by Rabbi Jared H. Saks
Yom Kippur 5781
When the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, saw that the Jewish people were threatened by tragedy, he would go to a particular place in the forest where he would light a fire, recite a particular prayer, and ask for a miracle to save his people from danger. Because of the holy fire and the devotion of his prayer, a miracle would be accomplished, averting tragedy for the Jews.
Later, when the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple, the Maggid of Mezritch, had to intervene with heaven for the same reason, he went to the same place in the forest, where he told the Sovereign of the Universe that while he didn’t know how to light the fire, he could still recite the prayer. Again, a miracle would occur and the people would be saved.
Later still, when the Maggid of Mezritch’s disciple, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov, saw the Jewish people in peril, he would go into the forest to save his people. “I do not know how to light the fire,” he would say to God, “and I do not know the prayer, but I can find the place and this must be enough.” Once again, a miracle would occur and the people would be saved.
When it was the turn of Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn, the great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezritch, to avert catastrophe for the Jewish people, he would sit in his chair, holding his head in his hands, and would say to God, “I am unable to light the fire. I do not know the prayer. I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story. That must be enough.” And it was.
Too often, we find ourselves in Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn’s shoes. We know that something has to be done, but we feel that we don’t have the tools or the knowledge or the power to do it. Too often, we sit in our chairs, perhaps our heads held in our hands as well, but we don’t reach Rabbi Israel’s conclusion. Rather, we feel that we are deficient, that we can’t make a difference. I’m here to tell you that that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There’s a lot on our shoulders these days. We feel the pressure of a broken world weighing us down. We are managing home life, work, school, hobbies, and interests in ways that would have seemed impossible a year ago. Managing all of the Zoom links we and our children receive is enough to overwhelm anyone. But if Yom Kippur can remind us of anything, it can remind us of the potential within us, even when we don’t know the place to go, the words to say, or how to ignite the spark.
“We have three transcendent tasks [during] these High Holy Days. Two of them—to repair the world and to repair our relationships—are critical. They cannot wait. The hours are ticking by, our life is passing us by. In fact, think about all the work you still have to do…to repair relationships, to repair the world. Feel the load upon your shoulders. Recognize that you are important, that your actions matter, you matter. Hold onto that, because it is all true.”
The third task may seem even more daunting than the other two, but it’s probably the most important. It is to find our center, to heal our souls. It is to remind yourself that you are enough. My colleague and friend, Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, offers us this prayer for the High Holy Days:
When you can’t quite find the right words or you find the absolute wrong ones, you are enough.
When you wish that your body looked different or did things it doesn’t and can’t, you are enough.
When you feel like the [least intelligent] person in the room, you are enough.
When you do the best you can with the best of intentions and your kid/spouse/boss/ friend/lover still isn’t satisfied and gives you that look, you are enough.
When everyone in your life wants more of your time and you feel stretched so thin you can hardly breathe, you are enough.
When it feels like you are just barely keeping your head above water and like you are drowning under the weight of the world, you are enough.
When you can’t even articulate why you are just so sad, you are enough.
When you feel guilty for being so [darn] happy, you are enough.
When you are bone-weary and exhausted by the world and all you can manage is to eat a bowl of cereal (or not) and stare at a wall, you are enough.
When you’d rather go to brunch (or sit on your couch and watch trashy TV) than attend one more protest, you are enough.
When it seems like everyone has a better job, more friends, a cooler social life, more money, a nicer [home], and generally the key to happiness that you seem to be missing, you are enough.
When your relationship with your family is messy and stressful or just completely non-existent, you are enough.
When things that seem like they should be so easy fill you with anxiety and dread, you are enough.
When you want desperately to manifest things that seem so far out of your grasp, you are enough.
When you have grand visions and big dreams and life just looks so very different, you are enough.
And, also, remember: being enough doesn’t mean we can’t do better; it just means we are enough.
The liturgy of these days asks [the Holy One of Blessing] to open the Gates of Repentance to us. But the real challenge of these days is whether we will open the Gates of Our Hearts to ourselves and whether we will be brave enough to keep them open, even as the sun begins to set [tonight].
In a drash, The Gift of Self-Compassion, delivered at IKAR in Los Angeles, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson challenges us to be as compassionate and forgiving with ourselves as we are with others. The challenge we face is being as loving with ourselves as we’ve been trained to be with one another. We sympathize with others. We tell them that they’re doing great when they tell us they’re struggling. When someone else is having a hard time, we console them. But then, when we face difficulty, we tell ourselves, “I messed up again. I always do this. I’m worthless.” We generalize our particular moments into character flaws and expand instances of disappointment into our new reality.
This is the challenge before us always, but especially on Yom Kippur. It’s not just how to love each other, which is important, but what it means to show compassion for ourselves. On Rosh Hashanah, I spoke with you about being God’s presence in the world, because you are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the divine image. When you feel that you aren’t enough, remember that spark of God within you.
Reb Nachman of Breslov, one of the great Hasidic masters, examines a verse from Psalms: Azimrah l’Elohai b’odi. I will sing to God b’odi, that is, with my od. Od means ‘more’ in Hebrew. I will sing to God with my abundance, my essence, whatever I have. Reb Nachman takes that concept of od and says that it is that piece of good that’s in you no matter what you think of yourself. This is the place from which we sing to God. Our task is to learn how to sing from that remnant moment, that spark of kindness, from that place of self-compassion. Our tradition does not call us to be perfect. Only to be better. Our ability to love ourselves and see the divine in ourselves is about knowing who we are and being loveable nonetheless.
On this day we are accustomed, quite literally, to smacking ourselves, to beating our hearts as we recite the Vidui, the confession of our transgressions. This morning, at this moment, rather than beating yourself up, I want you to take a hold of yourself. Clasp your hands. Give yourself a hug. Take a moment to hold yourself. Know that you are beautiful, worthy, kind, good, and holy. Believe this in the core of your being. And ask yourself, “What do I need right now? How can I be kind to myself? How can I stop causing myself unnecessary suffering?”
Proverbs teaches us gomeil nafshi ish chased, the merciful do good to their own souls. This day is not only an invitation to acknowledge where we fall short, to pledge to do better. It is an invitation to be good to our own souls.
When I was about 15 or 16 years old, my NFTY region brought in a speaker by the name of Scott Fried. He spoke to us about how he contracted HIV and, more importantly, how he worked after that to remind himself of his value in this world, and to instill in us a sense of self-worth. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to bring Scott to speak with our teens and their parents about growing up, about raising teenagers, and about valuing ourselves, not just in how others see us, but, most importantly, in how we see ourselves, flaws and all. Scott ends each of his lectures the same way, which I want to share with you this morning. I encourage you to repeat these words after me:
I value my life.
And I value my mistakes.
And even though I make mistakes,
I am enough.
G’mar chatimah tovah, may you be sealed for blessing, health, and happiness in the new year. And may you always know that you are enough.
 Paul Kipnes, “I Am Enough” – Guided Meditation – RH Morn 2020.
 Psalm 104:33
 Proverbs 11:17