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Talk for Yom Kippur Afternoon

09/28/2020 05:53:12 PM


Helen Salvay

We are nearing the part of Yom Kippur prayers when we remember loved ones who have passed and. Jewish martyrs.  Are you thinking what I'm thinking?  I am thinking that life has been pretty intense lately.  I need things that are calming and enduring and comforting.  


Sometimes it is calming to contemplate the things around us. Here is a glass bowl (Hold up blue glass bowl). It was made by fusing pieces of glass together at about 1400 degrees F. Then the molten glass was quickly cooled back down to room temperature. Glass is fascinating!  It looks solid.  It sounds solid (tap glass with a spoon).  It feels solid (turn the glass over).  Actually, glass is more liquid than solid.  It flows, but so slowly that we cannot see it move. Every day, new discoveries are being regarding the matter. A new form of matter has been discovered.  It is called a quasicrystal. Like glass, it is amorphous, but it is more solid than liquid.  


If we want to endure, how about gazing up at the night sky? Some of the stars have been around almost since the beginning of the Universe, around 13 billion years. Our closest star neighbor, 4.2 light-years away, is Proxima Centauri. It has an earth-size planet orbiting it in the habitable zone. In June, a second planet, about the size of Neptune, was detected.  Proxima Centauri will live much longer than our Sun, so someday humans may find a new home there.  The other stars seem so distant and it appears a lot of cold, empty space separates us. Albert Einstein once wrote that the separation is an "optical delusion"-  the stars are part of us and we are part of them.  


Now, how about comforting?  When Albert Einstein wrote these words, he was attempting to comfort a grieving father. Conservative Rabbi Naomi Levy, in her book, Einstein and the Rabbi,  takes us on a journey to discover why Einstein wrote these words and who was the father.


It turns out that this father was Rabbi Robert Marcus and he was a great man. He was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi in 1931 and earned a degree in law in 1935.  When the United States entered WWII,  Rabbi Marcus left his pregnant wife and two little sons and enlisted in the Army as a Jewish chaplain.  He served under General Patton and landed with the troops at Normandy Beach on D-day.


In April 1945, Rabbi Marcus was one of the first chaplains to participate in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.  He walked through indescribable scenes of misery. And then he found children!  Amazingly, he discovered 904 Jewish boys who had been hidden and saved by the camp inmates.  Among them was a 16-year-old boy named Elie Wiesel.  The youngest was a 7-year-old boy named Yisrael Mayer Lau.  He grew up to become the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel.  


For the Buchenwald boys, Rabbi Marcus,  Levy writes, ".. became their home, their father, their mother, their rabbi, their teacher, with arms wide enough and a heart big enough to embrace them all."  He worked with them and accompanied hundreds of them to an orphanage in France.


Rabbi Marcus helped establish a farm in Germany to teach teenage boys and girls who wanted to live in Israel the skills that they would need. One of them became the renowned therapist,  Dr. Ruth Westheimer.    Rabbi Marcus returned to the United States and continued working to help survivors of the Holocaust.


In the year 1949, Rabbi Marcus's eldest son, Jay, died of polio. This man who had been so strong at Normandy Beach and so loving at Buchenwald was overcome with grief. He wrote a letter to the smartest man in the world, Albert Einstein. Here is a portion of  that letter:

"Dear Dr. Einstein,

Last summer my eleven-year-old son died of Polio.  He was an unusual child, a lad of great promise who verily thirsted after knowledge so that he could prepare himself for a useful life in the community.  His death has shattered the very structure of my existence, my very life has become an almost meaningless void--for all my dreams and aspirations were somehow associated with his future and his strivings...I have tried during the past months to find comfort for my anguished spirit, a measure of solace to help me bear the agony of losing one dearer than life itself...  

May I have a word from you?  I need help badly.

Sincerely Yours,

Robert S. Marcus" 


Can you relate to Rabbi Marcus?  I can because I felt exactly the same way when my sweet, wonderful husband died of cancer. Rabbi Levy could relate because she tragically lost her dear father.


Albert Einstein wrote to Rabbi Marcus his description of our relationship to the universe.

Here is a portion:

"Dear Dr. Marcus,

A human being is part of the whole...called by us Universe...He experiences himself... as something separate from the rest...a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness...striving to free oneself from this the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.

With my best wishes,


Albert Einstein"


Do Einstein's words sound comforting to you?  They seem a little cold and impersonal to me, but when Rabbi Levy combines them with the vision of mystical Judaism, they touch my heart. She states,  "I believe that the physical world we perceive is actually part of a spiritual world that is as close to us as our own breath.  We are all part of a churning cosmic stew, surrounded by souls we cannot see.  And that same stream of eternity runs through us and through everything around us."


So, from the tiniest particles of matter to the largest galaxies in the Universe,  to the soul within us, we are together and we will endure forever?  That comforts me.


On this Yom Kippur, I offer a lesson and a prayer from Rabbi Naomi Levy:

"Within us, there lies a soul that is eternal and immortal.  A soul full of wisdom and love that emanates from the Creator.  A soul that links us together in life and can never be extinguished.

May we meet the soul inside us.  May we welcome its timeless teachings and may we open our eyes to the world it sees and knows:  a Oneness that encompasses us all."


G'mar chatima tova

Fri, September 17 2021 11 Tishrei 5782