Tonight marks the beginning of Yom Kippur. The Torah tells us that on the tenth day of Tishrei, “you shall afflict your souls.” But why on the tenth day of Tishrei? Rosh Hashanah is on the first of Tishrei because, as I wrote last week, that is the day of the creation of humankind. Passover is on the fifteenth of Nissan because that was the day of the exodus from Egypt. But why of all days was the tenth day of Tishreichosen to be the Day of Atonement?
Our Sages answer: a great moment in time took place on that day. It was on that day that the Torah tells us: Vayomer Hashem salachti ki d’varecha – “And G-d said: I have forgiven as you asked.” It was on this day that G-d forgave the Jews for the sin of the golden calf, considered one of the worst in the history of our people. The truth of the matter is, if not for the prayers of Moses, G-d was prepared to destroy the entire Jewish people. But then, we are told, that G-d forgave us. But who did he forgive? And for what?
I recall a rabbi’s sermon where he shared that the Torah says Moses executed all those who were involved in worshipping the golden calf. According to the Talmud, there were 3,000 who were found guilty. They were punished for their sin. So, who was it that G-d forgave? He forgave the rest of the Jewish people! But, what was there to forgive? What was their sin? They had not done anything. That was their sin.
While their brothers and sisters were worshipping the golden calf, they did nothing to stop them. In American law if you do nothing you are not culpable ... in Jewish law you are! In American tradition, silence is golden ... in Jewish tradition silence is the golden calf!
We all have the obligation to “speak up and speak out.” To do and say nothing – no matter your perspective – is not what our tradition teaches.
One person who did something was Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat.
Seventy-three years ago, on July 9, 1944, Mr. Wallenberg arrived in Budapest to begin what is now recognized as the largest life-saving action during the Holocaust. In 2014, on that same date the Congress of the United States presented its highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal to Raoul Wallenberg.
Mr. Wallenberg disappeared in January 1945 after saving the lives of tens of thousands condemned to certain death by the Nazis during World War II. He was captured by the Soviet troops that took control of Budapest in January 1945, and was never seen again.
The Congressional Gold Medal was not the first time that the US officially recognized this remarkable hero. On October 5th, 1981, Raoul Wallenberg became the second person in history to be awarded Honorary U.S. Citizenship. Each year, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation marks this date by launching its annual campaign for the proclamation of October 5th as “Raoul Wallenberg Day” nationwide.
I am proud to share that Governor Kate Brown has made Oregon the 26th state to recognize this special day with this proclamation.
Also, our Jewish community has “spoken” loudly with its generous contributions to our various emergency funds for Houston, Florida, Mexico, Puerto Rico (and other island nations), and the fires in the Gorge. We have raised in excess of $50,000 and those dollars have been sent. Here are some examples of where funds from the national Jewish Federation system are being used:
• The Houston Jewish Federation to provide emergency cash assistance, short-term relocation costs for schools displaced by flooding, educational scholarships, replacement of equipment for the JCC seniors program, shipments of kosher food for the holidays, costs to ensure High Holiday services for flooded congregations, capitalization of a new flood related free loan program and as an initial emergency grant for the Federation to deploy as needed. Here is a video taken the day before Rosh Hashanah showing the damage.
• The Beaumont/Port Arthur and Galveston, TX communities received funds to be administered through the local congregations.
• Funding to Florida Federations for food relief and cash assistance.
• The Hebrew Congregation in St. Thomas (USVI) for urgent cash assistance needs in the community.
• Puerto Rico congregations received funds for urgent cash assistance needs. Funds have also been used to supply food, water, and hygiene products.
• Funds for IsraAid to support their deployment in Puerto Rico providing emergency assistance and trauma counseling.
• Support to the Afya Foundation to support the shipping of two containers of medical and construction supplies to Puerto Rico.
• In addition, as reports from the island communities identified a critical need for generators, Federation connections secured 200 generators on their way to the islands.
• Support services in Mexico to help with earthquake relief.
Contributions can be still be made online here. 100% of your donation will provide relief for those impacted by the disasters.
On a final note, earlier this week, we held our annual Cornerstone Event with lead donors to launch our annual Campaign for Community Needs. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, renowned author and lecturer, was our speaker and provided incredible insights on Jewish ethics and Jewish values. He shared with us six activities he recommends for everyone to do between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (as well at all times):
• Light Shabbat candles
• Recite the Sh’ma prayer each day
• Say HaMotzi (blessing over bread) before each meal
• Write two checks to charities of your choice. One idea he shared was to donate the cost of the food one would have eaten if not for the Yom Kippur fast to a local food bank.
• When you hear a fire truck or ambulance, say a prayer
• No unfair or hurtful speech about or to anyone during meals
Some simple and excellent ideas as we strive to be better people in the year ahead.
G’mar chatimah tovah – may you be inscribed in the Book of Life and have a meaningful fast.