Choosy Mothers Choose… a sermon for Erev Rosh Hashanah 5776

Shanah Tovah u’metukah.  I wish you each a happy and sweet New Year.

Do you like creamy peanut butter or crunchy? That was always the debate in my house growing up. My mother was big on creamy JIF peanut butter. You remember. Choosy mothers choose JIF?  She was big on  the dreaded Concord grape jelly.  To this day I will not eat grape jelly nor will my sister. That was the only kind of jelly my mom would buy.

Same with the peanut butter. Only creamy. I wanted chunky and I dreamed of having Skippy peanut butter. Today I don’t eat that at all preferring healthier natural almond butters or cashew butters. Without those homogenized trans fats but the battle between creamy peanut butter and chunky peanut  butter was epic in my family’s home!  But I think my mother liked the tag line. She was being choosy. Meaning she had the power to make the decision for our family. . In this case it was about peanut butter. But symbolically being a choosy mother was much much more. And it relates to his season of the Jewish year. Laid before us each are many choices about our lives.

Tonight is Rosh Hashanah. The old year is behind us and we give thanks that we are here to celebrate the rebirth of the world!  We made it another year.  We give thanks that for the next 10 days of this holy season that we will rebirth our souls and ourselves.   But this is also a time of choosing.  Of choosing to become the person you have always wanted to be.  Of choosing to face your faults and errors. Of choosing to confront the sins and choosing to make teshuvah and choosing to grow and change

It is not as simple as choosy mothers choose JIF but it is the time of year when we pray, reflect, confess, and forgive others, and ourselves for failing to choose to do our best. This is the time of year when we stand before God and our own vulnerabilities to choose life and to give life to our greatest selves.

It takes 9 months for a fetus to grow into a child and for a human mother to give birth.  It is still one of the planet’s holiest miracles. In the ideal from an act of love and intimacy a new human being comes into this world 9 months later.  But it takes a lifetime to give birth to the person you are to become.  It takes a lifetime of experiences, of growth, learning, and development to gain wisdom.  It takes a lifetime to be you; for we are always growing, changing, learning, unlearning, and developing throughout the course of our lives until the last breath we shall take. But each and every day we face many choices.

Even as we grow into adulthood and get settled in our ways of being, the human challenge, the spiritual and religious challenge is to pay attention to whom you have become and to turn from our moral failures and our character flaws.  Our challenge is to become the best you; the better you. Our challenge is be born anew. We choose on this New Year to enter into this 10 day of repentance chamber. That begins with Rosh Hashanah tonight and ends with the last blast of the shofar on Yom Kippur day.

That is why the Shofar sounds so plaintively on Rosh Hashanah.  That is why we usher in this New Year.  The Jewish people long ago recognized that to truly live b’tzelem Elohim; to truly live in the image of God- and to be in the image of God – to find the Divine in you-you must recognize your capacity to change the way you do things, to change your mind.  One of the great gifts of humanity is that we can choose to change!

God’s mind changes a number of times. It is one of the great ideas of Judaism. That God is influenced by human action and words. So Moses can plead with God to not exterminate the Israelites after they sin at the Golden Calf.  And the prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God can be influenced by repentance and of course that is one of points of the story of Jonah that we will read on Yom Kippur afternoon, that the people of Nineveh can repent from their sins and God will save the city from doom!

My friends, this is a profound and amazing idea—to be created and live in the image of God-b’tzelem Elohim – our human task is to be able to change our selves and change our world for better.  We can not only change our minds, we can change the way we do things. We can make a repair in the world at large and the world of our interior.  This is tikkun. – Repair. This is  Tikkun olam.  Repairing our holy world inside and out.

This Holy Sacred Season of Awe – from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur is to mark the birth of the world and the rebirth of you.  A chance to repair our inner world so that we can repair the outter world we live in.  We are God’s hands, God’s feet in this Tikkun HaOlam- in this Repair of the world and the repair of you.

From the wisdom of our Sages and ancestors- It only takes  ten days-to cleanse your soul, make teshuvah, and be reborn for the New Year- spiritually pure and with all the potential for doing things right this year.  But let’s be honest sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes it can take years to forgive others and forgive ourselves.  But during this 10 days- we can dedicate it to making atonement. Offering up or regrets, our sins, so that when the Gates of Repentance close at the end of Neilah—we have put ourselves back on the path toward wholeness and holiness.

From now until the final sounding of the Shofar on at the end of  Yom Kippur –we Jews are tasked with re-aligning our spirits, a tune-up for our intentions, a yearly spiritual examination of our words and deeds and our time together will include some of the prescriptions needed to lead a healthier life, a moral life, a stronger ethical existence, a deepening of your Jewish heritage.  This is what we do together as a community.

Because the truth is we are not monks, living an acetic life. We Jews have always lived in the world.

Recently in the New York Times there was an article about the monks of Shaolin in China.  This group of Chinese Buddhist Monks is famous for their dedication to Buddhism and the Martial Arts. This group of ascetics, teach their famous acrobatic warfare from teacher to disciple and they live a life of celibacy, vegetarianism and martial arts.  These monks throughout Chinese history have despite Buddhism’s emphasis on non-violence been some of China’s fiercest warriors, defending different princes and dynasties, as well as fighting outside invaders at times. Depending on the century and the dynasty, the monks thrived or were almost destroyed but they kept their traditions alive passed from generation to generation. The Shaolin monks exist today as a strong bearer of Chinese culture.  The monks who mostly live in the Song Mountains of China, at the Shaolin Temple lead an ascetic life focused on their Buddhism and Martial Arts.  They have received much criticism of late because their leader- has marketed the Shaolin way to the world.  He has franchised the name and their brand of martial arts. He has created a tourist site in China for the curious to visit and other sites in China to learn the martial arts of the Shaolin.  He has licensed the name for movie making and even tried to offer stock in the monastery. The leader of the monks-who once led simple lives drives a fleet of fancy cars and has evidently taken lovers who he supports in Australia. I believe that the temptations of the world for this group of ascetics have overwhelmed their ideals because they withdrew so much from the world.  They lacked balance.

But for us Jews, we are of the world.  We don’t have monasteries to escape to, or ashrams of silence; we have synagogues abuzz with sound. We have a Beit Knesset, a house of gathering where we come together not only to give voice to our hopes and dreams, not only to study and pass on our traditions, but to gather as a Jewish people. Our history has shown that we have balanced our communal needs as Jews. We Jews build a Jewish community while engaging with the world. Even in Medieval times or earlier during Roman times, going way back in our history, we Jews balanced our engagement with our own and the outer world.

The danger for all of us now and the elixir of our time is that we are too much in the world.  We as a people are losing our balance. We leave behind the synagogue, our ancestral place of gathering because it isn’t enough of the world. It seems too parochial.  It seems to no longer speak the language we can relate to; religion seems increasingly superfluous in these days and times. And of course if you have no faith only a rational view of the world, and only see the world and life in black and white-then hope is dead along with God. So why bother to tie yourself regularly to the Jewish community, the synagogue?

But the great friend of the Jewish people, Pope Francis wrote profound words:  Faith is not a light, which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.  During these next 10 days, faith in God and faith in our tradition as Jews will help carry you and cleanse you on this holy journey.

So this time of year is our ingathering- our journey.  Rosh Hashanah is our time of rebalancing our worldliness and our Jewish teachings, the pressures of earning a living and the sweetness of the Torah. This day that we celebrate, Yom Harat Olam, the birth of the world- is our time of reconnecting as Jews- and at a time more than ever before when we –the Jewish people come together- to heal ourselves of the hurts, disappointments in ourselves and the world around us and to try and turn to a more holistic way of being in the world than the year before.  We don’t choose to simply turn inward.  We turn around.  We do teshuvah.

Because after the ten days of Awe we will go back out into the world and have to manage and grow and deal with our homes, our families, our children, our businesses, our studies, our successes, our failures with the possibilities that we can with the help of our Jewish community and family and OUR congregation, overcome our past transgressions to reveal a new strengthened voice together.

Rabbi Albert Lewis, z’l who headed Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles for many many years- shared the following story.

During his lunch break at work, Joe took a seat on a bench next to a fellow worker and began rummaging in his brown paper sack.  He pulled out a sandwich, examined it and again muttered in disgust, “Ugh, peanut butter!”  He opened the next sandwich, examined it and again muttered in disgust, “Ugh, peanut butter!”

Joe left both sandwiches uneaten.  His buddy, who was greatly enjoying a cheese sandwich, sympathetically asked, “ If you don’t like peanut butter sandwiches why don’t you ask your wife to fix you some other kind?”

Joe frowned at him and said, “Wife? I packed these lunches myself!”

Like Joe, many of us are constantly complaining about problems and conditions that we have packed into our own lives, And like Joe, many of us are just not willing to face up to the fact that we ourselves made the sandwich.  If we are upset about our spouse, or if our children seem to be inconsiderate, or if we are angry with another person, we regard them as the cause of our problems. Right?

The answer is sometimes “wrong!”  It is true that there are some areas of our lives over which we have little or no control. But many of us have fallen into a routine, a habit, a way of living that is our doing not someone else’s.  Every day we as it were pack our own sandwiches and then complain that we don’t like them.

It is this season of the year that reminds us that we can change the pattern. We can if we are so inclined, choose and change the contents of our sandwich to something more tasty, more meaty, more healthy, more enjoyable, more moral, more ethical, more spiritual.  Or we can end the year complaining “Yich! Another peanut butter sandwich!” and then start the New Year over again with the same menu.  That’s fine if you are satisfied with only peanut butter. But then accept that you like being stuck in your ways.

This is our eternal challenge. How can we use this New Year season to become the person you have always wanted to be? Our history, our heritage asks of us to take a deep look at the recesses of our existence. Even the places we would rather ignore. And you know what they are. Even if you would rather live in denial deep down you know what you must confront. This is the time to do so, this is the season. This is when we Jews seek to rebalance our inner and outer lives. When we are called by God to change for the better. When we make teshuvah by examining our spiritual selves and trying to renew our faith in ourselves and in God.

Rosh Hashanah, Yom Harat Olam, the day of the world’s birth, humanity’s birth, your rebirth, gives each of us the opportunity to start afresh, to acquire new tastes, new ways of living and to Choose to be different and it teaches us that, more often than we are willing to admit, we pack our own lunches in  this world.  (Rabbi Albert Lewis, The World of the High Holy Days, Jack Reimer, ed. Vol 1. P. 37 adapted).

May this New Year be the year of being choosy for you and your family. Choosing the best Jewish practices so that these ten Days, the Yaamim Noraim, these ten day of awe will be the time and the year that you really choose and commit to and act upon the changes that will bring you the positive outcomes and the moral reboot that you have needed and have wanted.  May this be a year you choose and commit to balancing your Jewish life and the life of the world around you. May this be the year you will bring you outer world and inner world into harmony and balance.   That is what we do here together seeking peace and harmony in our world and ourselves.And choosing to change. I am glad you are here for the next ten days of the holy journey choosing to move toward a harmonious and balanced you! Ken yehi ration so may it be God’s will.

Awaken My Soul: A sermon for Erev Rosh Hashanah

Shana Tovah

Wow! Wasn’t this something.  Thank you Cantor and Jeremy and the Kol Ami New Year’s Band for such an uplifting beginning to our Rosh Hashanah 5775!

 

We all need awakening for the New Year.   Tonight we can say goodbye to the tzoris of last year.  For the last few months I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and keep sleeping.  I wanted to pretend that the turmoil of the world was not my concern. So many tragic happenings: War on Israel and the Gazan people who are hostages to Hamas, Ferguson, Mo and the turmoil there; drought, Children fleeing as refugees from violence to America only to be treated horribly warehoused and becoming a political football; ISIS and beheadings, Anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world, the Ebola virus growing in Africa. It is enough to crawl away and not deal with it.

But this time of year-calls us, calls each of us to wake up and anticipate the possibility that with the New Year blossoming before us tonight, together Jews around the world might coach out our eternal prayer of hope for us and for the world.

We are a people who have been schooled in tragedies throughout our history. And yet, we the bearers of Jewish history, custom, tradition and values, time and again, believe that the world can be better. We cannot and must not give up the hope that through our prayer and our actions we can affect positive change.  This New Year’s arrival calls us to implement change within ourselves and in the world around us. The sounding of the shofar is vehicle for teshuvah, repentance. Its sound—the sound of a child sobbing in search of the parent he has abandoned—wakens our hearts to return to God and restore and intensify the relationship we have damaged with our transgressions.

I have taught you time and again that Teshuva, means not only repentance but also turning around.  This holy day period- this Asseret Yamei Teshuvah, These Ten Sacred Days of Turning-means that we turn ourselves around, we repent of those words and deeds that harm ourselves and our families, our world, and we turn it over to create a new life for ourselves and our world.  Think of this as a holy dance to the sacred music of the Shofar. This is the hope of our people.  We believe humanity can be better. We believe the world can be better. We believe that we can strive to walk in the ways of goodness, righteousness, and compassion. We believe that we can triumph over evil.

These are our values and the Shofar is our clarion call.

A story:

A professor walked around a room while teaching stress management to her students.

As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full?” question.

Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz., 12 oz to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it.

  • If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem.
  • If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm.
  • If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed.

In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water; think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt.  And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”

So too with our sins and transgression and the problems of the world in the world. The longer we hold on to them the more incapable we become of doing anything about them.

This is what we hear in the blasts of the Shofar—tekiah, teruah, shvarim, tekiah—wake up you and you and you, wake up world, awaken your soul, and turn around. Get rid of those things that are chipping away at your soul. The sounds of the shofar are calling us to focus on hope and the New Year rather than our worries.  It’s calling us to get rid of the errors, the lies we tell ourselves and others. It is telling us through each note:  Hate evil and love what is good, as our Prophets Amos and Micah taught.

The holy days are here to shake up your soul to engage in Teshuvah and to help restore hope in yourself, the Jewish people and the world!

The Baal Shem Tov, the great founder of Chasidic Judaism, taught that just as one can grasp a physical thing by holding on to it, so can one grasp the soul by calling its name. For this reason, a sleeping person wakes up when his name is called,  (Toledoth Yaakov Yosef, Shemoth (42d)  Sefer Baal Shem Tov  Bereshit 121 Keter Shem Tov 104).

Tonight and tomorrow, the Shofar is asking you to awaken-it is calling your name out loud… Jew.  Tekiah, Jew wake up. Teruah-it’s time to turn and change, Shvarim, it’s urgent now. Tekiah—don’t go back to letting your soul sleep- awaken your soul, its time to overcome- and restore faith and hope in yourself, God, the Jewish people and in the world!

Maimonides the greatest of our Jewish philosophers and legal interpreters wrote in the opening to the Laws of the Shofar in the Mishneh Torah,  “It is a positive mitzvah of the Torah to hear the blast of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, as it is stated: “It shall be a day of blowing the horn to you. (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shofar, 1:1)

The mitzvah, your responsibility is hearing the notes of the Shofar. Maimonides continues “Although the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a Torah decree, there is an allusion in it as well. It says: “Be roused, sleepers, from your sleep, and slumberers, wake from your slumber; search your deeds and return in teshuvah…” remember your Creator and return to God in repentance. Do not be like those who miss the truth in pursuit of shadows and waste their years seeking vanity. Look well to your souls and consider your deeds; turn away from your wrong ways and improper thoughts.” (Mishneh Torah 3:4)

Maimonides understood exactly what I am saying tonight to each of you. Wake up people.  Wake up Jews.  Wake up world.  We cannot sit idly by without hope for if we do we will succumb to the evil and the horror that is present.  It will incapacitate us. In fact the Hebrew root of the word Shofar, L’hishtafer means to make better, to improve…. The Shofar is calling us to make ourselves and improve the world!

And there is evil in the world right now.  We see it every day in the headlines.  Judaism has struggled for a long time with the notions of good and evil.  But evil doesn’t exist as a separate entity challenging God.  It’s not like “the Devil made me do it!”  The Jewish truth is that human beings have the capacity to do evil. We have the moral responsibility to make a choice. And our Torah is very clear—Choose life over death. Choose goodness over unkindness; our system of Torah, our mitzvoth, our values try to elevate the human soul, shape the human soul so that we aspire to being honorable and righteous rather than to evil.  This New Year being together, hearing the shofar is a hedge against those evils.

The problem of evil also played an important role in the Jewish philosophy of Martin Buber. For Buber the source of evil was the failure to enter into relationship with others and God, and conversely evil can be redeemed by the reestablishment of relations. (Hu)Man(ity) is not evil by nature, but the misuse of (human) nature generates evil. (Some) can carry evil so far as to give it a kind of independent quality. However, evil is never an independent entity but such (people) crystallize it into a perverse resistance to the individual’s self-fulfillment in relation.

The late great poet and author Maya Angelou reflected on evil

We need the courage to create ourselves daily, to be bodacious enough to create ourselves daily — as Christians, as Jews, as Muslims, as thinking, caring, laughing, loving human beings,” she says. “ I think that the courage to confront evil and turn it by dint of will into something applicable to the development of our evolution, individually and collectively, is exciting, honorable.”

Both Maya Angelou and Professor Buber understood that the courage to confront evil and immorality that lurks in human beings has the power to elevate us. On this Rosh Hashanah, the sound of the Shofar urges you to detach your soul from those actions that literally pull you into the chaos of our times.  Hear the call of the shofar pulling you back toward balance.  Hear the call of the shofar urging you to improve. Hear the sound of the Shofar calling for your essential beauty.  Hear the sounds of the shofar awakening you to do teshuvah. And that teshuvah is turning inward so we can turn outward. Teshuvah will allow us to redefine ourselves. We are no longer the person of the past: the person of weakness; the person who couldn’t control herself; the one who harmed others with words or actions. The process of teshuvah urged on by the sound of the Shofar will call us toward repentance of our sins and will help us restore our connection to ourselves, to God and our place in the world.  True repentance returns us to spiritual balance.

It was a snowy night and Robert was recalling the time two springs ago when he was determined to paint the family room. Up early, he was out the door, to the hardware store gathering the gallons of red, the wooden mixing sticks, the drop cloths, and the one-time brushes that always harden, no matter what you soak them in.

He mixed the paint outside and waddled to the door with a gallon in each hand, the drop cloth under his arm, and a wide brush in his mouth. He began to chuckle in telling what happened, “I teetered there for minutes, trying to open the door, not wanting to put anything down. I was so stubborn. I had the door almost open when I lost my grip, stumbled backwards, and wound up on the ground, red gallons all over me. I lost my balance carrying too much”

At this point, he laughed at himself, as he has done many times. Amazingly, we all do this, whether with groceries or paint or with the stories we feel determined to share. We do this with our love, with our sense of truth, even with our pain. It’s such a simple thing, but in a moment of ego we refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the door. Time and time again, we are offered the chance to truly learn this: we cannot hold on to things and enter. We must put down what we carry, open the door, and then take up only what we need to bring inside.

It is a basic human sequence: gather, prepare, put down, and enter. But failing as we do, we always have that second chance: to learn how to fall, get up, and laugh. (http://www.marknepo.com/books_awakening.php)

This is the time of year for Jews. This is the time to put down the past and enter the New Year, pull away from temptations, have the courage to face the inner self ushered and strengthened by the sounds of the shofar.  The shofar is calling us to awaken.

 

The challenge this New Year’s Eve-is the same for each of us.  Through Torah, prayer, reflection, and meditation; by rebuilding our relationships to one another, to the Jewish people and to God we can restore balance to the world. We can as Professor Buber teaches us overcome the evils that human beings create by committing to live a different kind of life.  By setting down the past, and walking through the opening of a new day and a New Year; through this holy day season and for the next Ten days try to restore our spiritual balance. Through making teshuvah and the call of the Shofar we can awaken to a new day and yes, a new world.  By recommitting to our covenant, our Jewish responsibilities we too will have a stake in restoring balance to the world and ourselves.  At this New Year we must awaken ourselves, our souls to the cause of justice, and hope. Of combating the evil we create. We can heal the world if we begin to heal ourselves through teshuva.

May this be our prayer.

So said the Holy Blessed One to Israel.

“My beloved children. I lack nothing that I should ask of you.  So what do I ask of you? Just that you love one another and respect one another and be awed by one another. (Tanna de be Eliyahu 2b).

This indeed is our task-so let the shofar awaken our souls to love one another.

Ken Yehi Ratzon

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5775

Self-reflection and Self-awareness

How are you using this week? The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a solemn time in our tradition. The days of this week are meant to be part of the journey toward atonement and purification for this year. If you have been hurtling toward Yom Kippur without taking a few moments of quiet time for your own reflection-then tonight turn off the television.  Turn off your phone.  Refrain from Facebook for an hour.  Get out a pen and paper (How old fashioned!) and write down those the errors, sins and falsehoods that crept into your daily life in the past year and how you will make amends for those in the year ahead.

How will you become self-aware and conscious of who you are and who you might yet be?

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes these inspirational words in his book, “The River of Light” ( P.52-53,54: Jewish Lights, 1981 and 1990)

Sinai is the story of a time when, for just a moment, we became aware of our own awareness. Self-conscious of our own consciousness. The light of the first verses of Genesis is a metaphor for the dawning of human awareness. In one sense, all of Scripture is the story of the discovery of and straying from that light. But, until Sinai, the light was unaware of itself: a child who did not know it could see. Not until the mountain did we become conscious of the medium by which we are conscious. Vision was turned back into itself, creating the momentary sensation of blindness. The light must have been too bright, for we said, “Let not God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:16).

The Sinai story of how we once endured the self-reflection of our own consciousness, tells that there are not one, but two parts: two becomings conscious. You will recall that there were two sets of commandments….the first attempt on the part of the Holy One to covenant with Israel failed.

And then the second set is given and received without much fuss at all.

Imagine it: a sacred chest filled with shattered words and pieces of stone. We live ina time after the confusion of trying to endure the self-reflection of our own consciousness, but before we have succeeded.

This time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the time we are to try and sort through our self reflection so that we can receive the light of mitzvot at the end of Yom Kippur.  As the gates of Neilah close we can rise up aware of our self, aware of our connection to the Divine, aware of our place among the Jewish people and purified for the year to come.

Take advantage of these days.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah

No Status Apologies

We are entering the last hours of 5771.  And soon the Jewish New Year will be here.  I am fascinated by the number of posts and status updates on facebook, linkedin and the like that are blanket apologies for behavior.  New Year’s greetings abound.  But I have been noticing this year more than last many folks resorting to blanket apologies.  Let me say this is no substitute for the real thing.  Part of the process of Teshuvah or repentance for sins committed in this past year has to do with actually facing those who were wronged.  Not just a general statement.  But a specific encounter with those who you hurt.  So while the sentiments of a status updates reaches many -and perhaps with the new format changes on Facebook the real time feed-even more, it is this rabbi’s opinion that these status apologies are no substitute for actually making teshuvah/repentance to the individual harmed.  While teshuvah/repentance can’t always be done face to face. Sometimes a conversation by phone or even a letter may be the way a true apology can be made.  Perhaps by direct message on twitter-however you would be limited to 140 characters.  But blanket apologies do not suffice.

As the RAMBAM writes in Hilchot Teshuvah of the Mishneh Torah in Chapter 2.9

 Repentance and the Day of Atonement atone only for sins, such as eating a forbidden food, having prohibited intercourse, et cetera, which are committed against God. Sins such as injuring, cursing, stealing, et cetera, which are committed against one’s fellow man are never atoned for until one has paid any necessary fines to the person against whom one sinned, and discussed it with him. Even though one may have paid back any due money one still has to discuss the sin with him and ask for forgiveness. Even if one teased someone else just verbally one has to appease him and make up for it, in order that he will forgive one. If the person against whom one had sinned did not want to forgive one then one has to ask him for forgiveness in front of three of his friends. If he still didn’t want to forgive one then one asks him in front of six, and then in front of nine, of his friends, and if he still didn’t want to forgive him one leaves him and goes away. Anybody who does not want to forgive is a sinner. If one had to ask one’s Rabbi for forgiveness, one us to approach him even a thousand times until one receives forgiveness.

So while the sentiments for wishing all a Shanah Tovah are welcomed. Make teshuvah/repentance/apologies/ask for forgiveness in a direct way.

Wishing you all the sweetness of the season.

Selichot

Saturday night is Selichot. It is the way we really make sure that we have done some of the initial preparations of our spirit and soul as we enter the New Year. We recite familiar High Holy Day prayers like the Al Cheyt and Avinu Malkeinu. We hear the shofar sounds. These begin to ready us for the task that will soon be at hand. The great tasks of atonement and repentance,

We like to soften the blows of sin. In the spirit of understanding, in the spirit of non-judgment, in the spirit of psychological explanations we often extend a pass to less than proper behavior. Perhaps because there are so many religions that would damn a person to the fires of eternal damnation! Even for small violations of civility. But that is not the Jewish way!

We ask for forgiveness from both those we have harmed and from God. sins aren’t permanent marks on a soul in Jewish thinking. We can atone. We can be forgiven. We can renew our spirit. We can be cleansed. We can be whole again. Selichot helps us with that process.

Please join me for Kol Ami’s Selichot observance. This Saturday , September 24, at 7 pm. We will have a fascinating study session on the great commentator Nachmanides. Including viewing a short film called “The Disputation”. And then at 9 pm observe our Selichot service under the stars in our rooftop garden Gan Shalom. Happy NewYear.

Return-Nitazvim

Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech

Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30

We always read Parshat Nitzavim on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  This short double Torah portion echoes the themes of this season.  If we return in repentance, teshuvah to God, then God will open our hearts and embrace us.  In Jewish tradition God is the Force in the Universe that connects all life.  How amazing that all it takes is a small move on our part!  It does take our free will, an effort in the direction of the Holy One, but according to Jewish tradition the Holy One of Blessing will more than meet us half way.  We can return any time.  We can come home!  Fortunately the Jewish New Year will also begin and we can press delete on any behaviors, actions, or deeds that cause transgression, hurt or sin or our own sense of perceived distance.   We can begin again. It only takes a contrite heart and a sincere approach to a renewed way of being.  Are you ready to begin? Can we welcome you home to your people?

 

The distance between ourselves and God is created by our errors and transgression. The alienation from all that is holy comes from the disconnect between what we do and our ideals.  It isn’t always easy to live them.  The gap in between is the distance that grows in us. The ancient High Holy Day rituals of sacrifice were designed to draw us close again to the Holy.  In fact the word for sacrifice, Korban, comes from the word-Karov—draw near.

The Holy Days of Repentance help us draw near to God and our covenant again.  I think that is why so many of our fellow Jews who we don’t see at any other time of the year make their annual pilgrimage to the synagogue. They seek to draw near to God and Torah and our eternal covenant.  And we like God are ready to embrace and welcome them again.

 

In Nitzavim we are reminded that the covenant that God made with the Jewish people is made with everyone in the Jewish people.  Even with those who have transgressed. Not only with tribal elders.  The covenant of the Jewish people is made with everyone, men and women and children. It is not made with an elite class of priests or just the wealthy. The covenant of Israel is made with the entire people.  And most importantly not only with those who stood at Mt. Sinai but with their descendants and ours.  This eternal covenant of the Jewish people applies to all who are a part of the Jewish people.  We can try and evade our responsibilities, avoid our inheritance but we will be called by tradition at some point for a reckoning of our values and our actions.  This time of year, our Season of renewal calls out to us to think about the ways we walk in the world.

 

That is why Moses reminds us this week that Torah is not found in Heaven but close by.   We can use our Jewish teachings to help us in the process of this evaluation and reflection and drawing near to our core values again and drawing near to God.   Use this time and this season to draw near to our covenant, to our God and to our People again.

 

I hope to see you and yours during this holy day season and wish you in person a Shanah Tovah umetukah: A sweet and happy New Year and New You!

Chodesh Tov

Today the Jewish month of Elul begins. This is the end and the beginning. It is the last month of 5771. The end of the year. But the beginning of the process of cheshbon hanefesh which is the deep introspection of the soul. We are to begin the process of repentance now. Not wait for Rosh Hashanah. It takes a while. More than a day for sure to look at ones sins and errors and ways that you have wounded yourself and others. We all do it. With a hurtful word or unintended slight. Sometimes it is intentional. But this is a time for encounter of the soul and the Divine. The shofar calls to us daily.

So I wish you all a chodesh tov. A good month of learning and discovery about yourself and your place in this marvelous creation we call life