Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Kill the snake on Yom Kippur


Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur it is said, the Judge of the universe sprinkles the earth with a merciful mist—like the manna He showered on the starving Israelites. It softens the human heart. Prepares it for repentance and forgiveness like spring rain brings summer flowers.

Perennially, every Rosh Hashanah since the dawn of creation, Able forgives Cain, Esau forgives Jacob, Rabbi Akiva forgives his Roman torturers. And Herman Stern forgives his wife, Marilyn, although their healing process has been going on for a mere four years.

The Sterns knew each other well. Three years of marriage opens the stage, as we say. Parts the curtain, illuminates habits and history that even adding 18 months of courtship were dark, shadowy corners of mystery.

She knew that his cousin Jack, in Chicago, had twice declared a sham bankruptcy.

He knew that Marilyn’s sister had charged, with a cheer, over the threshold between romance and promiscuity.

As the real estate agents say, their lives were an open house to each other. Here, look around. Yes, the kitchen floor needs redoing and the bedroom wallpaper with the numbered, pink sheep is gauche. The house was wholesome except for a single secret, coiled like a cobra in the closet of their minds, behind a keyless doorway up in the attic, where they never went.

Excuse me, I misstated. They never climbed the stairs, put their ear to the attic door, except on Yom Kippur, Judgment Day. They crept up the attic stairs and put their ear flat against the closet door. Was the snake still stirring in there? Maybe he’d starved and a coiled, spiny skeleton lay by the closet door. Never. He sounded bigger than ever. Secrets only die with the telling. They grow fat and oily in the dark.

So, on the fourth Yom Kippur of their marriage, with the Sonatokan ringing in their hearts, they knew it was time to repent. Time to beseech forgiveness for their deception. For as the Talmud says and our Yom Kippur prayer service repeats, “Atonement for transgressions between one person and another can be gained... when the offended person has been reconciled.”

After services, they joined the congregation for a break-the-fast. But clearly something oppressive lay on Mrs. Stern’s spirit. She couldn’t wait to get her husband home to the privacy of their den. The serpent in the closet was about to meet his maker. (Does it not say in the Talmud that good and evil are twins with the same father?)

“In the years before we met,” she began, “I made the oldest mistake a woman can make with a man.” She went on to say that she had made this banal, age-old mistake many times with many men. She was a firm believer in diversity. And the result of one of those unions was a child who was adopted by a Jewish couple in Fairlawn, N.J.

He listened with an expressionless face to the 30-minute narrative punctuated by sobs of relief and remorse.

She paused. “I knew,” he said. “Caroline, who was nominally an accountant in your office, but unofficially a full-time Loshen Hora specialist—remember her? She told me the day before our very first date. I’ve been waiting four years for you to tell me. Forgive me for withholding absolution. It wasn’t in my heart to forgive until you told me yourself.”

The snake in the attic? It died.


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