About two weeks ago, my cell phone rang early one morning with a call from Eretz Yisroel. It was from a sensitive, deeply spiritual young man in his early twenties who wanted to discuss a matter that was troubling him as the Yemei HaDin (High Holidays) approached.
This bachur lost a parent while in his early teens, and with deep pain and a not a small touch of anger in his voice, asked me how he could be expected to approach Hashem on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur asking for forgiveness for his sins, when his own heart was heavy with Him for having taken his parent at such a young age. He pointedly asked me if I ever had to deal with his dilemma (I lost my father at the age of 3), and if so, he wanted to know how I processed these feelings when they arose.
I was overwhelmed by the raw power of his emotions (and mine, to be perfectly honest) and was silent for a long time. When I finally responded, I shared with him the following three thoughts:
1) I commended him on his honest and sincere approach to tefilah as evidenced by his not taking the easy way out and mouthing insincere words on the Days of Awe, and for the close, personal relationship he was developing with Hashem, along the lines of the those noted about Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev in this story.
2) I encouraged him to confront rather than suppress his hurt and angry feelings over the loss of his parent – and to go for rabbinic and/or professional help in doing so, as at least in my case, as I noted in my recent Time; Not Money column, these feelings will never really go away.
3) On a very pragmatic level, I encouraged him to think of the Yemei HaDin in terms of a deep, personal cheshbon hanefesh (reflection and self-assessment) in addition to the more intimidating – and in his case, confusing – notion of facing our Creator and accounting for our deeds and misdeeds.
I suggested that if he was not emotionally prepared for the accounting that the Yomim Nora’im require of us, he might be better served concentrating more on the “Me” (personal cheshbon hanefesh) in addition to the “It” (a reckoning of mitzvos and aveiros).
This would be along the lines of the thoughts of the Vilna Gaon on Din and Cheshbon -- (Click here for details) that I was fortunate to hear from our great rebbi, Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l and the words of the Chasam Sofer on the "sin" of not realizing one's potential -- (click here) being worse than even violating the Torah itself.
I share these thoughts with you on Erev Yom Kippur as a possible springboard for mature and real-life reflection as we prepare to daven to Hashem tonight and tomorrow – especially for those who are grappling with similar thoughts for a variety of reasons.
I also ask our readers to consider sharing their thoughts with the young man who called me by posting a comment in the thread below as I am sure that he will appreciate them. (I will be forwarding the link to him as soon as it is posted.)
As it is my nature to be a bit, shall we say, outspoken at times, I ask forgiveness of any readers who were offended by anything I wrote, and please accept my deepest and most sincere wishes to all our readers for a G’mar Chasima Tova.
May Hashem grant us all a year overflowing with nachas, parnasa, hatzlacha, mazel and true simchas hachayim and may He grant a year of Shalom to His children in Eretz Yisroel and throughout the world.
To sign up for Rabbi Horowitz’s weekly emails, please click here.