Originally used as a D'var Torah for the 2017 Kol Nidre service.
As a Nutrition and Dietetics major, I can tell you that food is one of the most worshipped and valued commodities in this country. We value food. We use food for sustenance, to bring people together in celebration, and as forms of praise and comfort. Some people love it, and some are afraid of it. So it is no great surprise, that when we choose to deprive ourselves of something very significant, that fills our lives, we choose food.
Ten days ago we celebrated the New Year. We celebrated life and sweetness and the idea of limitless potential. Today, we fast. Why do we fast? What is the meaning of restricting ourselves from sundown to sundown? The easy answer is that the Torah tells us to. I quote, “On the tenth day of the same seventh month you shall observe a sacred occasion when you shall practice self-denial” (Numbers 29:7).
Of course, food is not the only thing that we sacrifice on this day. We refrain from many of our privileges and pleasures. We use the newly available time to reflect. We empty ourselves on this day, both literally and figuratively, and we make room for all of the good to come. And I say “we”, because we are here together. We are surrounded by each other, and we are not alone. The Talmud states, “If we can together, make Teshuvah, each adding our part of internal reparation, we can cause the world to be forgiven.”
Does anyone want to reflect on that statement?
I want to narrow in on one word from that declaration. Forgiven. Or forgiveness.
What is more important, forgiving others or forgiving ourselves?
Yesterday, I watched a buzz feed video on Facebook. It was about a Romanian woman named Eva Mozes Kor. Eva and her twin Miriam were born in 1934. In 1944 they were separated from their parents, placed in a cattle car, and never saw them again. They were kept together on this journey for a specific reason; they were identical twins.
During this time, where others of her kind were facing the most detrimental fates in world history, Eva and Miriam were spared and placed under the jurisdiction of Dr. Josef Mengele. Dr. Mengele did testing on twins, specifically to see what it would take to flood the world with people who had the image of what he and his superiors believed was the ideal DNA compostion. Eva and Miriam endured aggressive and inhumane testing 24 hours a day! They were finally liberated by the Soviet army in January of 1945.
Fast forward ten years. Eva and Miriam are both living in Israel, married and with children. Miriam suddenly fell ill and it was concluded that the injections given to her when she was younger caused her kidneys to stop growing. Miriam had the kidneys of a sick 10 year old girl, which resulted in her passing only a few short months later. Eva is now living with the loss of the only consistent thing she has known her entire life.
After hearing about the astonishing and unfortunate fate of Miriam, a doctor from Boston contacted Eva. He wanted to meet with Eva, but his request required something else. He wanted Eva to come with a Nazi doctor. Eva worked in film, and in 1993, handled a documentary about these specific men. Using her resources, she worked her way through phone numbers, and got in contact with one featured doctor. She asked him to travel to Boston with her for the meeting. He denied her request, and instead, insisted she come to Germany to meet him.
In Eva’s eyes, this was an opportunity. She traveled to Germany to meet Dr. Munch, who was present during her and her sister’s testing. She asked why, and he complied. She asked how, and he answered. They talked. Eva asked Dr. Munch to sign a paper, a paper that confirmed everything that happened. A paper validating her struggles to those who don’t understand them. She wanted this to, and I quote, “shove in the faces of those who doubt the occurrence and severity of this unforgettable event”. She wanted Dr. Munch to say it was real, and it happened, and it was horrible. Eva then returned home and did the unthinkable. She wrote Dr. Munch a letter. And in that letter, she forgave him. She says, “What I discovered for myself, was life-changing. I have the power to forgive, and nobody can take it away.”
And here I am, tears streaming down my face in the middle of my community nutrition class.
A victim for 50 years, who lost her family, her individuality, and her childhood. A victim of unspeakable torture who chose to find the strength to forgive. For Eva, forgiveness was an act of self healing and self empowerment. It doesn’t mean that the wrongful situation didn’t occur. It means that we are no longer going to spend negative thoughts and energy on what CAN’T be changed.
The power of forgiveness is something that can never be taken away from us. And the reality is, forgiveness is something that can be given to others, but it can also be given to ourselves.
Harboring negative feelings towards others, as well as beating ourselves up over something we should not have said or done, creates a self-inflicted heavy cloud that we carry around as we navigate life.
Forgiveness is one of the most powerful tools we have as humans. It can be given to others in any quantity, and it can also be given to ourselves. And for those of us who feel that forgiving ourselves is just not enough, it is said that “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G-d.”
I want you to remember on this day, as you are asking for forgiveness, that others may be asking the same thing of you. I want you to see the power in your ability to forgive, not only on this day but on all days. Forgive your roommate for borrowing something of yours without asking. Forgive your friend for forgetting to pay you back for that coffee. Forgive your sibling for always taking the car. Forgive yourself for all that you hold on your shoulders. Do not allow it to consume you. Allow it to teach you, let yourself to forgive, and feel yourself become free.