Atoning Before G-D: What if This Is Your Last Chance? – The American Spectator

Jews throughout the world are marking Yom Kippur 5784 this year from sunset on Sunday night, September 24, through nightfall on Monday the 25th. During those 25 hours, we may not eat, not drink (even water), may not apply creams or lotions, may not bathe or wash for comfort but only for hygienic reasons, spouses may not have physical contact, and we may not wear shoes that have leather soles or uppers. It is not a day of sadness or mourning but a joyous day of hope that we will be forgiven our sins as we atone before G-d.

And it falls on no one but ourselves to make things right.

As taught in our tradition, on this day all of humanity, Jews and non-Jews alike, proceed before G-d as He judges the world: how many shall pass and how many shall be born, who shall live and who shall die, who at a ripe timely age and who prematurely, who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by earthquake and who by plague, who by strangulation and who by stones and rocks, who will rest and who will be agitated, who will become impoverished and who enriched, who will be brought down and who will rise up. Repentance, Prayer, and Charity can reverse an adverse Divine decree. (RELATED: On Chanukah, My Appendix, and the High Kohen)

Do some of these words sound like they come from a Leonard Cohen song? Well, actually it is the other way around. He was educated with some — not enough — Judaism and took pride in being a Kohen, a member of the dynastic priestly class tracing back through 3,000 years of lineage to Aharon (Aaron) the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the Bible, brother of Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher).

Several stirring YouTube clips that have been composed encapsulate the above litany. A British woman named Adina Levy has done these for this year and last year (and many before). Even if you are not Jewish, the ones for Yom Kippur 5784 (reviewing the year now ending) and 5783 will stir you. They are not “Jewish” per se — though a bit more Israel and England focused — but six-minute aggregations of those who have lived and died throughout the world in manners described above. They bring home how temporal all our lives are. Whether a Jew facing the call of Yom Kippur or a Christian facing the call of Easter or simply the call of every day of life, it all can end so soon. And it falls on no one but ourselves to make things right. With people we love. Perhaps with some we do not. And with G-d.

Sufferings and Afflictions of Love

[Rabbi] Rava said, and some say [it was] Rav Chisda: “If a person sees that suffering comes upon him, he should examine his deeds, as [the Bible] says: “We shall search our ways and examine [them], and we shall return to G-d.” (Eikhah/Lamentations 3:40) If he examined [his deeds] and did not find [anything wrongful], he should attribute [the suffering] to neglecting Torah study, as it says: ‘Happy is the man whom G-d causes to suffer, and teach him from your Torah.’ (TehillimPsalms 94:12) And if he thus attributed [his suffering to neglecting Torah study] but still did not find [anything wrongful in his behavior because he indeed had studied much Torah], it is certain these are afflictions of love, as it says: ‘For whom G-d loves, He chastises.’” (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:12)

Talmud, Tractate B’rakhot 5a.

At times, a person’s body becomes sick, and he is compelled to deal with getting healed, and it is worthwhile that he know the root of his illness is steeped in a spiritual lacuna, that stems from sin or because he should have ascended to a higher level, and because he did not rise [to that level], there came upon him sufferings to elevate him [spiritually]. Therefore, together with a person going to a doctor and caring for himself in the “natural ways,” it is incumbent on him [also] to undertake an internal spiritual accounting, in order to determine the source of his illness.

P’ninei Halakhah 13:15.

King Asa — Third King of Judea

King Asa was the third king of Judea after the Northern Kingdom of Ten Tribes obtained their independence by seceding from the previously united Israelite kingdom that had been ruled by Kings Saul, David, and Solomon. The Bible tells us King Asa mostly was quite righteous and reigned a remarkable 41 years as monarch of the Southern Kingdom. Yet the text makes a striking departure for one verse before recording his death:

And Asa, during the 39th year of his reign, became diseased in his feet, an exceeding ailment, and [yet] amid his illness did not seek out [help from] G-d but from physicians.

Divrei Hayomim Bet/II Chronicles 16:12.  The Bible commentator Rashi tells us the swelling, like edema in his feet, spread all the way to his head. Rabbi Malbim adds that King Asa’s dependence exclusively on medical doctors without praying to G-d reflected a deficit in his perfect faith. And the commentator Chomat Anakh saw that trait as reflecting King Asa’s similar prior turning to humans for salvation, rather than to G-d, as when he had sent monetary tribute and a plea to King Ben-Hadad of Aram to ally with him in battle against the Northern Kingdom’s fiercely threatening King Baasha. Divrei Hayomim Bet/II Chronicles 16:2-4.


One evening in 2014, while teaching my once-weekly four-hour Wednesday law school lecture — two classes, two hours each, with one ten-minute break to eat a Cliff Bar — I noticed curiously that I could not take deep breaths without triggering coughing. It was strange because I did not have a virus or cough, and felt fully OK.  I saw a pulmonologist at a prominent Los Angeles hospital. He was ethnically Jewish, looked at my CT scan, and made light: “Oh, it’s just some schmutz (dirt) in your lungs.” Just some schmutz.

Maybe most of all — waste less time. When you are facing your last day, time assumes new urgency.

Out of concern, I sought — and G-d helped me find — a second pulmonologist, much better. Nevertheless, over the next six years my lung condition steadily worsened. The disease is called “interstitial lung disease,” and mine is idiopathic in that its cause cannot be determined. I still was a full-time rav (Orthodox rabbi) and lecturing at law school four hours each Wednesday and for shul (synagoue) three 90-minute Bible and religion classes weekly. But I needed to start using a portable oxygen concentrator during waking hours. It comes with settings 1-5; I was at “1” and graduated a few months later to “2.” (RELATED: The Saddest Day in the Jewish Calendar)

By mid-2020, my lung condition began deteriorating at a more rapid pace. I now was at “3.” I continued teaching my three weekly classes for shul, now via Zoom, removing the cannulae from my nostrils just before each class — and then back on the moment class ended, with several minutes restorative deep breaths at “5.” By January 2021, my lungs had degraded to level “4.” By the end of 2021, I was at “5.” Soon thereafter, I needed level “6” — beyond the machine’s capacity. There are large metal tanks that go to “10,” but that was not a solution with my lungs degrading even more rapidly.

If not for my wife, I now would be dead. She discerned better than I that I was approaching the finish line, and she devoted several days to gathering my every medical record, chart, and report. She then made appointments for me to be evaluated by lung transplant teams at several hospitals. The first was for Monday, March 21, 2022. The others later; I would choose selectively.

After a full battery of diagnostic tests during the first evaluation, the hospital’s lung-transplant department head told me: “I cannot restrain you here against your will, but I recommend strongly that you check into the E.R. immediately because, if you go home now, you very possibly won’t wake up tomorrow.” (Very persuasive marketing ploy, huh?) I skipped the other appointments and “selected” that first hospital — that minute. I was in a hospital bed that night, with high-velocity oxygen being pumped into me at the equivalent of setting “40.” Next, they ran batteries of tests to determine whether I would even qualify to receive a new lung. For example, no facility will transplant into a person with an active perilous disease. Through G-d’s kindnesses, I passed all diagnostics — with a few scares. For example, one test suggested half my diaphragm was paralyzed; that would have disqualified me, meaning death. They ran the test again, and my diaphragm got the memo. Next, critically, I had to pass a challenging physical-activity test. After two years of receding respiration, I could not come close. The hospital’s physical therapists were unable to strengthen me. I, who had exercised regularly at a gym for thirty years, now was listed as “frail.” I began realizing, not out of bleak despair but stark reality, that I was going…

Read More: Atoning Before G-D: What if This Is Your Last Chance? – The American Spectator