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Yom Kippur Reflection 2011

Sep 23, 2011 — Categories: , ,

"Our tradition sees the Day of Judgment as a wonderful gift from God." Reflection by Rabbi David Rose

Yom Kippur Reflection 2011


The most well known piyyut (medieval liturgical poem) of the High Holy Day liturgy is the U-netaneh Tokef. In this moving meditation we read; “Even the angels are dismayed, seized with fear and trembling they cry out: ‘The Day of Judgment has arrived!’”

Our tradition sees the Day of Judgment as a wonderful gift from God. Judgment seems like an awful, terrible thing, and yet our tradition sees these Days of Judgment as a beautiful blessing. We call these days ‘Yom Tov,’ literally ‘good or festive days’; for they are an opportunity for self-awareness and improvement. We come to the Heavenly Court, so-to-speak, contrite for our failings and proud of our accomplishments. Reviewing our successes and our failures of the past year, we individually take responsibility for our own lives and chart a path for blessings in the coming year.

But what if every day was Yom HaDin, The Day of Judgment? What if every single day brought fear and trembling? What if this constant judgment was never just? What if the judgment was not through self-awareness before the Heavenly Judge but was daily before an earthly, capricious, abusive individual who had set themselves up as your judge, jury and prosecutor? What if the sentences of this malicious judge were a way of exercising control and power over your life and choices?

So it is for millions in our midst who suffer in abusive relationships. Abuse, a pattern of coercive behaviors used to establish power and control over an intimate partner, leaves those victimized by these behaviors in constant fear and trembling. “I constantly felt like I was being judged,” a woman who had left an abusive relationship told me. “What made it so frightening was that the rules by which I was being judged constantly changed. I never knew what would set him off. I walked around on eggshells, paralyzed, in never ending fear, just waiting for the next explosion.”  For many who suffer in abusive relationships there are periods of calm and tenderness but those spells never seem to last. “When after days or even weeks of his behaving like an angel he would again belittle me, make fun of me, embarrass me in front of our children and friends, criticize me for things that he complimented me for just days earlier, there was a strange kind of relief that things were back to ‘normal.’”

“Normal” for too many, mostly women, sitting in our midst in synagogues and temples this Yom Kippur is living with constant fear and trembling. Unfortunately, for these individuals the themes and liturgy of the holy day can add to their suffering and pain. Those who are abusive regularly ask those they have harmed for forgiveness; they vow to change, to make teshuvah (repentance or change). The liturgy encourages us to be forgiving; as God is forgiving and compassionate. The rabbi may ask us during services to turn to our partners and ask for pardon. But what if there is no teshuvah, no real change?

At Yizkor (Memorial Service) we are called to remember the righteous and good deeds of our departed family members. What if the father we are remembering was abusive of our mother? What if we were relieved to be finally free when our husband who abused us for years died? How are we to recite Yizkor prayers for such individuals?

We must remember that teshuvah is never automatic. Saying you are “sorry” is not the same as being sorry and changing. Yom Kippur does not ask us to just go through the motions, to just mumble the right words; Yom Kippur calls on us to do the hard work of teshuvah. It is so very important that we recognize that teshuvah is a process that involves multiple steps. In her book, I Thought We’d Never Speak Again: The Road From Estrangement to Reconciliation, Laura Davis makes reference to the five R’s of teshuvah: recognition, remorse, repentance, restitution and reform. On Yom Kippur we make a safe place in our midst for those who have been abused by unequivocally declaring that our tradition never tolerates controlling our intimate partners and that we need not forgive another who has not made real teshuvah. And, we must be clear to those who perpetrate family violence that the Holy One of Blessing calls upon them to acknowledge responsibility, to demonstrate remorse by truly changing behavior and to make restitution for damages caused. For more on teshuvah and domestic violence see Gus Kaufman’s outstanding article, Renewal and Reconciliation after Family Violence, found on the FaithTrust website.

We can also demonstrate our commitment to safety and justice in our communities at the Yizkor service by acknowledging that because of abusive behavior it is not always possible to remember righteous deeds of parents and intimate partners who have passed on. Such an acknowledgment creates greater awareness of the prevalence of family violence in our midst and gives permission to those who have suffered from such violence to express their grief for what could have been and should have been.

This Yom Kippur as we stand before God in judgment, grateful for the gift of life and for the sacred opportunity to improve our lives, let us make a place of safety and peace for those who are painfully and unfairly judged day after day. Let us work together to combat the egregious sin of domestic abuse in our communities and homes by shining light on the problem. And, let us build communities that nourish and support healthy and sacred relationship. Then when the Days of Judgment arrive we will all find favor before God and all humanity.

With blessings for an easy fast, a deeply meaningful Day of Atonement and a joyous 5772!

Rabbi David Rose

David Rose

Rabbi David Rose

Ordained at The Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Rose is the Founder and Director of JDiscover. In 2009, he was designated 'Clergy Person of the Year' by the Interfaith Community Against Domestic Violence, Maryland.  Rabbi Rose served as Chairman of Jewish Women International Clergy Taskforce on Domestic Abuse from 2007 through 2011.

Since 1993, Rabbi Rose has trained more than 250 members of clergy, of all faiths, in recognizing and responding to the challenge of Domestic Abuse. He has counseled hundreds of women from around the country helping them toward safety and new lives.  His perspectives on this subject are featured in the documentary film "When the Vow Breaks." In 2004, he was awarded a "Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition" and the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse's "Community Service Award" for these efforts.

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