Revealing Our True Selves on Yom Kippur: Kol Nidre 5774


Revealing Our True Selves on Yom Kippur
Kol Nidre 5774, Congregation Dorshei Emet
In response to Bill 60, the Quebec “Charter of Values”

There is a legend, alluded to in our machzor and elsewhere, that the words of Kol Nidre have a hidden meaning.

“Biyeshiva shel ma’alah ubiyeshiva shel matah…Anu matirin lehitpalel im ha’avaryanim.”

“By the authority of the heavenly court, and by the authority of the earthly court; with the consent of the Everpresent and with the consent of this congregation, We hereby permit to pray with those who have transgressed.”

“Anu matirin lehitpalel im ha’avaryanim.”  – According to Jewish legend, ha’avaryanim, those who have transgressed, is a word play on iberyanim, Spaniards, referring to the Jews of Spain who were forced to convert to Christianity during the time of the inquisition in the 15th century.

So: we begin our Kol Nidre service by declaring not only that we permit praying with sinners (‘cause how else would any of us be able to come to shul if sinners were not permitted here??) but, and this would have had special
meaning in the 15th and 16th centuries, also we permit praying with Conversos, with those who have been converted to Christianity, with those who have seemingly turned their back on Judaism but actually, secretly, still hold the desire to be at Kol Nidre service. Still hold on to their hidden identity as a Jew.

After all, who can know anyone’s true reasons for what they do? We can outwardly pledge something for political or social gain but hold our true beliefs on the inside. Jews have had to do this throughout history – from the times of the Roman persecutions when Jews had to study underground or face execution, to the Inquisition and generations of secret Jews who lit Shabbat candles despite their publicly sworn Christianity, to the refusniks of the Soviet era who risked their lives for a piece of matzah to hold seder. Continue reading

The King and the Invisible Gates: Rosh Hashanah 5774


Sometimes, the obstacles are imaginary.

The King and the Invisible Gates
Delivered Rosh Hashanah Evening, September 4, 2013
Congregation Dorshei Emet
Rabbi Julia Appel

I want to tell you a story, a story I learned from my teacher Rabbi Art Green. It’s a story of the Baal Shem Tov, the first Chassidic rebbe – a mystic, a healer, a miracle worker.

It’s a story about a king.  A king all alone, sitting in his throne. The king sighs. “All I want is to be close to my people!” he says. “I know! Maybe no one knows I am here! I will bring my throne right up to the street, right where anyone can find me.” So he brings his throne right up to the street, right where anyone can find him. But no one comes.

The king sighs. “All I want is to be close to my people!” he says.  “I know! I will create an optical illusion – I will make the people see something that isn’t really here. I will make them see towers, ramps and moats, and gate after gate between them and me. And next to each of these imaginary gates I will place a treasure.”

So the king creates the illusion, of towers, of ramps and moats, of gate after gate leading up to his throne, that aren’t really there. And he sends out invitations to his people: “Come! Everyone is invited to visit me! But you must go through gate after gate to reach me, and whoever does, will get to visit with me!” Then he scatters treasures around each gate. It is a test.

What a challenge! The people begin to come, to try to make it through all these gates to see the king. The first one, the cook, comes and makes it to the first gate, but she stops there and looks down. “Oh my! What beautiful kettles made of shiny new copper and what beautiful oiled wood handles!” She picks up a kettle and carries it home, whistling as she walks. Continue reading