Colors: Green Color

 The situation in which the Orthodox community currently finds itself presents a real dilemma. On the one hand, there is little question that many in the religious community relish flouting the COVID regulations. On the other hand, our governor and mayor, aided by the media, have relished singling out the Orthodox community – more so than any other community, especially those in other minority neighborhoods right here in Queens, which have much higher positivity rates than in Kew Gardens Hills and other prominent Orthodox communities.

The Rambam in Hilchos T’shuvah, The Laws of Repentance, based on the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah (17b) and Yoma (85b), famously rules that Yom Kippur is only for the cleansing of those sins that are between man and G-d; but those between man and his fellow man can only be forgiven if the antagonist receives forgiveness from the aggrieved partner. Rav Tzvi Hirsch Chajes, early 19th century commentator on the Talmud, explains that with sins between man and G-d, Hashem is the litigant; and as a “victim,” He is in a position to forgive. But with sins between man and fellow man, Hashem is the judge and He needs to weigh who is the correct party between the two disputants. Until one comes clean, admits guilt, and apologizes, a favorable judgment cannot be rendered.

This week, I will take the liberty of sharing my Yom Kippur message with my readers. The message was delivered in shul on Kol Nidrei night to a limited audience davening in the tent on our shul lawn at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. But I do believe the message has to go to the broader audience during these times.

Over 30 years ago (it feels like 15, but over the years I’ve learned to double the amount of time that I think has lapsed), I was a rotating rabbi in a new development outside of Hightstown, New Jersey, known as Twin Rivers. At the time, it was home to about 10,000 people, of whom 80 percent were Jewish escapees from all parts of Brooklyn. Most of them left whatever Judaism remained within them back in their old homes.

(No, it’s not about COVID)

My brother-in-law, Jonathan Spero, who is staying with my sister at my father’s house for a few weeks, came across a chumash in pristine condition, which belonged to my grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Yoel Jakobovits zt”l. My grandfather was a rav and dayan in Berlin during the years leading up to World War II. The chumash was inscribed by him and read, translated from Hebrew: “Purchased in honor of my Master from my own funds, Parshas VaYishlach…” Then he added something that we had trouble understanding. He wrote the following Hebrew letters with a dot on top of each letter: “taf, reish, ches, and tzadik sofis,” which phonetically spells “tirchatz.”