When Our Past Catches Up With Us / Eleh Ezkerah

How do the mistakes of our past continue to haunt the present? The paragraph below introduces us to a ruler who despised the Jews, and the terrible consequences of his actions. The full prayer sets the following scene: The Roman leader studies the books of the Jews and realizes that the book of Genesis describes the kidnapping of Joseph by his brothers, a crime for which they were never punished. Further study reveals that the Torah mandates death as the punishment for kidnapping, and so he consults with the great rabbis of the generation on the appropriate response. Rabbi Yishmael, the high priest, ascends to heaven and determines that in fact, this fate is being meted out by heavenly decree. Ten Jewish leaders willingly accept torture and death at the hands of the government, and the prayer describes the agony and sadness of all involved.

אֵֽלֶּה אֶזְכְּרָה וְנַפְשִׁי עָלַי אֶשְׁפְּכָה. כִּי בְלָעֽוּנוּ זֵדִים כְּעֻגָה בְּלִי הֲפוּכָה. כִּי בִימֵי הַשָּׂר לֹא עָלְתָה אֲרוּכָה. לַעֲשָׂרָה הֲרוּגֵי מְלוּכָה:

These [martyrs] I will remember and pour out my soul within me. For wicked people have swallowed us, like a cake, unturned, [not fully baked]. For during the days of Caeser there was no remedy [reprieve] for the ten martyrs, doomed to death by the [Roman] government...


  • As the story goes, these deaths are an indirect result of people not treating others kindly. It is not a punishment for failing to observe ritual commandments, but rather a consequence of brothers turning against one another? What rifts do you see within your community? What are the issues around which you most hope to take action?
  • One message of this incident is that past mistakes can come back to haunt us, no matter how What past mistakes - whether in our country's history, or in your family or community's history, or in your own past - do you think have the most influence on your life today? What needs to be fixed, and how do you imagine your own role in making that change?
  • Sadly, we know that so many people die tragically for reasons beyond their control. One of the themes of Yom Kippur is remembering our losses and asking for mercy and for better days to come. Whose loss are you remembering this Yom Kippur?