How Can We Heal Our Hurts? Yom Kippur 5777

Good morning, and good yontiff. This Day of Judgment uses many

devices for us to confront our humanity, and by extension, our

mortality. The fasting of food and drink, the abstinence from intimacy,

the white kittel that is otherwise worn as a burial shroud, the Yizkor

service, the stark and even frightening language of Unetaneh Tokef are

just several of the many examples. It seems to me that these devices all

combine to express an urgent truth: given our mortality, we have to

make each and every day count. While there is no going backwards and

reclaiming lost yesterdays, each of our ultimately limited number of

tomorrows presents new opportunities for going forward. The stark

reminder of our mortality is Judaism’s urgent insistence that we seize

the choice of life, baharta b’hayim.

I found out the deep truth of this wisdom in recent months. Ten years

ago my left knee collapsed under me. I found out that osteoarthritis

had replaced my cartilage in both knees. I was told my next stop was

TNR and to delay it long as possible. It sounded reasonable to me, and

like a fool I followed that advice. Never did it occur to me to get a

second opinion or learn about possible intermediary treatment options.

Over the next decade the increasing issues with my knees would impact

my life, making it harder to be physically active. The chronic pain added

its own effects which compounded the medical condition. Finally, I had

an incident that prompted a call to an orthopedist. Two days later I was

seen. Within 20 minutes of receiving a shot of cortisone I was getting

relief from the pain, with a follow-on plan far short of surgery already in

place if it is needed, and a follow-on fitting scheduled for an offloader

brace for the OA. The increasing relief over the following days had me

astonished at how good normal is supposed to feel. In the few weeks

since, I feel ten years younger with increased activity, mobility, stride,

gait, etc. I’ve decided to move beyond regretting the time I lost waiting

to seek treatment, and focusing on the critical takeaway: we have a

responsibility to pursue our own healing. Sometimes we might fear the

discomfort of a procedure, or feel we can’t afford time away from work

for recovery and rehab. We humans are terribly creative in coming up

with rationalizations for avoidance; we will always find a reason or a

why when we want to avoid or ignore something. Living with

unnecessary pain, illness, or disease is not an embrace of life; it does

not allow us to access joy and be in the moment, it does not allow us to

participate most fully in the important events and occasions in the lives

of the people who matter most to us, and it isolates us from those who

can be supportive and helpful. Our prayerbook calls G!D “Healer of All

Flesh” and I cannot imagine that it is Divine desire that we be unhealed

when healing is available.

Sometimes we are faced with the need to embrace life knowing that

there is no cure available to us; the illness or disease we bear will be

with us until the very end of our days. In fact, it might well be the cause

for the end of our days. Even then, perhaps especially then, we make

every day count. Judaism’s deep Torah wisdom is that we give

ourselves permission, empower ourselves with the capacity to heal old

hurts and wounds, and move forward. I share with you first a shocking

obituary as an example of this point when we fail to do so.

Dolores Aguilar

1929 - Aug. 7, 2008

Dolores Aguilar, born in 1929 in New Mexico, left us on August 7, 2008.

She will be met in the afterlife by her husband, Raymond, her son, Paul

Jr., and daughter, Ruby.

She is survived by her daughters Marietta, Mitzi, Stella, Beatrice,

Virginia and Ramona, and son Billy; grandchildren, Donnelle, Joe,

Mitzie, Maria, Mario, Marty, Tynette, Tania, Leta, Alexandria, Tommy,

Billy, Mathew, Raymond, Kenny, Javier, Lisa, Ashlie and Michael; great-

grandchildren, Brendan, Joseph, Karissa, Jacob, Delaney, Shawn,

Cienna, Bailey, Christian, Andre Jr., Andrea, Keith, Saeed, Nujaymah,

Salma, Merissa, Emily, Jayci, Isabella, Samantha and Emily. I apologize

if I missed anyone.

Dolores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely

shared a kind word or deed in her life. I speak for the majority of her

family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few

tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing.

Her family will remember Dolores and amongst ourselves we will

remember her in our own way, which were mostly sad and troubling

times throughout the years. We may have some fond memories of her

and perhaps we will think of those times too. But I truly believe at the

end of the day ALL of us will really only miss what we never had, a good

and kind mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. I hope she is

finally at peace with herself. As for the rest of us left behind, I hope this

is the beginning of a time of healing and learning to be a family again.

There will be no service, no prayers and no closure for the family she

spent a lifetime tearing apart. We cannot come together in the end to

see to it that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren can say their

goodbyes. So I say here for all of us, GOOD BYE, MOM.

Virginia Brown of Seattle wrote this obituary of her mother.

When journalist John Bogert of LA’s contacted the 54-year-

old mother of two, this is what she had to say: "I wanted to do the

right thing, the honest thing...When she died a co-worker gave me a

copy of an obituary she wrote for her father as a kind of writing guide.

What struck me was how my mother was none of the things I was

reading. She was never there for us, she was never good and she left no

legacy. So how could I say any of the usual things about her?"

While we might question if publishing this obituary was the right thing

or not, I sense that all of us can agree that this is a family that has

suffered real pain and deserves the blessing of peace in their lives. It

also seems to me that by addressing it head-on, they have done the

most critical act necessary for their healing to occur. It could have been

easy and possibly even justified for Virginia and family to have stayed

angry with their mother. Here’s where Jimmy Buffett offers some

Torah. You’ll recall the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Buffett threw a

benefit relief concert in Gulf Shores, AL. He reworked the lyrics to his

song When The Coast Is Clear to express the dynamic he was witnessing

in response to the catastrophe. “Anger makes us doubtful while fear

can cloud the view”. What an insight! Anger and fear are

understandable, but even so, they absolutely impede our capacity to

work at our best. Anger and fear are also dynamics that keep one an

ongoing victim to their personal hurts. It seems pretty clear to me that

Virginia chose a path of healing to transcend past hurts, and in doing so

chose a path of survivor-hood. We can only begin to imagine the details

underneath her words of farewell; clearly there was incredible

suffering. Her choice to transcend those hurts and by extension choose

life, is an awesome witness to the possibility within us all to do the

same. When we embrace Judaism’s deep Torah wisdom and give

ourselves similar permission, we empower ourselves with the capacity

to heal old hurts and wounds, and move forward with the knowledge

that healing is indeed possible.

My colleague Simkha Weintraub is one of the pioneers of the Jewish

healing movement. He suggests an approach for our spiritual lives

when in pain or illness that he calls “Reaching In, Reaching Out,

Reaching Up.” That’s brilliant, because it is also based on an

interpretation of the refrain from that stark UneTaneh Tokef prayer on

how to face the tribulations that are certain to attend us at some point

or another in our lives.

Reaching In is in essence taking an inventory of our signature strengths

and personality types and applying the understandings that emerge to

our best benefit. Simkha’s approach suggests for example, that

introverts might honor their need for independence while extroverts

can use their gregariousness to draw in others for their help and

support. He notes that each of us needs to bring our skills, gaps,

orientations, strengths, and whatever flaws we posses into these


I mentioned isolation earlier, and that is also an important

understanding behind Simkha’s model of reaching out. Here is where

the connection to community can make a huge difference. This last

year you have shared with many of me the pains you face, and often

the congregation was able to help lighten that burden with meaningful

support, if often quite normal and regular, way. Time and time again I

have heard you say, “Rabbi if it weren’t for the congregation and my

friends I don’t know what I would have done.” The role that a

congregation has in fostering healing in the lives of its community

members is not only critical, it is an exclusive capacity that doesn’t exist

quite the same way in any other venue, organization, or non-familial

group. The ability to make a difference is a key part of what

congregations can do like no other; those who can do it well have are

more likely to be a thriving congregation. Part of our Spring Speaker

series is dedicated to this imperative. Many of you will remember my

mentor Rabbi Steve Glazer from the installation. He will return sharing

insights about Caring For Caregivers, based on his work as a founding

member of Clergy Against Alzheimers. Healing is not always medical, as

noted earlier. That does not preclude it from being a life-saving force.

Our commitment to healing the wound of Domestic Violence goes

beyond the posters in the restrooms; Stacy Long from JCADA is also one

of our speakers. It is my deep prayer that we have a strong turnout for

both of these important presentations and conversations.

Finally, Simkha reminds us that we have to reach up. However we find

transcendence, with our without G!D, we need to redouble our

commitments to it. Prayer, meditation, time in nature, time exploring

art and/or music, time volunteering time in contemplation, taking a

class or serious reading, yoga, dance, journaling or even writing ethical

wills to our loved ones are all ways that we can connect with something

beyond ourselves. They help attune us to the possibilities of the

moment, and the moments waiting beyond the moment. They give us

the means to make each and every day, each and every hour, count.

May this New Year see all of us sealed in the Book of Life and bring

each of us and our loved ones ever closer to places of wholeness and

healing. I wish us all an easy and meaningful fast.

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