Rabbi Gershon Avtzon

Who has not heard of the Heimlich maneuver? While most people reading this column are probably aware of the lifesaving maneuver for people who are choking, many are not aware that its inventor, Henry Heimlich, lived here in Cincinnati. He was born to Jewish parents in Wilmington, Delaware, and passed away in a Cincinnati hospital at age 96.

While the Heimlich maneuver works best for people who are choking and conscious, for those patients who are unconscious (for whatever reason), the recommended treatment is CPR. CPR, short for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is a medical procedure involving repeated compression of a patient’s chest, performed in an attempt to restore the blood circulation and breathing of a person who has suffered

cardiac arrest.

Many people get certified in CPR. As parents, teachers, or just because we feel responsible for others, we want to be prepared for basic emergencies. It is not enough to learn the material once; it must be frequently reviewed. While I was recently reviewing my CPR training and also beginning to think about the upcoming High Holidays, it occurred to me that I have another type of CPR course needing review: The Charity, Prayer and Repentance course. 

One of the most moving prayers on the high holidays is “Unesanneh Toikef – Let us proclaim the power [of the holiness of this day].” While scholars have debated the origins of the prayer, the powerful liturgy is unquestioned. The part that is perhaps most famous translates as: 

“On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.” 

When the chazzan (cantor) finishes chanting this prayer, the congregation proclaims: “But Repentence, Prayer and Charity remove the evil of the decree!”

Let us review our “spiritual CPR” course, one chapter at a time:

Charity: When giving charitable contributions, it is very important that we do not feel that we are doing something extra – rather, that we are doing the right thing. We must be thankful that G-d Almighty has put us in the position of being able to give and help, and ultimately it is how much we give and help that determines our real worth.

It is said that Queen Victoria once asked Sir Moses Montefiore, “Sir Moses, what is the extent of your wealth? How much do you own?” Sir Moses responded that he would need a few days to do some accounting, and then he would have an answer for her. He came back within a few days with a reply. Queen Victoria was upset when he stated a number, commenting, “This is offensive: Everyone knows that you have far greater wealth.” Sir Moses responded, “Your majesty, my only true wealth is money that I have given to charity. Anything else I possess is merely temporary and may someday be lost or confiscated.”

Prayer: While to many, the idea of prayer is a time to make your personal and general requests of the Almighty, it should really be looked at as a time of connection. It is a like a child calling their parents: while many times, especially when we are younger, we request things of our parents, it is the connection with our parents that we want. 

Repentance: The Hebrew word for “repentance” is teshuvah. This word also means “return.” While repentance is for sinners, Teshuvah is for all Jews, for true teshuvah means to return to G-d Almighty. Just by living in this physical world, surrounded by physical desires and temptations, we have moved far away from the purity that our soul experienced while in Heaven. We all can work on returning to this pure state, by revealing the purity of the soul, which is inside each of us. 

Shabbat Shalom!


You can email Rabbi Gerson Avtzon at  lessonsinlife@americanisraelite.com.

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