Oh the shame of it! I regularly sinned on Yom Kippur each year from 1964-67.
I would stand next to my father, holding onto his Tallit, as I recited the Yom Kippur Amidah and Vidui – Confession. I seem to recall one hand grabbing the corner of his Tallit, the thumb of the other hand in my mouth, and my Machzor – Yom Kippur Prayer book – on a small table in front of me.
He had insisted that I say each word and that I try to understand everything I was saying. Perfect son that I was, I obeyed my great father. He gave me a Birnbaum Machzor to help me understand what I was saying. The problem was that the English was more difficult than the Hebrew. “We acted perniciously!”
I tugged on my father’s Tallit, disturbing his intense prayers to ask him what ‘perniciously” meant. A few minutes later I had to tug again to find out what ‘erratically’ meant. He could be sure of another tug on his Tallit every time he refocused on his prayers from my questions.
I suspect that my father’s Yom Kippur prayers during those years were not his best. Yet, I can still picture the absolute joy on his face each time I tugged on his Tallit. The man must have been a saint; I would have shot my child. I certainly would not have insisted that my child stand next to me when praying. I would have given the privilege to a student (one I didn’t like).
So here I am forty plus years later still feeling guilty for those Yom Kippur sins of my childhood.
Interestingly enough, my father considered those, the best Yom Kippurs of his life. I mentioned those sins just before the final Yom Kippur of his life and he sighed with musical longing as he recalled each and every tug: “Each time you tugged, I remembered that I was doing the same thing to God’s Tallit when I was praying.”
So, my friends tug away at God’s Tallit when you pray. I imagine that His smile will be just as magnificent as my father’s when I tugged at his.
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