Yom Kippur Day – God Dwells in All of Us


5780 – 2019

By Rabbi Pam Frydman

         Today, I would like share a bit of Jewish history from the Torah, from Europe, from Iraq and from our Jewish and humanitarian values that are deeply rooted within each of us.

When the Israelites were at Mount Sinai, God gave us a set of laws, including the instructions for the sacrifices of Yom Kippur, which Carolyn Malestic and Susan Tauber and Cindy Prosterman have chanted so beautifully. Amidst the various instructions that the Israelites received at Mount Sinai were the instructions to build a sanctuary in the wilderness. It says in the Torah that God told Moses, “make me a sanctuary and I will dwell in them.”[1]

The rabbis understand this to mean that God wishes for us to make a God sanctuary and when we create that sanctuary, God will dwell within us. Judaism does not profess to have an edifice complex. We do not maintain synagogues as just houses of God. Rather, we maintain synagogues as houses of worship, study, celebration and mourning. The synagogue is a place where we can gather to be together while God dwells within us, right in our very human bodies.

Our Judaism is portable and so is our God connection; we can take them with us wherever we go.

I want to speak about three Jewish heroes – Elie Wiesel and Ben Ish Chai and Yehuda Bauer – who are each shining examples of how God dwells within each of us and how we are God-like in our capacities to live rich and full lives and to help make a difference for ourselves and others.

Elie Wiesel was born in Romania in 1928. He died in New York in 2016. During his very full life, he experienced the horrors of concentration camp at Auschwitz and Buchenwald and he lost his parents and most of his family. Wiesel became a Nobel Prize winning story teller and he was also a teacher and social justice activist.

Elie Wiesel is famous for his books and teachings about the Holocaust and he had an uncanny ability to convey tragedy in an understandable way.

Wiesel also served as a social justice activist, helping people who were suffering from poverty, illness and genocide. Among the causes that Elie Wiesel championed was the Action Against Hunger and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. In appreciation for his role as a peace activist, in 1998, he was appointed by the United Nations as a Messenger of Peace and in that role, he helped survivors and victims of the genocide in Darfur.

It is not easy to serve as a living example of how God lives within us. For Eli Wiesel, and for many of us, our God-parts are the parts of us that endure suffering and turn suffering into gems to help both ourselves and others.

Now I want to speak about Chacham Yosef Chaim. Yosef Chaim was known as the Ben Ish Chai. Ben Ish Chai was born in Bagdad in 1832 and he died in 1909. Ben Ish Chai was a scholar of Jewish law and his capacities were recognized both in Bagdad and elsewhere. He also embodied the God-quality of shalom bayit, helping to bring harmony among individuals and communities. One of Ben Ish Chai’s most profound gifts was ability to try to bridge the gap between Sephardi communities and Ashkenazi communities whose practices and understandings of Judaism were different from one another.

Ben Ish Chai also had a knack for connecting the simple stories in the Torah with complex Jewish values, and in doing so, he helped his students to learn Jewish law, and to feel connected to Judaism, through Bible stories they already knew and loved.

Now I want to speak about another Jewish giant with whom you may not be familiar and that is Professor Yehuda Bauer. Yehuda Bauer was born in the Czech Republic in 1926. Bauer and his family immigrated to mandate Palestine in 1939. He attended high school in Haifa, college in Wales and he went on to become the Director of the International Research Institute at Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem.

In the 1990s, Professor Bauer was invited by the German government to address the Bundestag, the German Parliament. On January 27, 1998m Professor Bauer spoke in the presence of the President of Germany, the Chancellor of Germany and the full House of Representatives. What did Professor Bauer teach in this setting? He taught Torah.

Professor Bauer began by addressing the dignitaries in the German government by their proper titles, which shows respect. Then he described the liberation of the various concentration camps at Auschwitz and he also described the Death March. Then he spoke about the suffering of the ordinary people and the soldiers on all the sides in World War II, and then he spoke about the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. Then he spoke about racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and our joint responsibility to fight against these evils. He also spoke about the partnership between Germans and Jews in remembering what happened during the Holocaust, and the importance of working together to help create a better society. Then he said,

There might be one further step. In the book of which I have spoken before [the Bible], are the Ten Commandments. Maybe we should add three additional ones:

“You, your children and your children’s children shall never become perpetrators”;

“You, your children and your children’s children shall never never allow yourselves to become victims”; and

“You, your children and your children’s children shall never, but never, be passive onlookers to mass murder, genocide, or (let us hope it may never be repeated) to a Holocaust-like tragedy.” [2]

We know that the world is not perfect and that much of what we had wished to be only in the past, continues to be with us going forward. But nevertheless, as a people, we are God-like, and so is every human being. Our Godly nature is our divine inheritance. When we love each other, let us always remember to try to see the divine in each other, to make room for the parts of ourselves and each other that are not so easy to bear.

We are all created in God’s image: straight, gay, male, female and non-binary, Caucasian and every color. It is not God who is limited. It is we who are limited. As we make room for everyone, let us remember that God dwells in each of us at all times.

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[1] Exodus 25:8

[2] “Address to the Bundestag – by Professor Yehuda Bauer” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. <http://tinyurl.com/mczwt38> 1998, 2013.