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  • Naomi Oxman

Yom Kippur Dvar Torah

YK DVAR TORAH SEPT 30, 2017 DN (naomi oxman)

  • Dedicate to mom on bd today, ‘til 120!

  • Visit home from NY grad school, out of clear blue, mom turned to me and asked personal question; My response: “Mom, what do you think?”

Mom: “Naomi, Don’t answer me a ? with a question!”

  • I thought to myself, “But isn’t that the Jewish way?”

  • Dr. Howard Ashland, linguistic prof at Brooklyn College is a Hebronics scholar.

(think Jewish ebonics) He studies the sentence structure attributed to eastern

European language patterns. Usually a question is answered with another question that often includes sarcasm or a complaint.

  • Examples:

  • How are you?

  • How should I be with my bad feet? o What time is it?

  • What am I… a clock?

We even respond to remarks/compliments with questions? Like:

  • “I like the tie you gave me…I wear it all the time”.

o So what’s the matter, you don’t like the other ties I gave you?

One can differentiate a Hebronic answer from the typical response:

o It’s a beautiful day!

o Normal reply: Sure is!

Hebronics: “so the sun is out, what else is new?”

Or many might be familiar when calling a parent,

  • typical comment: It’s been a while since you called

Hebronic ”you didn’t wonder if I’m dead already?”

Besides being known as the people of the book, we are notorious for questioning! I think it’s in our DNA to challenge. Our Talmud, the oral law, is based on endless back and forth debate! Recently, a woman explained her attraction to converting to Judaism was our emphasis on and welcoming of questioning.

A question I revisit annually, is whether people really do change? As Debbie reminded us a cpl weeks ago, the Jewish answer MUST be yes! Gifted with free will, we do have the capacity for change.

I’d say, not merely the capacity, but the imperative!

In Rabbi Shai Held’s, of Mechon Hadar, discussion on peoples’ resistance to change, he includes:

  • “that’s just the way I am”

o “I’m that guy who just has a temper and blows!” ”I can’t help it!” o “I can’t resist temptation…I was born that way.”

Quoting from Rambam’s Hilchot Deot, he discusses the idea that though born with strong predilections and predispositions to certain behaviors: being deeply influenced and impacted cannot be deterministic!

We must believe in Possibility!!

  • Others resist change for they are “committed to their identity”.

Modifying one’s story can be scary for the unknown is intimidating. How unsettling it might be to no longer imagine myself as a “victim”, or, on the contrary, the one always at fault.

Held talks about that space, often negligibly brief, between what is one’s “reflexive” and impulsive reaction, to what Might be, to what Could be?

How can we become more conscious and expand the pause, so as to adopt and adapt to a new response.

Rabbi Held reminds us: we need courage & inner strength, tremendous mindfulness and commitment to exercise our freedom to embark on a new path.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankel addresses that space:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”

The freedom to choose may direct us to a road that has been less traveled, unfamiliar terrain that simultaneously scares and excites us; and likely challenges us to see our

“selves” in another light. It takes great fortitude and dedication to move from being:

prisoners of an undesirable past, to liberate us to navigating a new future.

I confess that unless I believed in one’s capacity for change… well, practically speaking, I’d be out of a job!

But, more importantly, unless all of you sitting here today trust in your ability to adjust your actions, to transform and embark on a new path, even if just “slightly changing course”, I suggest you spare yourself the time and go ahead and leave shul now.

The essence of this season is transformation!

In this realm, I am on the same page as God.

We can change our direction, even if in just small incremental ways, which is actually the best way to begin!

We must start with what Caroline Arnold in her book Small Move Big Change calls

“microresolutions” small steps to enable permanent transformation.

It’s less important to believe that practice makes perfect, for it isn’t perfection we seek.

Rather, practice makes permanent and YK is our final full day chance to seize the opportunity and begin!

A story is told of the Kotzker Rebbe, a Chasid who was born in the mid 18th century. A student inquired.

“ Rabbi, who’s a good jew?”

  • Anyone who wants to be!

“ Well, who wouldn’t want to be a good jew?”

  • someone who thinks he already is!

The profound nature of this brief exchange is applicable to all of us, not just as jews, but as people in general!

After a session, I often ask clients what their “take-away” is; I’ll make it ez for you and tell you.

Focus on the following words taken from our YK service:


תְּענַּוּ אתֶ-נפַשְׁתֵֹיכםֶ


Loosely translated:

You should afflict your souls and we are guilty!

In today’s Torah reading, Leviticus 16 verses 29-32, we are commanded to “afflict our souls”. It is repeated.

בַּחדֶֹשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחדֶֹשׁ תְּענַּוּ אֶת-נפַשְׁתֵֹיכםֶ

שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן הִיא לָכֶם, ו ענִּיִתֶם אֶת-נפַשְׁתֵֹיכםֶ—

I’ve wondered why it’s not afflicting your bodies, after all the 5 restrictions on YK pertain to eating, drinking, engaging in sexual activity, wearing leather shoes and washing/anointing of oneself….Some might add a 6th, that of sitting all day in shul.

Traditionally, תיִנּע refers to fasting. Earlier this year when we read this verse the wording jumped out at me. I thought:

The words ענִּיִתֶם and תיִנּע come from the root ayin, nun hey, meaning to answer.

Perhaps, YK is not meant to be a day of simply afflicting our selves through these limitations, but rather one of response.

In addition to having inquiring minds, I suggest that this holiday is one that demands answers from us!

Maybe one ANA refers to the ways in which we have afflicted our selves throughout the year and the other ANA is the call to answer to and for our selves as we look back and then ahead. We explore and answer ourselves: why do I do what I do?

How often do we pause to honestly address our nefashot, our inner souls? Why do I engage in self-destructive behavior? Why do I mistreat others as I do? Indeed, though we may cause ourselves bodily harm, the fact is: when we hurt ourselves physically, we suffer emotionally and spiritually.

Our bodies and souls are interconnected!

Today, we call attention to our unseen interior landscape that often suffers due to external behaviors.

In my hebronic & professional manner, I often respond to a client’s question with a question.

When she asks why do you think I am continually attracted to men who hurt me?

I may respond…

”Why do you think you are always choosing partners who are emotionally abusive?” or

When you’re alone, what do you answer yourself, as to what drives you to fabricate stories that aren’t true, to tell others you’ve served in the military when you’ve never done so? That your dog is a service animal, when it’s really not?

I don’t ask in a shaming fashion, but rather to enable individuals to look within and to answer to/for themselves.

For at the end of the day, it is what you answer yourself that matters most! Those answers ultimately drive your behavior and impact your inner nefesh!

Let’s consider the 5 restrictions of YK. How might you answer the following?


  • How do I relate to food? Do I eat for comfort? Do I restrict for control? Do I overeat until in a “food coma”, numbing my emotions?

o What do I really hunger for? is it affection? admiration? Attention?


  • Do I over-indulge to unburden myself of responsibility for subsequent “bad behavior”

o Do I crave an altered state in which excess results in risking relationships, safety? responsibility?

o Am I afraid to confront my “self” in a sober state? o Do I thirst for validation? For recognition?

Sexual activity.

o Do I pursue others as a means of conquest?

o Do I feel a sense of power by victimizing others? Conversely, o Do I allow others to victimize me?

  • Do I feel so alone that I must physically bond with another to not feel vulnerable?

o Must I respond to my impulse?

o How do my secrets impact my emotional and spiritual being?

The most familiar and numerous support groups modeled after AA, Alcoholics

Anonymous, relate to these 3 activities: Eating, drinking, and sexual activity.

! תְּענַּו answer your souls! for it is your nefesh, your inner soul that suffers when external behaviors “intoxicate” you. Perhaps that’s what is meant by true soul-searching…

Are you living up to your ideal self and practicing the values you cling to so dearly?

When I contemplate Taanu et nafshotechem; soul afflictions and answers; I imagine…

The 75 year old cognizant of being closer to the end of his life than the beginning coming to terms with past infidelity, wondering is it too late? What was I seeking?

Will my spouse forgive me? Can I forgive myself? Can I let go of the shame, that Jung so eloquently calls “a soul eating emotion.”

Or, the 36 year old who spent a decade drowning and drugging his sense of inadequacy; the fear of facing his vulnerabilities. Desiring independence, but afraid to face the challenges that lie ahead. Can I take responsibility? Can I be forgiven for the monies I’ve stolen and the betrayal I’ve exhibited? Grieving the loss of time and potential, wondering: Can my future be different than my past?

And the mid 20 year old hiding her beautiful inner self b/c she feels unacceptable. Finding partners who don’t measure up for she believes she is undeserving of better. Needing to come to terms with past abuse. Numbingly eating to anesthetize and hide behind a protective armor of flesh. Desperate to trust, but afraid of being hurt, yet again. Will it ever change? Can I be different?

And for the final 2 restrictions:

Not washing/anointing one-self.

YK is not a day to be dirty or unclean. On the contrary, we often don white, the men kittels, and maintain a pure -appearing exterior. We are bidden to not wash, or cover up with oils and lotions lest we delude ourselves into believing that cleaning the exterior, cleanses the interior. Bathing or a slathering of oils does not easily wipe off hidden dirt.

Our internal stains linger long after we’ve dried off!

As many comment, YK, the day of atonement means being AT ONE,…at one with oneself; pursuing compatible conduct, so that ideally,

Our external appearance is more aligned with our internal nefesh

And what about those shoes? Actually, many tennis shoes and flip flops, are far more comfortable than the restricted leather ones, yet to be broken in. Perhaps the idea of removing one’s shoes goes back to Moses and the burning bush when god says:

שַׁל־נעְָלֶ֨: מֵעַ֣ל רַגְלֶ֔י י

כִּ֣י הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָ ליו אַדְמַת־ק֖דֶֹשׁ הֽוּא

“Remove your shoes from your feet for the Place in which you stand is holy ground”.

Removing ones shoes allows for vulnerability.

… to feel whatever it is you feel. Maybe it is symbolic and teaching us to not be overly self-protective such that you create barriers between your self and wherever you find yourself standing.

Permit yourself to step out of your comfort zone.

Our feet, have the capacity to touch many grounds, to walk anywhere and everywhere, to be in many places, experience many realities. Do not live in an ivory tower, in which your shoes, metaphorically, protect you so as not to feel both the rockiness and often unsteady nature of the place in which you find yourself. Venture out, experience, trust yourself and trust God or whatever Higher Power you may believe in.

There is holiness to be found in all places!

So on YK when we are bidden to afflict our souls, let us read the verse also, as answering our souls! striving to understand the underlying reasons why we have endured the afflictions we have; many of which we brought upon ourselves, while others we were prey to, by no fault of our own.

How do we answer the divine core that makes us human?

However, during the process, do not beat yourself up for we are human; vulnerable, fragile and fallible. In Kohelet - Ecclesiastes – 7:20 we read:

יחֱֶטָֽא׃ 􀋄 כִּ֣י אָדָ֔ם אֵ֥ין צַדִּ֖יק בָּאָ֑רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יעֲַשֶׂה־טּ֖וֹב

“For there is no man, so wholly righteous on earth that he always does good and never sins.”

It is our nature to mess us, have self-compassion in the process!

Indeed, Ashamnu, we are guilty!

Interestingly, this word in the vidui, is a stand alone, not connected to a particular behavior as in the other alphabetized chaits, iniquities.

Think about the word Ashamnu!

Alef= signifying ochel, as in our relationship with food and what we hunger for.

Shin=shtiya, How we drink and what do we really thirst for?

Mem=mean, as in sexual conduct, how do I physically interact with others; what kind of relationships do I crave?

Nun=naal, as in shoe, what barriers do we create and why?

Vav signifies vidui , confession . Acknowledgement that I have done something wrong. Admitting that I am not walking MY TALK! not living up to my core values. Perhaps

“covering up” secret transgressions by displaying an unsoiled exterior.

The letter Vav itself means hook… Do I know what has HOOKED me this past year?

Finally, the vav signifies plurality, ashamnu, WE have sinned. None of us is perfect. We are not alone! May we gather strength as we gather as a community.

In his book, Finding meaning to our 2nd half of life, Hollis writes “sometimes , to our dismay, we find that we have been living someone else’s life, that their values have and are directing our choices”.

Is the life your living yours?

And as Hollis eloquently states: life is “ a journey across that most archaic, most daunting , most inviting of seas, our own souls.”

May we enter the coming year of 5778 by responding to our nefashot, our inner souls, such that the afflictions we endure will be diminished.

In just a few minutes, we will be reciting Kaddish.

In the middle of the musaf service we recite a most compelling and frankly, frightening prayer: that of Unetaneh tokef, followed by the well known recitation of: “Who by water?

Who by fire? Who by storm? Who by hunger? Who by thirst? Who will suffer?...”

I believe the poem’s intent is a call to action; empopwering us, to do our part! To respond to the calamities that befall us and those around us, even if this time, I was spared.

Ultimately, it is the Almighty who has the final say, but

We must not relinquish the power to do our part.

Once again, the YK appeal is, collecting funds for the organization fast for feast. Following the advice of Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, who lived in the 16th & 17th century;

“Let us transform the fast days into feast days for the poor.” Monies collected will be split between our local organization STEP and relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

“STEP empowers lives and restores hope. “As recipients state:

“I am not alone in the world“ “I don't know what I would do without you. It is LIFE to me!”

And Hurricane Harvey… another recent and devastating natural calamity in the string of many, one in which hundreds of thousands of homes were impacted, more than 30,000 people displaced and many perished. Many at DN have connections in Houston.

Not many, if any of us could go down to Houston with Merle and the local Disaster relief team to offer “direct hands on support” during this time of crises.

“Please help us, I'm scared." A Houston resident stranded on her roof with no food, water cries out.

Dementia patients in destroyed facilities couldn’t comprehend the devastation.

Victims lost much; material things, mementos and some, family members

Countless inspiring stories have been told. People forming human chains to assist a pregnant woman to safety to birth a new life, Others, fighting waist high water risking their lives for children and elderly less able to fend for themselves; even rescuing 4 legged family members by carrying cherished pets overhead. As someone so aptly stated.

“Harvey has taken a lot, but it will never take our humanity!”

Let us at Darchei demonstrate our innate humanity!

“Okay Houston, YOU’VE had a Problem THERE!” but, we’re here for you!

On behalf of Darchei, I am asking you to search your souls and to ANSWER the call…


Before you reflexively push the tab, expand your pause, and imagine the lives of those less fortunate than you. To feel what it might be like to experience the physical deprivation of water & food, not for a day, but for days or weeks on end.

To acknowledge that at this very moment, many endure the overwhelming words of:

“Who by hunger? Who by thirst? Who will live? Who will die?”

ֶ֙לָעְנ־ל֨ ישַׁ remove the protective barrier. as you imagine walking in the place of another, who has lost not just his shoes, but his home and all of his prized possessions and perhaps a loved one too.

Give generously, and whole-heartedly! Not until it hurts, rather

Until it feels truly awesome!

Consider pushing the tab and then push again… the tab for $18, symbolic of gviving a bit more to improve the life of another nefesh, another soul

After Yom Tov you can write check to shul or go online to Make your donation.

The fast for feast people will divide up.

G’mar Tov!

May we all finish the year well!

And may we merit to be blessed with a shana tovah; a good new year in which we experience less calamities and enjoy more blessings of health, joy and peace within, and in the world at large!

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