July 20, 2024
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A fond memory which I recall from childhood was that of a sign posted on the lobby door to my shul, the Young Israel of Bensonhurst. It was placed on the door during the month of Elul by our beloved rav, Rabbi Elias Schwartz shlit”a. The sign read “Do Teshuva Now: Avoid the Yom Kippur Rush.” It is barely a week after Pesach; who can possibly be thinking about Yom Kippur in Iyar? Nevertheless, a considerable portion of our parsha this week, Parshat Acharei Mot, speaks of the service performed by the kohen gadol in the Mishkan, and later in the Beit Hamikdash, on Yom Kippur. The Torah says that Yom Kippur is a day of cleanliness, where we become pure before Hashem as we atone for our sins. The Gemara in Masechet Yoma explains that the day of Yom Kippur itself atones for the sins that we committed in our relationship with Hashem. Yet, the sins which are committed with our fellow man are not forgiven until we attain forgiveness from the individual whom we may have offended. The result of this Gemara is our frantic search before Yom Kippur for people we may have hurt over the course of the year. We find ourselves in the second week of Sefirat Ha’Omer with quite a bit of time left before the seriousness of Elul is in our front mirror. Although on a Biblical level this time is not connected to sadness or mourning, on a Rabbinic level it marks the period during which the students of Rabbi Akiva died of a terrible plague. We are to make no mistake, these students were the cream of the crop, the apple of the eye of a generation. Yet, we are told that 24,000 perished because they lacked a sense of respect for each other. It is important to note that we mourn during this period, not simply as a historic fact, commemorating a tragedy, but with the focus of learning from and applying the lessons of the tragedy to our own lives. We have succeeded as a generation in reigniting the spark of Torah Judaism, when many of yesteryear thought that an Orthodox Jew would remain a relic on display in a museum. We have built and continue to support countless Torah institutions where our children are inspired to live a life grounded in Torah and its values. At the same time, we, like many generations before us, have failed. We remain to a great extent a fractured people. Many of us lack a basic modicum of respect for those who don’t share our opinions. Many of us look down upon others who have chosen to live their lives differently than we may have chosen for ourselves. “He is such a frummy! Can you believe she doesn’t cover her hair? Aren’t they embarrassed to let their child walk around like that?” Years ago, I heard Rav Hershel Schachter shlit”a speak at a Tisha B’Av program and offer that Hashem created 12 shevatim, tribes, because He wanted to be worshipped in 12 different ways. Albeit, according to the mesorah handed down through the generations, but each group was to have a different flavor in their service of Hashem. If we ever find the need to build ourselves up by knocking someone else down, we must realize that we have failed our children. Rav Elimelech of Lizensk zt”l wrote a beautiful tefillah that he would recite regularly before davening. In it he beseeches Hashem, “Place in our hearts the ability to see only the good in our friends and not their shortcomings!” The period of Sefira gives us a special opportunity to spend some time on self introspection, as a community, and as a people. If we try to make amends with those whom we may have hurt at this point of the year, and we strive in some small way to see the good in others, then we will certainly be on our way to avoiding the Yom Kippur rush.

By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler

Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is senior rabbi of Congregation AAB&D in West Orange, NJ. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected].

 

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