sabato 11 ottobre 2008

Kol Nidreh 5769

Israel, where I spent the last year, is a strange Country. Hotels welcome you at the entrance, at the kabbalah, the reception. That is also the name of Jewish mystical tradition, and then you can find Kabbalah written also to designate shelves in libraries or bookstores.
Kvutzat Yavne was the group of Rabbis who dealt with occupying and ensured the continuity of our spiritual tradition. But in Israel Kvutzat Yavne is also a brand of olive oil.
Parashat hashavua is the portion of Bible, which is read in the synagogue on Shabbat but lately it designate also the news - there is something every week - about the involvement of the Prime Minister in some illegal affair and the subsequent process. That’s a strange thing: Prime Minister may be prosecuted.
Hesbon bevakashà means: the bill, please! That’s what you say before getting up and leaving the café or the restaurant. But hesbon hanefesh, balance of the soul, is also the name of the process which our tradition invites us to undertake in the days preceding Yom Kippur. We are invited to examine ourselves in depth, to wade through our relationship with God. Some masters suggest we imagine God as a kind of bank director, who in this period is checking the transactions in our account. The entries, our mitzwot – the expenses, our transgressions. And we are the customers who have asked for the balance.
Others prefer to imagine God as a judge or a Police Commissioner, who is currently thinking about us. Think about our minor criminals, consider our testimonies, asks us what we have to declare. Until Yom Kippur we have time to speak, to declare our regret, to try to rewrite ourselves, not transgressing anymore.
The Italian word for sin translates the Hebrew aveirah, that properly means transgression, going beyond the border between right and wrong. This is a breach of the Torah.
An aveirah – let’s say a sin- that our tradition regards as a serious one is leshon haraa, an expression that translated literally means evil speech and (I have said that Hebrew is a strange language) it means both slander and gossip. Our Tradition takes leshon haraa very seriously.
This is explained by the story of a certain woman, who spent much time and energy in leshon haraa. A year, before Yom Kippur she decided to make teshuvah, to repent of her averot. She went to the Rabbi of the village and said: Rabbi, I have made my hesbon hanefesh and I realised that I have really engaged too much in the leshon haraa, I thought it was insignificant chatter, but I realized I have slandered. What can I do to remedy it? The Rabbi said: Go to the market, in the main square, and bring a pillow. She arrived in the market, in the main square. The Rabbi said: I recommend that you cut the pillow in the middle and let out all the feathers. Shake it well, until all the feathers will leave. The woman did as the Rabbi advised, and then she returned to ask him: Rav, I have brought the pillow to the marketplace, I have cut it and I have let all the feathers out. Now what? The Rabbi sighed and said: now go and collect all the feathers.
Every time we commit an aveirah, a transgression, it seems light as a feather, but we never know the consequences, we do not know where the wind has blown them to undo our transgression, may be a difficult matter. The feathers escaped our control, but they still have something to do with us, and perhaps our actions can become examples for someone else to learn from.
Torah says about Yom Kippur: You’ll be pure in front of the Eternal One (Lev 16.30). Yom Kippur purifies only aveirot against God: those that, for the priests were ritual obligations, obligations of purity during worship: the ceremonial duties, the prayer, the reverence to the name of God. But the averot committed against other human beings are not remedied. We must first ask forgiveness from women and men we wronged. For this reason in our tradition the days leading up to Yom Kippur are an appropriate time, to listen on those who have offended us, to be open to forgive, to mending, to starting again. And this applies to all of us.
But Yom Kippur also concerned with the sins, the faults, the imperfections, the opportunities lost towards God. We cannot ask to have the effects of our sins erased, and of course we cannot even ask to be punished. We cannot gather the feathers scattered from the market square. Even if we gathered them all, those feathers would be too dirty, contaminated, that nobody would use them for a pillow. No one would sleep on such a pillow.
Meir of Ger, a Chassidic teacher, explains one of the risks of hesbon hanefesh. It is possible we vile end up trapped in our thoughts, considering aspects of our own personality, enumerating the aveirot in an endless process – for we know that every avheirah comes from another one, just like every mitzwah brings another mitzwah as its reward. Meir of Ger says that to remedy the yezter haraa, the impulse to evil, we have the yetzer tov, the impulse to build, to move toward the good. Torah says: סור מרע ועשה-טוב, Go away completely from the yetzer haraa (Ps 34: 15), do not wallow in the evil, balance your raa with your tov, this year.
Yom Kippur is an opportunity for growth, from which we can come out strengthened. We ask God’s help, so that our noblest intentions may be stronger than our baser ones, the ones that lead us to the aveirot. Our good actions bring us closer and raise us up, and may they be stronger than those that lead us astray and make us weaker. Yom Kippur begins this evening. It depends on each of us to make it noble, and ennoble our soul.
There is a beautiful midrash describing all the people of Israel, all of us, who in the coming hours will be engaged in this process of hesbon hanefesh, observing deeply what we have done wrong in the past and questioning the possible consequences, attempting to trace the feathers we dispersed, our aveirot, our transgressions. We spend this day in fear and trembling, anticipating the judgment by the High Court, an Angel there whispers: Do not worry, the judge is your parent.
Let's try in the coming hours to meet our parent and to listen to what God has to tell us.

Congregation Shir Hadash, Florence, Kol Nidreh 5769

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