The Moment of Truth

A friend shared this with us recently. We do realize it is currently Rosh Hashanah (and not Yom Kippur) but wanted to share it now anyway:

And so it is upon us once again. The end of an old year, the beginning of a new one, and finally the day of Yom Kippur. Three hundred and sixty-five days of human existence; achievement and failure, effort and waste, happiness and sorrow, life and death. One seventieth of a life gone forever. One seventieth of a fleeting dream that flees further away. Another year behind, another year ahead.

One should, I suppose, begin the annual, the ever-present message of Mussar - exhortation - bidding the individual to return, to repent, to change his ways. One should, I suppose, take down from the attic of last year all the fiery words, the clever phrases, the slogans, the clichés, the reams and reams of words, and go do battle in the war of repentance. One should do this, I suppose, but I for one find great difficulty in this.

What can one say that has not been said? What can one write that has not been written? Is it not a fact that the ritual of Mussar speeches has become an automatic, mechanical thing exceeded only by the meaningless robotism of the “repenters” as they go through the motions of the fast and the beating of the breast? Is there not reason to be discouraged and disheartened, overwhelmed by the futility of re-shaping human beings?

And yet, how can one be quiet? How can one shut his eyes and close his lips when so much cries out to be said? For despite what some may think, the observant Jew cares for his brothers. He could not hurt so much, did he not love so much. If he chastises the non-observant - it is as a father admonishing a son. If he cries out - it is as a mother torn with anguish for her child. And so we try, and try, and try again. Perhaps despite the failures of the past, regardless of the wrongs behind us, despite the seeming indifference, perhaps, another attempt, another appeal, another plea, will move an individual here or there to search his ways, to evaluate his soul. Perhaps a few words, not in a voice of thunder or in tones of fire - but in a Small Voice - will enter a solitary heart somewhere.

Every Man has his moment of truth. It is the moment when the clouds of pretense blow away. When the fog of self-deception lifts, when the smoke screen of subterfuge clears. It is that rarest moment of purity, when with a courage born of desperation or hopelessness or resignation, a man dares to bare his soul and see himself and his world as they truly are. It is an agonizing, and a terrible experience, but it raises the sufferer from the muck of falsehood and the mire of vanity. It can shatter his existence, but save his life. It can render meaningless all that was built, but go on to build what was rendered meaningless.

The moment of truth. That instant when a man finally meets his relentless pursuer, his adversary that will give him no rest, and one that even the swiftest and the mightiest of mortals cannot flee from - himself.

The moment of truth. When all is placed in proper perspective, when the meaningless becomes truly meaningless, the unimportant truly unimportant, the vanity, vanity. The moment when a man seizes his destiny and shrieks - enough, enough. Done with pursuit of vanity, done with the race of material life, through with the treadmill of foolishness. The moment when a man seeks to count his gold and discovers it to be ashes, when he attempts to embrace his empire and finds it the great illusion, the moment when the values of a lifetime become foolish, sordid, unimportant things.

The moment of truth comes too late for most people. It comes, destroys his beliefs, casts him out spiritually naked, and it is too late to build anew. Woe to such a man, for his is the greatest of curses. Pity him, for he has lost all, and has no time to find himself. Weep for him, for his world of false idols has been shattered, and he has at last glimpsed the truth - but alas, too late; time is too short, indeed it is gone.

And yet the moment of truth is within the reach of every man. It is his to be gained and won by his will and his courage. It is not something transcendental, but rather it exists within his being. Indeed, the capability of reaching his moment of truth is the touchstone of Man. It is sometimes called free will; it is often called the spirit that is man; it is always called courage.

It is not an easy thing for a man to give up a life of indolence. It is not a simple thing to ask him to turn his back upon a life of self-indulgence and material comforts. It is difficult for a simple person to choose greatness, to leap for truth. It is much to ask a Jew to return to traditional Judaism. And yet he is asked to do precisely that. He is asked to destroy all that was his in the past, to cast out his idols, to deny his creations, to purge his soul - to look at the mirror of truth - to acquire his moment of truth.

The non-observant Jew knows. Deep in his heart, buried far away in the inner recesses of his being, he knows. He knows that the path he trods is a false one, that the Judaism he professes is a mockery. He knows that the weird mixture of Sabbath desecration and High Holy Day synagogue attendance, the kosher home coupled with a meal at the Chinese restaurant, the neglect of prayer joined with strict Yartzheit observance is a game, a children’s game, which is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

He knows. Deep within his breast, the little Jewish flame still flickers. Deep in his sub-conscious memory live remembrances of a Jewish home, of the Sabbath as it was meant to be kept, of a warm and tender Judaism. Deep within his soul he wants to find his way home again. He seeks his moment of truth. If only he could, if only he would…

He can. He will. The moment of truth lies within him. His is the power to call it into being. Let him but dig deeply into his Jewish resources and draw from them the traditional Jewish qualities of courage, determination and sacrifice. Let him seek out the traditional rabbi who will hold the lamp as he wends his way home. Let the warm memories of his grandfather’s home burn into his soul. Then will he return to his brothers. Then will he find his moment of truth.

By Rabbi Meir Kahane
October 5, 1962
The Jewish Press



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