Yizkor – Yom Kippur – 5782
Over the years, we have not only spent the Holiest Days on the Jewish Calendar together, but we have also spent many memorable little Jewish moments together. Some of these little Jewish moments included some of our saddest of times, but mostly, we have celebrated a stream of great little Jewish moments. We have celebrated baby namings, welcoming ceremonies for converts to Judaism, B’nai Mitzvah, second B’nai Mitzvah, restorations to health, weddings, recommitment ceremonies, anniversaries, birthdays, and so many more joyous Simchas. Over the past year and a half, we have learned how to celebrate these little Jewish moments VirJEWally on the internet so that even more of us can enjoy those celebrations
Yes, we all know there are so many more good times in our lives than bad ones. Perhaps that is why we take those good times for granted. Since Tzurus occurs much less often, we focus on it more. This is really sad because, if we take inventory of how we have spent our lives, if we put the Tzurus on one side of a scale and our Simchas on the other, the Simchas would be so much heavier.
The thing is, for the overwhelming majority of us, taking an inventory of our lives would prove that we enjoy so many more Simchas than we suffer through Tzurus. Even so, it is when we are enjoying life the most, stuff seems to happen that we do not expect or want.
I would like to share a personal example of what I am talking about; something about which I believe everyone here can relate. My wife, Lynne, and I share a love for travel. Several years BCE, Before the COVID Era, we went on a car trip. Along the way, we got off the highway and stopped to fill up with gas. We also got something to eat. After eating, we left the restaurant and resumed our trip.
As luck would have it, Lynne realized that she accidentally left her brand-new prescription sunglasses, the ones she got in anticipation of this trip, on the table in the restaurant. It was an easy mistake to make because, while we were eating, the sky became quite overcast. That is why, when we walked out and got into the car, the sunglasses were easy to leave behind.
After about 45 minutes, the sun came out. When Lynne reached for her sunglasses, they were not there. It was then when she remembered where they were.
Unfortunately, we were now well along the way on the interstate highway and the exits were few and far between. We were forced to travel quite a distance before we could find an exit that would let us turn around so we could return to the restaurant to retrieve her sunglasses.
While many of you may not know this, and others of you might not even believe it, I fully admit that I have quite a temper. No, I am not proud of it, but it does not take much for me to throw a tantrum. It is so bad that I sometimes wonder how Lynne puts up with me. Well, this was one of those times I lost it. I fussed and complained and was relentless during the entire return drive to that restaurant.
Finally, about an hour-and-a-half later, we arrived. While parking the car, Lynne said, “Great, we are here! Since I left my sunglasses on the table, I will go in and get them.”
I said, “You are right. Why should I get them? You left them there. Go get ‘em.”
After she got out, I rolled down the window and said, “Sweetie, while you’re in there, you might as well get my cell phone and credit card that I left on the table next to your glasses.”
Yes, we all have issues with our behavior. I am 100% sure that, from time to time, we all have heard words come out of our mouths that we could not stop! Nope, the words came out and we wondered why? To make matters worse, there is not much we can do to get ourselves out of the messes our mouths get us into.
It is like what happens when we are driving, and we see something right in front of us on the icy road. We are confronted with an immediate choice. Should we slam on the brakes? Should we try to steer around it? Should we just ignore it and run right over it? Decisions, decisions, decisions.
The thing is, there is absolutely no time to logically examine the situation because there are precious few fractions of a second left before impact. Then, our instincts and reflexes get into an argument and then, BANG, THUD! It is too late.
Our first instinct is to put the car in reverse, back up, and hope there is no damage. If we see damage, we hope that if we wait a few minutes, it will automatically heal itself. Unfortunately, we all know that physics does not work that way. The damage is done and it will not go away by itself.
If the damage is minor or non-existent, we thank G*d. If it is not so minor, we ask, “Why me?” If a repair is needed, we may have to pay for the work out of our own pocket; that is if the fix is not expensive. Sometimes we need the insurance company to pay, but we still must pay a deductible. Depending on the situation, our premiums may go up as well. Then there are times the situation requires the town’s finest who, ever so politely, places a formal invitation in our hand that welcomes us to come together to meet with a judge. Yes, on top of having to pay the repair costs, we must also make a generous contribution to the town. Sometimes, the judge removes any risk of us getting into addition accidents for a period of time by taking our license away. Other times we are given free room and board in the local house of correction.
As bad as that can be, the damage our mouths do can be even worse than a car accident. Our mouths can chase away our dearest friends. Our mouths can get us uninvited from participating in things we really enjoy. Our mouths can alienate us from members of our family. Our mouths can get us fired from a job or from a position of responsibility. Our mouths can even destroy an otherwise beautiful marriage.
The difference is, where a car goes is ruled by both our driving skills and the laws of physics; but where our mouths go is totally under our own control. When we allow our mouths to run on autopilot, it is no different than taking our hands off the steering wheel while speeding through a parking lot.
Look, we all say things that we should not. That is normal. It takes considerable practice and discipline to control what and when we say things. Even the most polished public speakers sometimes say the most bizarre things. We wind up spending too much time working our way out of the trouble our mouths got us into.
For instance, how many times did we not respond when our dear friends and loved ones asked for help? We said it was someone else’s turn. How many times did we ignore legitimate requests for Tzedakah? We said that someone else would give. We said we had given enough.
We do not have to say things with our mouths. Sometimes we say things with our fingers on a keyboard on social media or in emails that turn out to be not so good.
This leads me to something that has bothered me for several decades. It has to do with what people put on signs. In particular, I am talking about how each year, starting a few weeks before the High Holy Days, signs and advertisements are plastered wherever Jews live that proclaim: “Why pay to Pray?” You know what? I already told you about my temper. You should be very glad you are not with me when I see those signs! You know why? Whenever I see those signs, I lose that temper of mine. For the life of me, I cannot understand how any Jew could look at those offensive signs and not be totally upset by them.
First of all, those signs publicly stimulate the anti-Semitic stereotype that Jews are cheap. Yes, those signs tell everyone who see them that we Jews even look for bargains when it comes to Praying during our Holiest Days of the year. These signs negate that there is no other People on the planet who gives more to charity than does the Jew. Strike one for those signs and advertisements.
Second, from a purely business perspective, how could any reasonable person think that giving something of value for nothing is a stainable model? It costs money to pay for the facilities in which we come to Pray. It also costs money to stream services on the internet. Our Torot cost money. Prayer books, Machzorim, the Kippot, and Tallitot… guess what… they are not free either. Anyone think rent is free? Electric? Water? Maintaining bathrooms? The Yahrtzeit lights? The chairs? The Ark? The eternal light? Who thinks those are free? What about the people like me who conduct the Services and prepare and deliver the Divrei Torah? The bottom line is, without the support of people like you; people who pay dues; people who give Tzedakah, there would be no place or people to bring you the ability to Pray. Strike two for those “Why pay to Pray” signs and advertisements.
The third and final point is that our Torah makes it very clear that we Jews are required to “pay to Pray”. It tells us in no uncertain terms that paying is an integral part of Prayer.
That is why G*d commanded B’nai Yisrael to bring their gold and jewels to build a place to protect the Aseret Hadibrot, the Tablets containing the Ten Statements. Then what? G*d commanded the People to bring sacrifices to the Temple whenever they wanted to Pray? Yes, sacrifices were required for all Jews, both men and women. That is a Mitzvah that was required of ALL JEWS when Praying to G*d. More importantly, remember that a Mitzvah is a Commandment, not an option. In other words, it is a requirement to “Pay to Pray”, not an optionally nice thing to do! Strike three for those signs.
This last point is really important. Over time, our Tanach, our Jewish Bible, described what happened to us when we eventually stopped “paying to Pray”; when we stopped bringing our sacrifices. We were punished with the destruction of The Temple and we were exiled from our Land.
Does anyone remember what happened then? Tzedakah replaced sacrifice. Tzedakah was required when Praying to G*d. That is why we Jews all over the world put out a Pushke during the daily Minyan. Even at funerals we are required to request that Tzedakah be given to keep the loving name of the deceased alive. Whenever we say Yizkor, the Prayers we say for all our loved ones assume that we will give Tzedakah in their loving memory. Why pay to Pray? No question about it. As for those who place those signs, game over!
How do we respond to those Jews who ask us, “Why pay to Pray?” We should tell them that paying to Pray is a Mitzvah, a Commandment! More importantly, if we Pray and do not pay, that is an Avaira; that is a sin. Even worse, it is used as a marketing tool; as a come-on. Its intention is obviously not honest. Why? The Torah says we must, that is why!
I started today’s D’var Torah by suggesting that it sometimes takes a long time before we find out about the damage our mouths can do. I shudder to think about how much damage that “Why pay to Pray” question has already caused?
The good news is, some of us are here in person while others are watching VirJEWally. Whether we are sitting here in the Shule or in our homes, we are here for a reason. Yes, it may be Yom Kippur, but we are all here at this time to remember our loved ones who are already on their eternal journeys with our G*d. Each of us knows that we must never forget that we are who we are because of how they lived their lives. They felt the same way about those who came before them. They were who they were because of how those who came before them lived their lives.
Getting back to our subject of what we say, how many times do we hear ourselves using words and phrases they used? What words and phrases that we used will our children and grandchildren incorporate in their vocabulary? Are we proud of what we think they will remember about us?
I ask us all, in the name of our beloved grandmothers and grandfathers; and our mothers and our fathers; and our sisters and our brothers; and our husbands and our wives; and our sons and our daughters; grandsons and granddaughters and all our dear ones who we came to remember, what was it that they did that we want our children and their children to remember about them? What was it about them that pulls us to Yizkor? What is the value that we find that compels us to pay to pray?
The bottom line is that Temple Sacrifice is a Mitzvah. After we were sent into the diaspora, Judaism has replaced animal sacrifice with Tzedakah; and we all know that Tzedakah is foundational to our People’s survival. Where would our People be without the work of organizations such as Jewish Federation, Israel Bonds, Jewish National Fund, National Council of Jewish Women, B’nai B’rith, Hadassah, ORT, the Jewish War Veterans, the Friends of the Israeli Disabled War Veterans, and the multitude of other Jewish organizations that keep our People thriving?
The thing is, there is an even better question. You know what it is? Where would the Jewish People be without places to worship; without sanctuaries like the one in which we are in today, either in person or VirJEWally? If we do not internalize the negative impact the question “Why pay to Pray?” has on our future, our children and their children will have no way to Yizkor.
For those who we welcome with open arms who come to Yizkor and believe they do not need to pay, I ask you to think about this. Clearly there are those who believe they cannot afford to contribute anything at all, but think… We welcome everyone to Yizkor. Other than the COIVD requirements, we impose nothing else on anyone. However, if this congregation runs out of money and cannot pay its bills, where will you go to Yizkor when that happens? Will there be another Shule who will open their arms? I know what I am saying will, and probably should, make some of you angry, but in Temple times, sacrifices were required and given by everyone, even the poorest among them. There were no exemptions, and as I said, when people felt they did not need to pay to pray, the Temple was destroyed and the mases were exiled into the diaspora.
I beg everyone who calls themself a Jew to seriously think about this as we now rise to remember, magnify, and sanctify the precious memories of our loved ones as we Yizkor…