Singing Ayn Kolekeinu in the Kodesh Kodoshim; Flickering Lights

By Dr. Ben Zimmer

For souls lost to us this year who have gone to another world. For souls in another world always on our mind. For souls lost to us who have left our Pittsburgh Kehilah. For souls we will never know who did not come to our kehilah because we were not yet good enough. For colleagues, friends, and family blind to G-d’s Western Civilization gifts. For the deprivations to my soul for whatever reason.

In the written Torah, a cigar is always a cigar. Words are placed purposefully. Ironically, there does not seem to be a Hebrew word for coincident. The closest word is b’mikreh and the letters mixed around spell out Rak Mi Ashem—only from G-d Ironically, while being enthusiastic Torah learners and in our zeal (sometimes compulsion) to do mitzvos, we mitzvah - observant loyal Jews may be in danger of depriving our spiritual side/or souls of nourishment. Bemoaning the uncertain self - empowered, meat and potatoes, no quiche, take no prisoners, pinball wizard reductionist, Yeshivish Lakewood (ah- the politically incorrect icon L word descriptor- more 2006) religious and academic attitudes, the scholar Kabbalist Ramchal himself would even tell you that understanding soul is not a core value in their world..

For those who continue to read this contribution, A. L. Scheinbaum in Peninim on the Torah will be our aid to attempt to understand soul. Trying to understand the souls that could worship a golden calf, he draws our attention earlier in the Torah portion of Ki Tisa to a section almost unnoticed or perhaps overshadowed, commanding the children of Israel to bring incense. Two of the incenses of interest to us are the free myrrh (mor-dror) and the always added galbanum (helb’nah). The Raban says what is “free myrrh”—free myrrh (found in musk) is good smelling and derived from the droppings of unstressed free roaming deer. The commentator Onkelos translates mor-dror as mir-de-chay. Of course even the most untrained ear hears Mordechai, and Scheinbaum, combining these texts remarks on how well - liked and respected Mordechai was in Persia despite the stress and trouble for the Jews at his time by Achashverosh and Haman.

While terrorists continue to kill and chief Rabbis fight about the Kashrus of hummus and other rabbis fight about ice cream, day schools, and bagels, and other rabbis patronize and infantilize even serious religious Jewish consumers and still others are paralyzed by real and perceived pathological allegiances to individuals, institutions and organizations, my goal at this time of year continues to be the search of who we Jews are and should be on this earth without creating a stench. In my lifetime I have seen the endless historic ambivalence of Rabbinic leadership concerning the Jew and his contribution to this world as well as the individual’s ability to be an independent religious consumer. As a psychiatrist, however, I am always interested in the brain – mind – character - soul connection and the relationship between faith and real hope, and continue with my chevrusa Dr. Abby Mendelson to search for these connections in our weekly Ramchal journey.

For us Jews in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, despite the intellectuality of the RAV, there was passion, creativity, independence, sometimes defiance, and self awareness, and the flashing of the modern orthodox credit card. In the 90’s and through this new century that seeming “reckless passion” has been replaced, sometimes humorlessly, and, as we circle the wagons, with a need for validation, preservation, apparent intellectual honesty, devotion and loyalty to not always clear (need I say real) standards.

Our Yom Kippur orientation is the intensity of the Avodah of the Kohen Godol and our attempt to pray and reach into our soul. Compared to our sensory toxin overload, do you ever think about the sensory stimulation of the Kohen Godol in The Kodesh Kodoshim even as he maintained his devotion. Imagine the music of the Leveem, the smell of the incense, the smell of grilling meat, and what about all that blood and the groans of the animals. What about the cloud of G-d? In 2005/ 5766, unfortunately, we are better at the sometimes reflexive, unthinking soldier- like doing as many of our brothers’ souls flicker. Returning to my opening gambit,with the myrrh and galbanum always in the background, it is no coincidence that the Yom Kippur liturgy with the 13 attributes of G-d also comes from the Sedra Ki Tisa. Here G-d teaches Moses, after the sin of the golden calf, (we pay for this indefinitely) what needs to be said for forgiveness from Hashem and again attempting to find our lost souls of Az Yashir. ( I sometimes feel G-d, too, is bewildered - “ ...Guys, how did you blow this?”) Also our connection between Purim and Yom Kipporim is made with the mor-de-chay (Mordechai) reference, but in addition to calling for our Purim passion and emotion, it may also be a commentary on Mordechai’s ability to balance soul, self awareness and cognition.

Chaim Brisk, apparently, had a reputation of being lenient regarding the end of Yom kippur fast. When asked why he was so maykel regarding this matter he responded, “ it is not that I am so maykel the fast, I am machmir regarding Pekuach Nefesh.” Maybe we (communally) should be more machmir about pekuach nefesh, combining faith with real hope, empowering people to make religious decisions instead of being just judgmental soldiers (sometimes poorly trained and not ready for prime-time) who carry dangerous weapons.

Dr. Zimmer is a psychiatrist in private practice, residing in Pittsburgh.