myself in my prayer shawl and turned toward the synagogue for the Kol Nidre prayers.

Atonement: Getting It Right

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

The newborn is far from shy about letting its feelings be known as it is thrust, against its will, into a frigid and foreign world. With flailing hands and pitiful wails, its displeasure is made amply clear. Which raises the question: Since the soul does not choose to spend time on this planet, is it fair that it is held accountable for the way it goes about living its life here on earth?

Some perspective is in order. A well-to-do man had difficulty marrying his two daughters off, for one was unsightly and the other a non-stop prattler. A smart matchmaker came up with a solution: he knew of two brothers, one blind and the other deaf, and suggested the former as suitable for the unappealing girl, the latter for her unrefined sibling.

The shidduchim were actualized and the couples got on well together for a fair amount of time. That is, until a miracle worker came to town one day and claimed to be a healing specialist who, for a substantial fee, could cure the brothers of their impairments.

But when the blind man’s eyesight was restored and his deaf brother regained his hearing, their woes began to mount and they refused to pay the physician for his services.

The case went before an arbitrator who ruled the brothers had a legitimate contention: whereas they had previously been happy with their lot, their new awareness of their wives’ shortcomings proved injurious to the health of their marriages and they thus should be freed of their obligation to pay the doctor – who was ordered to reverse the cure and restore the brothers to their former handicapped states.

The brothers vehemently decried the finding; there was no way they would subject themselves to further physical manipulation in such manner.

At that, it was decreed the brothers had shown themselves to be satisfied with the doctor’s service and had to pay him in full.

So it is with every soul claiming on his Yom HaDin that he did not ask to be born. In fact, the God that gives life is the One that can take it away. Yet most of us would rather live than die, in which case we are obligated to give our Maker a din v’cheshbon – an accounting of all our deeds on earth. (Mishlei Avos)

* * * * *

By the good grace of God, we are generously granted an annual day of reprieve. On Yom Kippur we abstain from all things mundane and beg, plead, and cry to our Maker over our misdeeds. Yet we still worry that our words of contrition are not penetrating the Heavens, and we wonder where we went wrong.

The following true story offers a clue as to where we may be coming up short.

The Torah giant Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Assad, the son of the Mahari Assad (one of the most prominent rabbis in Hungary – the name Assad was adapted from Aszod, the city where he was born), was the rav of the shul in Szerdahely for close to forty years. Every Yom Kippur he would lead the Ne’ilah service, as befits one who shepherds his flock with love and devotion and harbors a fiery love in his heart for his Creator. Who better to plead for his congregation when the heavenly gates are about to close?

It was therefore puzzling to hear Reb Aharon Shmuel asking the ba’al tefillah, R. Chaim Leib, to exchange duties with him – the latter to daven Ne’ilah and the rav to take over the Kol Nidre service.

The rav, who had been under the weather, gave the impression he felt he’d be too weak to properly carry out his sacred duty following hours of fasting. But that wasn’t on Reb Aharon’s mind at all.

It was actually R. Menashe Ber who motivated his decision. R. Menashe Ber had married off his daughter to an educated man studying foreign languages in his quest for a doctorate – the sort of languages the local Jews adjudged to be “treif.”

When news of the match had first circulated, R. Menashe Ber had been inundated with unasked for advice from harsh critics who demanded that he break off his daughter’s engagement. When the father, a melamed by trade, did not comply, parents of the children he taught systematically pulled their kids from his cheder, leaving the hapless family man bereft of a livelihood.

A Timeless Message

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Yom Kippur approaches and memories crowd my mind. I see my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l. I see his holy countenance; I see his beautiful face, upon which the Shechinah rested. I hear his voice – a voice that penetrated the heart. Those who heard it never forgot it.

I usually sent our children to my parents for Yom Kippur so that they might stand at his side, for I knew the experience would forever be embedded in their souls. When my father came to the prayer of the martyrdom of the ten holy sages, his weeping was so powerful that the walls seemed to trembled in awe.

One Yom Kippur my son asked my father, “Why is Zeide weeping so much?”

My father told him that when Zeide pronounces the prayer of the ten holy martyrs, he always sees his own father, HaRav Ha Gaon Yisrael HaLevi Jungreis, Hy”d, being driven into the gas chambers with his year-old grandson in his arms. Many years have passed since then – my children have become grandparents – but the memories of Zeide’s tears remain forever etched on their hearts.

And then there are the memories of my saintly husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, who our first grandson dubbed “Abba Zeide,” which remained his name throughout his life. When my husband led his congregation in Neilah services, he was not only the rabbi, but he pleaded as Abba Zeide for everyone. It was as Abba Zeide that he petitioned the Almighty and placed the prayers through the gates before they locked.

I see my beloved mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a”h. I see her shining face and the beautiful white tichel adorning her head. Strangely enough, no one ever referred to my mother as “Rebbetzin”; everyone called her “Mama,” for she was a “Mama” to everyone. When the fast was over, everyone in the synagogue partook of the table Mama had lovingly prepared – not only for her children and grandchildren but for everyone. And she did this every year, even in her old age.

How did she do it? How did she find the energy? The answer is simple. She was “Mama.”

I remember my father’s words as he looked out at his congregation on Kol Nidre night. My father would speak in Yiddish, and year after year he began with the same message: “Tiere Yiddishe kinderlach – My dearest Jewish children, there are people sitting in our midst who, tragically, are not speaking to their parents, and parents who are not speaking to their children brothers and sisters who are not communicating with each other.”

Even as my father spoke, he wept. “After we went through such a catastrophic Holocaust – a barbaric, savage slaughter never before seen by humankind – how can it be that Jews should turn against one another in animosity and hatred? How can it be that this hatred is directed against a brother, a sister, a mother, a father?

“It is Kol Nidre night. Let everyone resolve in his heart to embrace his siblings and return to his mother and father.”

It was only after speaking these words that my father would commence the Kol Nidre service.

As a young girl I always had difficulty comprehending that message. Can it be, I wondered, that there actually are children who do not speak to their parents and siblings who do not communicate with one another?

Having been raised in a family of survivors – most of our relativeswere consumed in the gas chambers and the flames of the crematoria – I saw my parents desperately searching for family members who might have survived. The most distant cousin became a first cousin, and those who came from the same shtetl or city suddenly became close relatives as well.

So I had difficulty identifying with my father’s message. I was young and naive. I automatically assumed that all parents were like my own, that all mishpachas were like ours. Sadly, today I know differently. Time and again I have encountered hatred that divides families – families in which communication has virtually ceased.

I could share many horrific stories related by victims who came to consult me, seeking solace and some guidance in their torment – like the widowed bubbie who was not permitted to attend her grandson’s bar mitzvah. She summoned the courage to go anyway, just so she might give a kiss and wish mazel tov to her grandson. Her children had anticipated this and hired guards to prevent her entry.

And then there are stories of siblings who sued each other after the demise of their parents – always over money. By the time they finished, there was very little left of the estate – everything went to the lawyers, and, perhaps even more tragic, the conflict resulted in walls of hatred that did not allow cousins to know each other.

Sadly , there are a thousand and one such examples – one more tragic than the next, all testimony to the reason for our long, dark, painful exile and the threats looming today as the lives of our people are once again on the line.

My father’s message rings loud and clear and is more urgently needed than ever, but those who should hear it are not listening. They have encased themselves in a cocoon of hatred, rendering them incapable of hearing or seeing.

When will we wake up? When?

May Hashem have mercy upon all of us and grant us a gemar tov – a blessed New Year.

A Kol Nidre Story

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

This past Yom Kippur, my father, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor, surprised our family by recounting a wartime Kol Nidre observance that stirred his soul.

It was erev Yom Kippur, September 26, 1944. My father, Kurt Lion, was in the French underground, acting as a scout for the advancing American Seventh Army in central France.

As dusk fell, he was scouting the town of Salieres in a jeep, checking to see if it was safe for U.S. Army contingents to move in following the German retreat. He was ducking into a narrow alleyway when he heard a hubbub coming from a nearby house. Intrigued, he went to investigate and discovered it was the sound of prayer.

My father, outfitted with a gun and army fatigues, went into the house and saw a small crowd with prayer books in hand. He was astounded to see one of the men wearing a tallis, because in those terrible Holocaust years, he did not expect to find any living Jews still in the area.

Four years before, he had been deported from southwest Germany with his parents and 6,000 other Jews to the Rivesaltes internment camps in southern France run by the pro-Nazi Vichy government. In 1941, his father, Philip, died from the horrible conditions there. In 1942, his mother, Rosa, died in Auschwitz.

My father managed to escape from the camps and tricked the Vichy police into issuing him identity papers under a Protestant alias. With these papers he became a farm laborer in central France, where he joined the underground, eventually serving as a scout under a gentile alias.

“I had to hide my Jewishness to get the identity papers and survive,” my father recalled. “I couldn’t tell anyone who I was because those in the underground would no longer trust me. They might even shoot me as a German spy. It was a very strange time. I had to shut off a large part of myself. I couldn’t be myself, a Jew.”

So my father listened silently as the congregation leader, overjoyed by the arrival of an Allied scout, explained that it was Yom Kippur, a solemn Jewish holiday. He invited him to stay.

“I hadn’t even known it was Yom Kippur,” my father remembered. “I didn’t react, continuing to play the role of a non-Jew. But I accepted his invitation and took the Hebrew-French prayer book he offered me.

My father listened as the man began to recite the Kol Nidre prayer in the French translation. He looked down at the book, saw the Hebrew lettering, and then suddenly it happened. The part of himself that he had shut off for so long emerged and, in full voice, he was singing Kol Nidre in Hebrew – as he had in his childhood.

My father suddenly felt that his father was right there at his shoulders, harmonizing with him. They were praying one last time together. It was surreal, and he sang with intense emotion. He had never sung better, before or since. They were all crying in that room, as there was so much pent-up emotion. The end of the war was in sight, as the long nightmare of the Nazi era was coming to an end.

When my father finished, the group excitedly crowded around him. They heaped salutations on him, praised him for making their first Kol Nidre out of hiding so memorable, and began to pepper him with questions.

But my father, taken aback by his lapse in hiding his true identity, reverted back to his survival mode. He said he must resume his duties, left the house, and returned to his unit.

But the wellsprings of his Jewish soul had been opened. A week or two later, when he learned that one of the American soldiers was also Jewish, he shared his secret with him. He also revealed that he had two sisters in America who had managed to escape before the war. Through Army mail, my father was able to contact his sisters for the first time in four years, and they were overjoyed to learn that he was alive.

In 1946, my father was discharged from the French military and immigrated to America. He married my mother, another survivor, and raised my two sisters and me.

Over the years, our father told our family many of his wartime experiences. Yet he had never told us this story before.

We know that there are no coincidences. And it was no coincidence that my father found himself at a Kol Nidre service that reconnected him to his people, his Jewish soul, and eventually, his sisters in America.

The Yom Kippur Miracle

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

My treasured parents loved Yiddishkeit. Their belief in Hashem was unwavering. My darling Daddy used to tell me that if I was ever afraid, I should recite the Shema. Whenever I was troubled, my precious Mommy would reassure me, “Gott vet helfen!” (God will help!).

Those who knew my Daddy were privileged to hear his army stories. The most profound event that he recounted was his Yom Kippur miracle.

Both my parents passed away last year. I was overwhelmed with grief. How could something so terrible happen? Taking my Daddy’s advice, I said the Shema many times. Hearing my Mommy’s voice, I waited to see how God would help. When my faith wavered, I thought about Daddy’s Yom Kippur miracle. That story confirmed what I knew deep within my heart – that there is a God and He knows what is best, even if we cannot understand His actions.

A short time ago, I found a folder containing my Daddy’s handwritten account of his Yom Kippur miracle. I am sharing it in the hope that it will provide solace and hope to those in need. Here are his words:

The year was 1944. I was in the Burmese jungles along the Irrawaddy River. We had just captured the Myitkyina stronghold from the Japanese. Our only contact with the outside world was the radio.

Suddenly, a call came out to all Jewish servicemen to gather under a large tent at sundown. I couldn’t imagine why. It wasn’t Friday. That is when we would gather for services.

I started to wonder. Then it dawned on me that it was the month of September.

Oh, I said to myself. It must be Rosh Hashanah! I went to the tent. It was early. I was the only one there. I took out my Jewish Welfare Board prayer book, and as the sun began to set, I started to say Minchah with a heavy heart. Gradually, more and more soldiers began to arrive. It wasn’t too long before the tent was filled to capacity. Then I found out that it wasn’t Rosh Hashanah. It was Yom Kippur. I had lost Rosh Hashanah. You can imagine how I felt.

My friend Murray Fox was the cantor. He began the Kol Nidre prayer with such a strong voice that I knew the Japanese heard him because voices carry far in the jungle. We were all highly emotional. There we were, in full battle gear, unashamedly crying, the tears rolling down our faces.

When he finished singing Kol Nidre the third time, there was a moment of silence. Then, suddenly, we heard the most devastating bombardment imaginable. The Japanese had gotten a beam on us and were able to gauge our exact location. The bombardment went on for almost half an hour. When it stopped, we immediately started calling names to see who was wounded or killed. You know, not one of us even received a scratch! Miracle of miracles!

The bombs fell everywhere, but none reached our location. The Almighty, Blessed be He, looked after us.

This story is dedicated to the memory of my father, Refael Chaim Sholom Feivel ben Meir Shlomo, and my mother, Chaya bas Yitzchak. May their neshamos have aliyos.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/lessons-in-emunah/the-yom-kippur-miracle/2010/10/20/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: