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“My Love Will Find You”

Yom Kippur 5780

October 17, 2019

Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You

Nancy Tillman

I wanted you more
than you ever will know,
so I sent love to follow
wherever you go.
It’s high as you wish it. It’s quick as an elf.
You’ll never outgrow it…it stretches itself!
So climb any mountain…
climb up to the sky!

My love will find you …

… and if someday you’re lonely,
or someday you’re sad,
or you strike out at baseball,
or think you’ve been bad…
just lift up your face, feel the wind in your hair.
That’s me, my sweet baby, my love is right there …

“You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,”
they all say …

… if you’re still my small babe
or you’re all the way grown,
my promise to you
is you’re never alone.

You are my angel, my darling,
my star…and my love will find you,
wherever you are. . .

This past Saturday afternoon, on Shabbat Shuvah, I was putting our son Shir down for a nap. I read him Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You (excerpted above) – one of our favorites and I thought – this is the message of Yom Kippur. We have so much gorgeous liturgy in our heavy, golden machzorim, and if I were to distill it all down into something tweetable, it would be this – “Wherever you are, My Love Will Find You.”

In the haftarah reading from this past Shabbat, we heard the words of the prophet Hoshe’a: “Shuvah Yisrael Ad Adonai Eloheikha.” The simple meaning of the verse is “Return, Israel, to your God.” but the word choice is strange. Rather than saying “Shuva Yisrael el Adonai,” which literally means “Return Israel to God,” the verse reads “Shuva Yisrael ad Adonai,” which might more accurately be translated as “Return Israel, toward God.”  Return Israel, toward your God. 

Our rabbis, in the midrash understand this verse to be saying that If we take the first step, if we turn toward God, we will find God coming out to meet us. “Wherever you are,” God promises, “my love will find you.”

As we are gathered together on this Yom Kippur evening and morning, I want to share a story from this past year of turning towards God’s loving presence and feeling that unending love meeting us where we were. In the coming year, I hope to have an opportunity to hear your stories as well, of times when you have experienced this love and of times when it has been hard to access. I am thankful to my nephew, Shimon, who taught us this year about love.

This past Thursday night, Yosef and I attended a seudat hoda’ah, a festive meal of gratitude, that Yosef’s twin brother, Bin and our sister-in-law, Penina, held in celebration of the miraculous recovery of their thirteen-year-old son, our spirited nephew, Shimon.

It all began on April 9th, just months after Shimon’s Bar Mitzvah. We saw a post on Facebook from Bin marked urgent. “A child desperately needs your prayers right now! Shimon Simcha ben Penina Yehudis.” We learned that Shimon, otherwise healthy, had gone to the school nurse that afternoon complaining of the worst headache of his life. Alarmed, the nurse called his parents immediately. They took him to urgent care, whereupon he was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital. Before long, he was in the OR for surgery to stop the bleeding in his brain. 

Shimon was in a coma for nearly a week and spent the next 68 days in the hospital and in rehab, where his mother slept by his side in a reclining chair every night. Just six months later, after multiple surgeries, Shimon is walking, talking and telling jokes. At the celebration this past Thursday night, Shimon – a gifted singer – once again sang his favorite songs with the band and danced with his friends. The community chanted psalms of gratitude. Shimon bentsched gomel, the blessing recited upon surviving a life-threatening situation. Rabbis shared words of Torah. We gave a standing ovation to the nurses of St. Joseph’s hospital, who were there that evening to share in the joy of Shimon’s recovery. The nurses who lovingly cared for Shimon, who were there with him before he was wheeled into each of his surgeries, as he would blast from his i-pad, the Ramones song, “I wanna be sedated.” We expressed gratitude not only for Shimon’s return to health and strength, but for the outpouring of chesed, of acts of lovingkindness, the endless streams of tefillot, prayers, and the countless good deeds performed around the world in the name of bringing healing for Shimon.

Here are a few examples. There is a custom of reciting tehillim, the Book of Psalms for the sake of praying for healing for one who is ill. When they heard the news about Shimon, hundreds of Bin and Penina’s friends and even more strangers began saying tehillim. The week before Pesach, dozens of women baked challah, in the hopes that doing this mitzvah would help bring healing for Shimon. When my sister-in-law, Penina, told me this she said, “Can you believe it? The week before pesach! No one bakes new challah the week before Pesach!” 

The boys in Shimon’s class declared themselves Shimon’s Army and prayed with all their might. They made matching T-Shirts. They took on the mitzvah of studying mishnah – gathering every Thursday night to work their way through the entire body of text, many for the first time. In the midst of this intense and fragile journey, Penina said to me, “I’ve never been more proud to be part of the Jewish people.” Many in our BZBI community joined us in prayer each Shabbat, and to you, we are grateful. 

When Shimon first woke up from his coma, he was full of wonder that God had kept him alive. The relief and gratitude felt by family, friends and strangers around the world who joined Shimon’s Army, can be summed up by the title of Shimon’s favorite song,Thank you Hashem. At the seudah this week, Shimon’s grandfather, Rabbi Benjy Yudin, spoke about the Torah’s description of the korban todah – the offering of thanksgiving that our ancestors would bring to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to express gratitude. The korban todah was brought by people who recovered from illness; those who were freed from prison; and those who took a long journey, crossing the desert or the sea.

The Korban Todah consisted of forty loaves of bread along with the animal sacrifice.  And the rule was that it all had to be consumed in its entirety on the day it was offered. It was forbidden to have leftovers. Unlike other sacrifices, there were no to-go-containers allowed at the altar. One might ask, why would such a large quantity of food be required? In order to compel celebrants to find others who could share in the offering. The korban todah was meant to be shared. So, too, our gratitude is expressed most fully in community.

Shimon and our family were changed by the outpouring of chesed and by the abundance of mitzvot performed in his honor. And all those who were part of the circle of giving and praying and doing were also transformed in this process.

Bin and Penina describe how God was with them through this ordeal, holding their hands through everything that came their way – one day at a time, from moment to moment. Amidst our gratitude, and with tears, we hold the unanswerable question of why Shimon was saved and some of the other children who were in beds near him in the PICU did not make it.

We all must ultimately surrender to what is, and there is so much we can never know..We can’t know for sure if and how our prayers actually move God to change our fate, and yet, we continue to pray. Shimon’s Army flooded the heavens with prayers, and the earth below with ma’asim tovim, good deeds. In the most fragile moments of uncertainty, we did what we could and we lived as though what we do matters greatly. As though each mitzvah and each moment is imbued with infinite potential to tap into God’s love and to expand the reach of this love.  Shimon became a channel for so many of us to call out to God, to shower others with kindness, to connect to one another, to express gratitude. As we prayed, terrified and determined, we experienced the godliness and goodness that streams through all of creation. We floated on an ocean of love. And even as we raged against the possibility of loss, we had faith that whatever the outcome would be, we would not be alone. 


On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we recite the words of Unetaneh Tokef – a prayer that places us face to face with our mortality, with the impenetrable mystery of what will be. We ask the most terrifying questions. Who will live and who will die? And how will we meet our end? And how will we go on living? And what is the meaning of it all?

On Rosh Hashanah, I shared the story of Elly Gross, a Holocaust Survivor, who was part of a class action suit seeking compensation for slave labor forced upon her during the war. When interviewed on television, Gross said, “I guess it was my destiny to live.”

The poet, June Jordan, was touched by these words. 

She wrote:

“[Elly] meant that her life hopes to honor the memory of her mother and her five-year old brother who were waved to the left – to their death – by a white-gloved Nazi officer, June 2, 1944, while she was waved to the right, first to Auschwitz, and then to the slave labor at Fallersleben.

She meant that to live is not just a given: To live means you owe something big to those whose lives are taken away from them. . .

June Jordan continues:

…I realized that regardless of the tragedy, regardless of the grief, regardless of the monstrous challenge, Some of Us Have Not Died. . .

Indeed some of us did not die.

. . .some of us remain . . .

And what shall we do, we who did not die?

What shall we do now? 

The text of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer offers a possible response to the precarity of our human condition, as we worry and wonder about what life will bring our way in the year ahead. 

We sing – U’Teshuvah, u’tefillah u’Tzedakah ma’avrin et ha’Roa Ha’Gezerah – 

Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah have the power to the mitigate the severity of the decree.

Teshuvah – turning and returning to God, repairing our relationships

Tefillah – Prayer

Tzedakah – acts of of justice and righteousness

If we do these things, if we stay connected, while we still may not have the power to control the outcome, we can transform the harshness of the decree. When we cannot change what is – the way we respond to what life deals us can change us and those around us. 

Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah are pathways to love. They are ways of opening our eyes to the life-giving springs of unending love that are available to us; when we work on our relationships, when we open our hearts in prayer, when we pursue justice and give of ourselves to others.

For the entire month of Elul, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we have been adding the recitation of Psalm 27 to our daily prayer. The psalm’s final verse reads, “kaveh el Adonai, hazak v’yaametz libecha, ve-kaveh el Adonai.” Place your hope in Adonai. Be strong, take courage, and place your hope in Adonai. The doubling of the phrase – kaveh el Adonai – is noteworthy. 

The Medieval commentator Malbim explains this repetition by saying that turning towards God in hope – is an end in itself, no matter the outcome. Hope begets hope. 

The Hebrew word Kaveh and the word Tikvah, hope, share a root with the word Kav, which means, line or channel. The Jewish philosopher, Ramhal, highlights that the goal of Kivui, of hoping, is to be connected to God, to stay in relationship, to open ourselves up to the channel of light and love that flows through us, that animates all life and connects us to what is Eternal.

So much of our daily experience is one of fracture and loneliness. The rituals of Yom Kippur, our work making things right in our relationships, our marathons of prayer in community, our mitzvah food drive – our teshuvah, our tefillah, our tzedakah – all of these offer us an opportunity to plug in to the Source of Love and to experience ourselves as part of the Oneness. 

Showing up tonight for Kol Nidre is an act of kivui – a courageous move of hope, of opening up the lines of communication and connection. 

This year – my family and I are saying Thank you, Hashem, for Shimon’s life. Thank you, Hashem for your unending love. 

Thank you, Hashem, for the opportunity to serve this beloved community.

And I am praying:

Please, Hashem: In our vulnerable work on this Holiest of Days, and every day, wherever we find ourselves, may we remember that 

you wanted us more than we ever will know, 

and that you will send love to follow, wherever we go.