Rabbi Dovid Saks
Yom Kippur 5774
A few days before Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Avrohom Kamenetzky, the father of a friend of mine, passed away. Reb Avraham personified friendliness and warmth, and he knew how to use his beautiful smile. He had a knack for knowing what to say to build one’s esteem and to brighten their day.
One of our guests on Rosh Hashana, a neighbor of the Kamentzky’s, related the following story. “One Shabbos, I was walking down the street and I met Rabbi Kamenetzky. We exchanged greetings and he then whispered to me to say hello to an elderly lady sitting on her front porch. After greeting her with a ‘Good Shabbos’ and asking her how she was, I turned to Rabbi Kamenetzky and asked him what that was all about.”
He told me the following, “A few weeks ago I saw an elderly woman outside her home and I wished her a good Shabbos and I engaged her in conversation asking how she was doing etc. I received a phone call Saturday night from this lady’s son thanking me for taking his mother out of her depressed state. He went on to explain that his father passed away a few months ago and his mother fell into a depression and did not speak or open up to anyone since his death. However, after you greeted my mother with a smile and took interest in her well being, she came into the house and began to be her old self.”
Rabbi Kamenetzky then looked at me and said, “You can never underestimate the power and positive influence in a simple and sincere greeting.”
As we approach the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, we have opportunities to make a difference in someone else’s life. It could be a call or a hello to a lonesome neighbor or reconnecting with a relative or friend who may need a pick-me-up type of phone call. The exercise of showing care and interest toward a fellow can have a positive effect on one’s own self as well.
The Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers instructs us to acquire a friend. Commentators point out that the Mishna speaks of a friend in the singular. That means that one really needs to have one good friend. Today the definition of the word friend has become cheapened. Unless one has hundreds or even thousands of friends on Facebook, they don’t necessarily rate as popular.
Yet the Mishna instructs us to acquire a real friend. A friend is someone who sincerely cares and wants the best for us; a confidant, and a person who will be honest and unbiased and will be there for us through thick and thin. Many times one finds this friend in their spouse.
I was thinking of a new phenomenon – how about ‘Friending… ourselves!’
In fact the Mishna could be interpreted to mean, ‘Acquire yourself as a friend.’ Meaning, be nice to yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself. Like and motivate yourself. Treat yourself kindly. Congratulate yourself. Take interest in yourself.
This friendship also means we have to be honest with ourselves. When can we do and achieve this?
Yom Kippur is probably the best time to perform this exercise. We do not confess our personal sins to anyone but G-d, except for clinical reasons and benefit. Confession is expressing the reality that we did not obey what the Almighty asked from us. It is an intimate encounter with our Creator and a recognition that only G-d can cleanse us from the residue and burdensome feelings of sin.
Teshuva – Repentance, and thereby G-d forgiving us, is one of the greatest gifts G-d gave us. It is also one of the greatest gifts that one can give to one’s self!
The reality is that after reaching a spiritual high of Yom Kippur, the feeling quickly dissipates as soon as the spotlight is turned to the food being served at the break fast.
There are families that incorporate festive singing and reflection of the Holy Day within their break fast meal, so that the spiritual energy of the day continues with them.
I recently read a biography of Rabbi Shlomo Friefeld o.b.m. where a student recalls the spiritual aura that was present at the meal following Yom Kippur. They sang with deep emotion the words, “Ode Tireah’ – ‘You will see just how good the coming year will be...’ The song expresses promise to look forward for a good and even better year filled with blessings and spiritual expansion. He said, “These experiences kept our energy going and buoyed us to navigate confidently throughout the year.”
May we all merit emerging from this Yom Kippur with an energized renaissance of spiritual promise.
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family