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The new "You" & a lesson from one Holocaust Survivor (Yom Kippur Sermon at Chabad of Sudbury)

Thursday, 27 September, 2012 - 12:59 pm

ReadingA country family packed on a horse drawn carriage and made the three-hour ride into the city for a nephew’s wedding. The wedding was held in a five star hotel and the country man was completely unhinged when he entered the ornate lobby. Somehow, he fumbled his way through registration and followed directions to a cubicle, which he was told was called elevator.

The man had never seen an elevator before in his life and had no idea what it was for, but he was told to make his way to the elevator and he did. Standing before the gleaming silver doors his eyes went wide when they soundlessly parted to reveal a cozy little room carpeted in homely colors. An old janitor with graying hair wearing wrinkled clothing pushed his mop before him and trudged into the room. The man stood back and watched with amazement as the doors parted several minutes later and out walked a sprightly youthful and smartly young man who beamed a perfect smile at him as he floated past.

The wife turned to her husband and yells, get in that room!

Yom Kippur Elevator

Good Yom Tov friends and welcome to the Yom Kippur elevator. Today you have entered this room and have joined millions of Jews around the world who are celebrating and marking the holy day of Yom Kippur.

Today, Yom Kippur is a day of progress, as we reflect on our relationship with G-d our creator, and focus on how we can grow out of this experience and become a better person and a better Jew.

Yom Kippur is an elevator because it allows us shine, and it allows us to use this transformative day in a deep and meaningful way, by helping us remove and wash away the grime and wrinkles, and leave us scrubbed, fresh and cleansed of our sins and our imperfections.

The Kohanim’s Clothes

Many years ago, when the High Priest would do the special service in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he had two sets of clothing, a set of gold clothes, and a set of white linen clothes. On Yom Kippur, on the day when he would enter the Holy of Holies he would wear the white clothes, which were to be donned just the one time and then put away forever, never to be used again.

The commentaries discuss and give various reasons why the clothing couldn’t be recycled for a different year for the High Priest to wear on another Yom Kippur and why he had to wear new clothing each year. They obviously weren’t short on washing machines and good detergent and they also had plenty of great dry cleaners so those obviously weren’t the deciding factors. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schnersohn once explained that one of the reasons for this unique custom was, since the High Priest when entering the Holy of Holies was doing so to express Teshuva, which is remorse & regret and a return to one’s true self as well as a resolve for the future. He did this important job on behalf of himself, but more importantly, he did this on behalf of the entire Jewish people.

This experience was a very powerful one, and one that was not about a rehash of the same old self and words and just a repeat of the previous Yom Kippur experience. Rather, it was all about creating something entirely new out of the purity and message of Yom Kippur, a new you and new self. In other words, the Yom Kippur experience was and still is about people becoming a better and more beautiful person as a result of the Yom Kippur, than they were before the New Year and the High Holidays began. It was this idea of creating a new self, that was symbolized by the High Priest wearing new clothes on Yom Kippur and not just recycling the old clothes that had been used on previous years.

How is this Change going to happen?

At this point as you think about creating the new self, you are probably looking around the room for the plastic surgeons or makeup artists who going to make this transformation and beautiful new you, and you are probably thinking about all those ads that offer you the chance finance your facial makeover. However, fortunately we forgot to arrange the makeover artists and plastic surgeons, as instead you yourselves are going to be the makeover artists. The new you, is going to come from within you and draw on your own inborn and inherited strengths that are part of who you are and are part of the tremendous power that we can draw on from our Jewish history, tradition and spirituality.

Nevertheless, the big question remains, how does the change happen and how can we ensure that this change occurs?


To answer this I would like to share a story, which I recently read from a contemporary of mine from Toronto who is friendly with the uncle of the girl in the story.

There was a young teenage girl called Yael Weiss who recently participated on a trip to Europe and the concentration camps along with a group of classmates and friends. At the end of the trip, the participants were asked if they would like to share their feelings about the trip.

Yael volunteered and shared the story of her grandmother Esther.

Yael’s Grandmother Esther was born in Eastern Europe before the war and lost her father at a young age. At the young age of fifteen she was deported with her mother to a concentration camp where her mother was immediately sent to her death and Esther was left alone in the world. Esther was given the terrible job of carting a wagon of bodies of people who had been murdered. The work was grueling both physically and emotionally as this young girl faced the daily unspeakable horrors of the worst of the concentration camps.

The day arrived when the British drew close and eventually conquered the camp. At this point Esther was so weak and suffering from such severe malnutrition that she couldn’t even move. Instead, she just lay barely lifeless next to other bodies of people who had been killed or who had perished.

As the British drove by her spot, they did a quick glance and saw only the dead and started to move on. It was at this point that Esther forced herself with her last ounce of strength to raise her arm just one time for just a fleeting instant before it too fell back down. It was in that brief moment, that the British soldiers noticed and turned around and took her to the hospital where she remained stuck in bed for almost three more months in between ill health and the inability to get up.

One day she actually got out of bed and started looking around the room for her mother. The nurses who were quite surprised, told her that her mother never came and was never there. Esther replied, that she had gotten us as she had heard her mother in a dream telling her, “its enough and its time to get up and carry on”.

Yael said that she has no idea how, but the grandmother who she knew was a person full of joy of life, and someone with a  tremendously positive attitude. Over the course of her life  she helped bring into the world eighteen children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Yael then turned to face her friends and said, “every one of my grandmother’s eighteen descendants are successful and doing their part to make this world a better place, through they work, studies, or volunteerism, and all ……  because of one small brief movement of my grandmother when she lifted her arm for that fleeting moment”.

Yael then turned to her friends and said ”let us not underestimate the power of one single act, one act of kindness, one smile, one helping hand, or one Mitzvah of lighting Shabbat Candles, one extra prayer, or one extra Mitzvah, never underestimate its power”.

The Change

Friends, the change we are looking for, the new self that we are looking to express, happens in one way, by taking all our thoughts, inspirations and feelings of Yom Kippur and channeling them into an action, into single new  tangible commitment for our Judaism and in turn for our fellow man and our communities.

Never underestimate that action, as that action is powerful, awesome, and tremendous, and has  the ability to bring real positive changes to your life and into the life of your children and family members. Your new commitment to an action and Mitzvah will yet generate a tremendous ripple on your own relationship with G-d, on your Jewish identity, and on the community and world in which live in.

As Neil Armstrong so famously said “it’s a small step for man, but a giant leap for mankind”. In Judaism we believe that every action is a leap for mankind and it us to us to life up our arm and make that move . Today as we recite Yizkor, let us not only remember the past but let us think of the future and of our children, of our families and of our communities and let us not leave here today before we have thought of a Mitzvah that we can take undertake, that will be our 5773 contribution for a better and new self, and a better and new world.

At Chabad the show doesn’t end tonight, but continues throughout the year, and today is just the kick off for the year. We are always available to discuss Judaism, Baseball and  life, and everything else in between. If you would like to discuss or share your Yom Kippur new Mitzvah we would be happy to hear and be a part of it.

Friends the makeover has begun, we are on the way up in the elevator, and the doors will soon open for the new self to emerge.

Let’s use the opportunity and the tremendous spirit and inspiration of Yom Kippur to make it happen.

Gmar Chasima Tova

Rabbi Yisroel Freeman

Comments on: The new "You" & a lesson from one Holocaust Survivor (Yom Kippur Sermon at Chabad of Sudbury)

Alan Moskowitz wrote...

Terrific sermon with a touching and powerful story. Thanks for sharing it.