Summary: Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz, executive director of Project Y’aleh V’Yavo, focuses on Yom Kippur as a holiday of personal and environmental responsibility.
We believe and pray that on Rosh Hashanah we are inscribed in the Book of Life, while on Yom Kippur the verdict is sealed and made final.
Yet, contrary to popular belief and despite the somber tone, Yom Kippur is not a sad day. In the Talmud, Yom Kippur actually is discussed along with Tu B’Av — the Jewish holiday of love — as one of the happiest days of the year. On Tu B’Av, the single women would engage in an elaborate dance ritual to attract potential spouses. Significantly, we are taught that the women would go out in borrowed white dresses in order not to embarrass those who could not afford them — a powerful metaphor for the proposition that just because you can do something does not necessarily mean that you should do it. For example, while bal taschit — the prohibition against wanton destruction — technically may allow for the destruction of a tree under circumstances such as needing the wood or empty ground to improve adjacent trees, the law simultaneously offers the individual the opportunity to reframe the debate in terms of what we should do rather than what we merely can do.
Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz is the executive director of Project Y’aleh V’Yavo, which offers environmental programs for youth on his maple farm in southern Vermont. Simenowitz, who is also a lawyer and a musician, has spoken widely on Judaism and the environment. He lives in the Baltimore area, where he serves as an advisory-board member of ACHARAI: The Shoshana S. Cardin Leadership Development Institute.
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