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Yom Kippur D'var Torah

Shira Lobron

Please click here to watch Shira's speech from Yom Kippur.

Picture this: you’ve been inside all day listening to rain patter on the roof of your warm, dry house. It’s been pouring for hours, but slowly and surely, the rain is letting up. You decide to step outside to see for yourself, and it’s true! The rain has stopped! What is left is the beautiful image of light returning to the dewy grass once again, streaming through the now parted clouds, with the shimmer of a rainbow glistening in the distance.

When I think of God, I think of that very image: one of beauty, but also one of mystery. Just because I can conjure an image does not mean God and Judaism always feel like attainable concepts. In fact, they feel like a part of the sky, the layers of clouds and miles of space separating us. 

Ever since my first day of Hebrew school I have been told that God is in all spaces and that he intentionally created me in his image and as a Jew. If that is all true, why does this being and my religion feel so beyond me?

In the Yom Kippur torah reading Nitzavim (Chapter 30 verses 9-11), God attempts to bring Judaism a little closer to our hearts by commanding us to follow a new mitzvah. He tells us, “No, this [mitvah] is so very near to you– in your mouth and in your heart that surely you can do it. Behold, this day I place before you life and well being and death and hardship,” so, famously, God implores us to “choose life.”

Choosing life: even that feels like a huge undertaking. And what exactly does it mean to “Choose life”?

According to God, it means that we should “love Adonai and walk in the ways of your God- to observe the mitzvot, laws, and judgments.” 

“Walk in the ways of your God,” that’s an interesting concept. Even though God feels far away, I can still “walk in the way of God” and “choose life” by using what is “near to [me]- in [my] mouth and in [my] heart.”

Our mouths have the potential to deliver multitudes of good out into the world. In Genesis, God’s words managed to create a whole world full of life. While my words do not hold this much power, mine and yours do hold the power to create good in the lives of others and touch their hearts. 

At my camp, we talk about lollipop moments; moments that may seem small to you, but have actually left an indelible impact on the life of someone else. The namesake comes from when a man used his mouth to (very loudly) promote a club of his club by offering lollipops to random students on the street. He approached one woman and shoved two lollipops into her hand: one for herself, and one for the kind looking man across the street. Even though neither of them joined the club, the action of the man ended up deeply touched the hearts of the woman and the kind looking guy, causing them to get married. The whole story is beautiful, but the most interesting part was that the lollipop man has no memory of the moment, yet received an invitation to their wedding and a thank you note. All of this shows that things we say that may seem small to us, but can have lasting impacts on the hearts and lives of others.

Just last month, I found out that I had created a lollipop moment, too. The summer between seventh and eighth grade, I decided to go to camp for two months. I often felt excluded within my bunk, but took it upon myself to make sure no one else felt that way. In the middle of my summer, it was my friend Avi’s first day and while I was already accustomed, they were just beginning to adjust to the hustle and bustle that is camp life. Their first night, they went to get medication and had no one to wait with in line. Apparently, I noticed this and started a conversation with them. Like the lollipop man, I have no memory of this moment and, while it did not have an impact as large as a marriage, I had touched their heart, making them feel included and valued at camp.

Both God and I have the potential to create beauty with our words. However, also like Him, my words also have the power to destroy. In a few weeks, we will read Noach, the Torah portion where just as quickly as God created the world, he demolished it with a flood when he no longer found his creation perfect.

As many of you remember, earning your driver’s license is quite the milestone in a teenager’s life. However, obtaining it is not an easy feat. Last weekend, I was practicing my parallel parking skills with my dad and it was not going to plan. Like the rear wheels with the curb, my head had many points of contact with the steering wheel. He tried his best to reassure me, but I would not hear it. Instead of stewing in my hatred for the RMV, I took out my frustration on him, the kind father who sat in the car for an hour as I tried and tried not to hit the curb. 

Like God, I do not have the ability to change the past, but I am able to apologize when I made a mistake. After the flood, God felt remorseful for destroying all life and sent a rainbow as a promise to never do such a thing again, turning the somber moment into a beautiful one.

Even though it took me a while to apologize to my dad, I did say I was sorry eventually. Turning his daughter's “cartwheels into car wheels” as the song “The Circle Game” goes was something my dad had been looking forward to for a long time. And while I cannot change the actions I made in the past, I can use my heart and words to reframe them. By apologizing and using my heart to see his side of the moment, we turned the difficult moment into one to learn from and one of growth.

So… Choosing life? Choosing life to do just this. I, a girl who turns seventeen tomorrow, can “choose life”and “walk in the way of God” by using what is “near to [me]- in [my] mouth and in [my] heart.” It does not have to be some grand gesture, but simply using our mouths for good when we are able and appreciating the beauty and positive impacts we have left on the world with our mouths and hearts is enough. However, it is not realistic to think that we will only use our words kindly, so using our hearts and mouths to apologize and reframing these moments into ones of beauty and growth is equally important.

On Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, we can take this message with us. Our mouths have said regrettable things this year, but we must use our hearts to deeply apologize for our actions and pledge to grow our contributions of good. 

Mon, May 27 2024 19 Iyar 5784