Dvar for Kol Nidre 5783 – When the Veil is Thin (R. Shohama)
On opening to messages from the hereafter, and intercessory prayer, to renew our sense of balance in the world.
Good Yuntif everyone! I want to acknowledge that I am not the same person who stood before you on Rosh Hashanah. Living through the preparation for Hurricane Ian, deciding what I must take if I never saw my home again, and camping out inside a friend’s home for days without electricity or internet while the storm raged and passed around the house shook me to the core, even as we were having fun making music and cooking on a camping stove.
But by Shabbat my husband and I were able to return to our condo and community and find it unharmed except for some trees and shrubs. The hurricane gave new meaning to the Unetaneh Tokef prayer of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, “Who shall live and who shall die; who by fire and who by water…”
It feels like a miracle to be before you now on Zoom, after days of not knowing whether this would be possible. During those rocky days of preparing and packing, enduring, and unpacking it was so helpful to focus on the balance point of Tiferet, our theme for this season of the High Holy Days.
In the Kabbalistic diagram of the sefirot, energy centers, Tiferet is not only the balance point between the left and right, but the connecting center to all the sefirot, from the crown to the base. Wherever we are out of alignment, in our thoughts, feelings or actions, Tiferet is the heart-centered place to rebalance. For us, it was supported by loved ones and friends who texted and called, as we rocked between anxiety on the one hand and trust on the other, feeling that whatever the outcome for our part of Sarasota, we would be OK.
In addition, knowing that it was soon to be Yom Kippur, the day on which tradition says the veil between this world and the next is thinnest, seemed especially appropriate.
For almost twenty years I have had personal proof that it is possible to receive communication from those who are only in spirit. This year feels like the right time to share that, and some other relevant thoughts as well.
It was the day after Yom Kippur in 1993. I had finished leading services as a Guest Rabbi, and my hostess, a massage therapist, offered me a gift of a session to recharge my energy. Little did I know she was also a medium. After the massage, she said, “Rabbi Shohama, I received a message for you from a spirit, an older male, I believe. Knowing you would be skeptical, I asked for a sign. He said, ‘Tell her cigar.’” I’m shivering as I tell you this, because the grandfather for whom I’m named was known mainly for his love of smoking cigars. Then she said, “all right, give me another clue.” He said, tell her ‘hims.’ “ Well, that did it! My grandfather had a pet name for my older sister Rona who was then only two years old. He called her “hims.” Since I had never discussed my memories of my grandfather with my hostess I can only assume the connection was real.
Then came the message. “I am here with her father, and we want her to know that we are looking after her, and are pleased with her.” Now that was particularly surprising and comforting to me as my grandfather, I’m told, was an atheist, and my father, whenever we would discuss God, would say that he was an agnostic. On the other hand I, as most of you know, in midlife became an ardent believer in the guiding presence of God. So I wondered. Did this message mean that people grow and change after they die? That relationships can be strengthened or mended because those in spirit also can change their feelings and beliefs? That would open the door to improving relationships with even those long gone. I have come to accept that this is true, and I leave it to you to consider the possibility.
Here’s another testimony. My husband Alan and I had the good fortune to stay with friends in a safer area of our city, Sarasota, Florida, and one of them, named Julie Schechter, shared this story with me. She said, “I have for many years been communicating with family on the other side, especially with my father. Here’s one of my favorite stories. For a period of time my mother was experiencing excruciating headaches and I had brought her to several neurologists and rheumatologists. No one could figure out what was going on and it got to the point where she couldn’t get out of bed or lift her head off the pillow. Desperate, I walked into the kitchen, put my hands on the counter and said, ‘Dad, I need a clear, concrete message from you so there is no question of how to help Mom.’ Within a few minutes my mother got out of bed, came to the door and said, ‘Do you think it’s my eyes?’ I took that as a message from my dad, so I quickly called her eye doctor’s office. The receptionist said, “We only have one available appointment soon but it is with a neuro-ophthalmologist.
We went to see that doctor and he examined her eyes thoroughly with his various machines. He looked at me, then at my mother, then at me, and said, “Wow, this is the first time anyone has come to see me before they begin to go blind. Mrs. Schechter has a serious neurological eye condition called temporal arterial arteritis.” He then treated my mother for it, and the headaches went away.
I love that story, because my friend Julie is as well grounded as she is devoted to Jewish spiritual life and practice, and it feels to me like solid evidence of communication from the other side.
More than that, it speaks to the yearning for communication from a loved one that is prompted by our imbalance and yearning. Julie feared for her mother’s health and that drove her to demand communication from her father. I was less than fully appreciative of my father and grandfather because I remembered them as not understanding or fully supporting the Jewish spiritual journey I had gone on. Their message corrected that misunderstanding, as they, in spirit form, had come to understand the reality of God’s presence.
For those of you who don’t accept the possibility of communication beyond the veil, consider the possibility of messages received from intuition or dreams, or life events that could be interpreted as messages. As God is One, so is everything and everyone is interconnected in that Oneness.
Here’s a quote from a colleague, Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, who is citing the Ishbitzer Rebbe (known by his book Mei Shiloach). The Ishbitzer wrote that
To be Holy is to ‘Be always devoted and ready for the moment when the reality of G-d peers through ordinary reality and enlightens your vision with a higher light…You don’t have to be already holy. But be ready for the moment of holiness to uplift you…It suffuses ordinary reality when the moment is right, and you are focused.
That is our theme this year of Tiferet, being centered enough to be ready to be uplifted.
Perhaps this is why we have a tradition of visiting the cemetery where family members are buried just before the High Holy Days each year. Perhaps that is why so many Jews visit the graves of great rebbes at this time of year. They hope and pray for blessings to re-center their lives. If you visit cemeteries in Israel you will see candles and messages at the graveside of renowned religious leaders. They are known for their intercessory prayers, and each one is known as a Melitz Yosher, someone who pleads for healing or help on behalf of another when asked.
You don’t have to be a great rebbe, or a rebbe at all, to be a Melitz Yosher. You just have to assume that God, the Great Listening Ear, or the Center of Universal Energy, is hearing your prayers and responding. Then you ask from your Tiferet center, from your heart. Or from our Psalms, or the words of our written prayers. Or, you just attune your energy to the melodies that call to you and direct them to the people or places or concepts you want to bless.
Tonight I haven’t addressed the complexities of releasing anger and embracing forgiveness, and invite you to return tomorrow morning when Rabbi David will expand on those themes. For now, please know that whatever your challenges, I believe it is possible to receive support and guidance from beyond the veil. It is my hope that your experience of this Yom Kippur, a day devoted to emotional and spiritual cleansing, will be enhanced by your memories and your yearnings. That you will seek that balance place of Tiferet, where the heart is at ease.
We now turn in our prayer book to the Silent Amidah. This is your time to be with the written prayers or the prayers of your soul, your mind, your heart, and your body. May they be heard, and may they inspire you to seek to live this new year as your best self, to live according to your highest hopes. Then our tradition’s blessing of Gmar chatimah tovah, May you be sealed for the good, will become a reality.
So let us say, Amen! May it be!