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Meditation before Neilah 5778 — Don’t Hold Back

October 3, 2017

The day is almost over. I know that everyone is hungry and tired. I want to share a very short thought to hopefully help us get over that last hump.


The Selichot that we have been saying for the past two weeks and that serve as the cetral piece of Ne’ilah are structured around the 13 attributes of mercy. Each time they appear, the section concludes with alluion to another episode in the Torah, Moshe’s asking for mercy in light of the חטא המרגלים (sin of the spies). It concludes with God’s response:

ויאמר ה’ סלחתי כדברך — And God said, ‘I forgive them according to your words” (Bamidbar 14:20). This, then becomes our focus in Selichot– Hashem forgives us according to our words; according to what we ask for.

Rabbi Soloveitchik has an interesting insight into this idea in his commentary on the Haggadah of all places. He writes, describing the slavery experienced by the Jews in Egypt:

“The real tragedy of the slave consists in the fact that he himself does not understand how shameful and horrible the experience of slavery is. the Jewish slaves in Egypt complained only about the work, the physical labor they were forced to do. However, the did not cry about the disintegration of the famil community caused by Pharaoh’s edict. They did no indict Pharaoh for denying them the basic rights that God granted to every human being…Yetziat Mizrayim would not have been a total act of redemption if god had been guided only by their prayers.

“Indeed, I always say that we would be a most unfortunate people if god were guided exclusively by our prayers. Sometmes we pray for things that are a menace to us, and sometimes we not pray for things that are of the greatest importance….” (The Seder Night. An Exhalted Evening, p. 75)


I was reminded of a great story that relates to this. The story comes from Randy Pausch, who was a professor at Carnegie Mellon, author of The Last Lecture. Pausch was diagnosed with brain cancer. He prepared a final lecture to impart wisdom and life lessons he wanted to share with his family. His focus of study was computer science and artificial intelligence. From the time he was a young kid, he was fascinated by Walt Disney World and one of his lifelong dreams was to work at Disney as an Imagineer. He was able to realize that dream when he was able to convince his university and Disney to allow him to spend a sabbatical working at Disney on one of their first rides employing Artificial Intelligence, the Aladin Ride. The story describes a family vacation to Disney. Pausch is with his father and his son, Dylan:

ON MY dad’s last trip to Disney World, he and I were waiting for the monorail with Dylan, who was then four years old. Dylan had this urge to sit in the vehicle’s cool-looking nose-cone, with the driver. My theme-park-loving father thought that would be a huge kick, too. “Too bad they don’t let regular people sit up there,” he said.

“Hmmmm,” I said. “Actually, Dad, having been an Imaginer, I’ve learned that there’s a trick to getting to sit up front. Do you want to see it?”

He said sure.

So I walked over to the smiling Disney monorail attendant and said: “Excuse me, could the three of us please sit in the front car?”

“Certainly, sir,” the attendant said. He opened the gate and we took our seats beside the driver. It was one of the only times in my life I ever saw my dad completely flabbergasted. “I said there was a trick,” I told him as we sped toward the Magic Kingdom. “I didn’t say it was a hard trick.”

Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

As we say Neilah, let’s keep this in mind. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. Hashem is listening and prepared to answer for whatever we ask for. Let’s not hold back.



From → Chagim, Yamim Noraim

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