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Yom Kippur Afternoon: Four Stories, 10/9/19

10/25/2019 01:31:38 PM


Rabbi Charlie

The beauty of Torah is that it offers meaning and purpose to each of us. In every age our People – each of us as individuals – have always been able to learn from and connect to Torah. This afternoon’s sermon celebrates that point. I asked a handful of our members to share a story or a teaching inspired by one of the verses from this afternoon’s Torah reading. What I received was personal and heartfelt, honest and beautiful. Many thanks to Jeff Cohen, Anna Eisen, Ken Heymann, and Patty Phelps.

Jeff Cohen
Leviticus 19:13
You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning.
When I studied this parsha for my Bar Mitzvah, Rabbi Fuchs asked me repeatedly what this commandment meant to me. “The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until the morning.”
At 13, it was a simple command – pay people what you owe them. Pay people on time. They might need that money to buy food for their families. But it isn’t simple. When taken in context, not paying someone on time is the same as the other two commandments in this line: not defrauding your neighbor nor robbing him. Things we know are wrong and would never do.
At double my Bar Mitzvah age, I was on the other side. My employer was having a cash crunch and ask I not cash my check until the middle of the following week. Max had just started walking. Karen wasn’t working because she was on bed rest pregnant with Kelsey. Money was tight at the best of times. It was a lean week.
Now, at more than 4 times the age when I first studied this line, I get to practice its lesson. To me, “the wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until the morning” means that I get up and out of the house at least 10 minutes earlier on Saturday morning so I have time to I go to the ATM before seeing my trainer. I do so even though he says it is OK to pay him later. But that isn’t what I was taught. To me, paying Jeremy before the session begins is my commandment.
Anna Eisen
Leviticus 19:14
You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am Adonai.
For the past 6 years I have worked in both inpatient and outpatient psychiatric and addiction programs. The patients and families I work with find themselves in the midst of a personal storm. In the chaos and crisis, they may feel shock, overwhelmed, terrified, helpless and alone. I try to connect with them and earn their trust. I do this by listening to their stories, hearing their concerns, seeking answers to their question. I have to be calm and strong, patient and caring. I cannot look away but have to see their pain, grief and brokenness. In those first hours and days, I am their eyes and ears and their guide as they try to find their footing and seek a path to healing and recovery. In my actions and words I let them know, over and over, I'm here for you, I'm here with you, hang on to me, you are not alone.
Ken Heymann
Leviticus 19:3
You shall each revere one’s mother and one’s father, and keep My sabbaths: I, Adonai, am your God.
Virtually everyone in this room is familiar with the biblical injunction that “You shall each revere his mother and his father.” Like most of you, I learned the ten commandments at some point. When I got older, my father shared an additional thought about the relationship between parents and children and I want to share that with you.
He taught me something else that I have tried to live by. We have all heard various parents lament about the lack of devotion from their children, the parent complaining of all he has done for his kids with no appreciation, the mother who talks about how hard she works and how ungrateful her kids are. They even cite the biblical passage that they should be honored. But my father’s observation was this. Children don’t ask to be born; parents choose to have children. So, he said, it seems that in making that decision the parent immediately assumes an obligation. The child doesn’t assume any obligation. My father’s point was that children don’t owe their parents; parents have assumed an obligation and owe the kids.
I have told this to many friends, and I want to be clear that my father and mother raised me to be respectful to all (regardless of how I may have failed to always live up to that teaching and I believe I have tried to honor them). But, as a parent, I’ve tried to never forget that my father’s teaching, in essence, was to honor my children also, to put their well-being before mine and never lose sight of my obligation to them. I’ve been grateful for that advice as, particularly in difficult times, it has reminded me that in choosing to be a parent I chose to assume an obligation that I can never deny.
Patty Phelps
Leviticus 19:17
You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account.
You shall make every effort to understand your family should they be different.
I have a daughter with Clinical Depression, Anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder.
Society would think at 24 she is not where she should be in life.
Her feelings and thoughts are different. She is extremely sensitive and at the same time quick to anger. Her empathy is so intense she feels other people’s pain as if it was her own.
As a parent you love your child so completely you just want them to be happy. I did any thing I could to make her happy, but it was not enough. She has a psychiatrist and a therapist, but the key to learn how to communicate with her was for me to go to therapy. With therapy I came to understand the way she thinks and perceives life.
I could not be more proud of my brilliant beautiful daughter for persevering no matter her set backs.
Jeff and Anna, Ken and Patty, thank you for reminding us that we all have a story to share. Thank you for reminding us that we all have profound connections to our sacred text. Thank you for teaching us the Torah of your lives.
Thu, July 9 2020 17 Tammuz 5780