The Feeling

YOM KIPPUR AFTERNOONS ARE USUALLY the spacetime nexus where radical growth happens — and this year was no exception.

Let’s set the stage. After an intense twenty-or-so hours of not eating or otherwise tending to physicality, continuous guided liturgical meditation, and extended standing periods, the mind becomes…relaxed. Pliable. And open to self-generated suggestion. It’s a long stretch of characterological self-diagnosis that forces a focus on our broken, less-than-who-we-want-to-be parts. (To paraphrase an old 1960s protest song: “Where can you run / where can you hide / when the Implacable Judge / is on the inside?”)

Previous years’ personal revelations centered on egotism, religious one-upsmanship, and hiding from unpleasant truths. This year was positive by contrast, and involved feeling in my guts something I’d only ever thought about. (You’d be surprised what a little shift of perspective can do.)

Revelation #1: “Gifts are for sharing.” And revelation #2: “I belong here.”

The first insight: I have been leading a twice-monthly Torah study group for the past 23 years as well as tutoring b’nei mitzvah students. Torah is a passion of mine, even more than astronomy or writing short stories or cooking, and as a preventative against a swelled head I am fond of quoting Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s “If you have learned much Torah, do not claim credit for yourself, because for such a purpose were you created” from Pirkei Avot. But until last month I never really Got It — that one benefit of that passion is to help others who also want to learn.

The second insight came to me, as if for the first time, that I was sharing a room with others descended from the same proud and ancient folk. I flashed on the old rabbinic dictum, “All Jews are responsible for one another,” the fundamental legal statement of Jewish communality. (This does NOT abrogate our responsibility to other human beings as planet-mates, but it does mandate a certain ethnic connectivity.) We all need each other, and must rely on each other no matter our individual doctrinal or political differences.

Given our bleak post-Oct. 7 landscape, that statement is more true and poignant now than when it grabbed me in September. We must support each other — because it looks, once again, as though no one else is going to do it for us.

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