Rebbetzins Abby Fink and Yael Axelrod brought their exceptional scholarship and transmitted their deeply felt emunah to the first session of the Young Israel of New Rochelle (YINR)’s women’s Rosh Chodesh shiurim with their talk “Exploring the Depth and Meaning of the Yom Kippur Tefillot,” given on the Wednesday before Yom Kippur. Graciously hosted at the home of Mickey and Doni Nyer of New Rochelle, the filled-to-capacity group of women were inspired by thoughts on various tefillot as they were asked to think about forgiveness and their personal relationships with God.
In her introduction, Alexandra (Sasha) Fox, YINR Women’s League co-chair along with Anya Wiebke, told the audience that the success of last year’s monthly women’s Rosh Chodesh shiurim prompted Women’s League to continue the series again this year. The monthly shiurim will be presented by Rebbetzin Yael Axelrod, and for this first session, Rebbetzin Axelrod was joined by Rebbetzin Fink.
Rebbetzin Fink asked those present to think about Yom Kippur as a day specifically designated for repentance and forgiveness, and intrinsically more conducive to prayer than other days of the year. Many believe that if they repent sincerely and resolve to attempt to rectify their wrongdoings, God’s mercy and compassion will envelop them. Speaking about “Unetaneh Tokef,” the dramatic and piercing highlight of the High Holiday prayers written by Rabbi Amnon, Rebbetzin Fink recalled the story about Rabbi Amnon, who was tortured mercilessly when he refused to allow himself to be converted to Christianity. Brought to the synagogue on the last Yom Kippur of his life, Rabbi Amnon recited ‘Unetaneh Tokef” before the Holy Ark, saying, “On this day it is decreed who will live and who will die, who will remain tranquil and who will not…” During the closing prayer of Neilah, Jews beseech God to overlook their shortcomings and misdeeds, for they are only mortal. They beg to be inscribed and sealed in the Scroll of Life.
Rebbetzin Axelrod asked the women to think about how they relate to God as both the Dayan Emet (true Judge) and the Melech Rachaman (merciful King), and the way in which God views their external actions as compared with their internal desires. Referring to the Vidui (confessional prayer), Jews verbalize the wrongdoings they have committed in the past year and resolve to improve in these areas in the future. Many of the sins expressed in the Al Chet prayer have to do with speech, the amazing gift given to man above all creatures. Rebbetzin Axelrod noted that with man’s ability to speak comes a tremendous responsibility. As the Chofetz Chaim wrote, “With a man’s words, he can build worlds and destroy them.” In the tefillah of “L’kel Orech Din,” the many attributes of God with which He judges mankind on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are listed. One of man’s missions in this world is to emulate God and pattern his attributes after His. People should reflect on their own middot and ask themselves if they measure up to God’s standard in terms of how they treat other people and whether they live their lives according to the ways of the Torah.
Fox said that the shiur “was very personal to me…a lot of women took away inspiring concepts. I thought the rebbetzins really brought their voices to the community.”
On October 13, Rebbetzin Axelrod will deliver her Simchat Torah shiur, for women only, on the topic “V’zot Habracha: What Moshe’s Blessings Mean for Us—Part II,” a sequel to the popular shiur delivered last year on this special day of celebration. The shiur will be delivered during morning services.
By Yvette Finkelstein