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September 28, 2004

Yizkor 5765, by Rabbi Denise L. Eger

We have just finished our holy and unique healing service. We have opened our hearts to the possibilities of refuah—healing of body and spirit- seeking a place a wholeness. We have opened our souls to the possibility of God’s embrace. This renewal of life, healing hands, flowing melodies and words of prayer are but one way we seek to heal. But healing can also come in other forms. For those in great pain and suffering, death too is a healing; A healing from misery, affliction and torment. We don’t often imagine death to be a relief from our pain but death can be a release of the soul from a tortured body.

Who among us has not known a loved one whose suffering was too great to bear? The finality of death—and even the deep loss it brings to those who live on, can bring a sense of peace and wholeness for those who have been wracked with pain. We say “At least she isn’t suffering now.” “Now he is at peace.” Each of these is a moment of healing.
And we mean it.

But even as we have prayed for peace for those who are dead, we miss them. We memorialize our loved ones at time of Yizkor as a sign of honor and respect and yes, a time for healing of ourselves. Even with our deep wounds of loss, the memory of a spouse, or a child, or a parent can bring us at this hour, a healing of love; a healing of hope --that all is not swept away by the passing of years or months. Our yizkor prayers today, is its own healing service because it teaches us that through memory, and yes, our tears, our loved ones live on inside of us, present with us as we carry them and their goodness with us.

One aspect of the Yizkor service from earlier generations was connected to forgiveness. Just as we ask God for forgiveness of our sins on Yom Kippur Day, and we are to ask others for forgiveness of the ways in which we harmed one another—so too we are to ask forgiveness from the dead. This Yizkor service is to also ask our family and friends who have died to forgive us –for that last argument, for the years of silence. This Yizkor service enables us to ask for forgiveness for forgetting a yarzeit or forgetting to come to temple to say kaddish on the anniversary of the death. This Yizkor service and our recitation of Kaddish can help to heal those wounds of relationships that weren’t so perfect.

And the Kaddish traditionally is said to help redeem those who are dead! A midrash of the rabbis teaches: In a dream a sage encountered a ghost loaded down with wood that he was sentenced to carry in Eternity because of evil committed during his lifetime. “How can I help you the Rabbi asked?” The ghost replied: “ I had a son. If he should go to the synagogue and publicly praise God, my sin will be remitted.” Then the Sage searched out and found the son and taught him the Kaddish.

The Kaddish –a prayer, which makes no mention of death, but instead praises God and life, according to Jewish tradition redeems the souls of our dead.

The Kaddish prayer is a way we can communicate with our dead—we can say to them –through its words—Forgive me—even as I honor your memory. Yitgadal—v’yitkadash shmeh rabbah—I praise God’s great and sacred name—as I honor my loved ones in their death.

This Yizkor hours is also for us to find some way to say Kaddish for those who harmed us.

Do we want to memorialize those who caused us harm? Physically or spiritually, emotionally or mentally? The truth is we can’t help but remember the pain of abuse. Those memories remain with us. Even at this Yizkor hour—that memory of those who caused such hurt haunts us. But Yizkor can be a time of healing since this is the hour dedicated to the memory of the dead. It can be a time of healing to forgive in death what in life we could not. This Yizkor hours comes to remind us that to forgive another, even in death, brings a sense of relief and healing. It helps us to let go of the burdens that keep us entrenched in pain, grief, sorrow, and anger.
Forgiveness of those now dead, can help us move on to a fuller life. Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation—but it is a step for us to move forward with life. The Book of Psalms teaches us (91:4-11): “You will find refuge under God’s wings. You need not fear the terror by night. God’s angels will guard you wherever you go and carry you in their hands.” God’s protection-God’s love comes through the act of forgiveness. It is part of Divine grace and lovingkindness that we try to emulate on this sacred day. Just as God forgives us—so we too must forgive others.

Our ancestors recognized that on this Day of Atonement for our actions and inactions, seeking forgiveness from those who died and granting it to those who are dead is also a deep part of the healing formula.

As Mahatma Ghandi said: The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

So now at this hour of Yizkor—some with fond memories, and others of us with painful memories—we say aloud. I forgive you, even in death, I forgive you as I ask you to forgive me.

So today at this Yizkor hour let us be strong. Let us go in strength through the corridor of memories through the corridor of forgiveness. And let us emerge healed with strength for the journey through this new year.

Ken Yehi Ratzon.

Posted by Lee at 01:11 PM

Yom Kippur Morning 5765, by Rabbi Denise L. Eger

Three Hundred and Fifty Years ago this month Jews arrived on the shores of what would become the United States of America. Portugal had just recaptured Brazil and expelled its Jewish settlers. Most returned to Holland or moved to Protestant-ruled colonies in the Caribbean. But a group of twenty-three Jewish refugees, including women and children, arrived in New Amsterdam hoping to settle and build a new home for themselves.

They were not the first Jews on these shores. Back in 1585, a Jew named Joachim Gaunse served as the metallurgist and mining engineer for the ill-fated English colony on Roanoke Island. Afterwards a small number of other Jews, mostly merchants bent on trade, made brief stops at American ports.

Upon the arrival of the 23 men, women and children from Brazil in 1654, two men of the group were immediately thrown in jail as security for money owed for the group’s passage. The rest of the group paid off the fare by auctioning their goods that they had brought with them.

The territory of New Amsterdam was not a hospitable place. Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor immediately sent off a request to expel the “members of this deceitful race—such blasphemers of the name of Christ.” Governor Stuyvesant recognized that if the Jews were allowed to settle in his colony then they would be “unable to deny residence to Lutherans and Papists” as he stated in his letters.

Such was the beginning of Jewish life in these United States. This small group of Jews who argued and pleaded for their religious liberty to Stuyvesant’s superiors at the Dutch West Indies Trading Company and ultimately gained the right to settle here helped to change the very face of America. These 23 Jews, according to Dr. Karla Goldman, historian in residence at the Jewish Women’s Archive, “helped to establish the very principles of American pluralism and religious freedom”

Our nation’s first president, George Washington's declaration in 1790 to the Newport Hebrew Congregation that this nation gives "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance," gave our Jewish community an early assurance of America's suitability as safe haven.

The history of Jews in America is a rich one. The waves of immigration to this country from these first Sephardic- Dutch Jews, to the German –Jewish immigrants of the early 1800’s to the Eastern Europeans of the late 19th and early 20th century brought a diversity to America and built a sense of Jewish communal strength and pride.

The Central European Jews who were German speaking and came in the early 1800’s in addition to settling in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, also made their way to Cincinnati, Albany, Cleveland, Louisville, Minneapolis, St. Louis, New Orleans, San Francisco, and dozens of small towns across the United States. During this period there was an almost hundred-fold increase in America's Jewish population from some 3,000 in 1820 to as many as 300,000 in 1880.

Between 1881 and 1924, the great wave of Eastern European Jews began. Over two-and- one-half million East European Jews came from their native lands because of persecution and the lack of economic opportunity during this time. Many of those who arrived as part of this huge influx settled in cities like New York and Chicago, and Boston where they clustered in districts close to downtowns, joined the working class, spoke Yiddish, and built strong networks of cultural, spiritual, voluntary, and social organizations. This period of immigration came to an end with the passage of restrictive laws in 1921 and 1924. Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe to the United States never again reached the levels that it did before 1920.

Jews have long been woven into the life of our nation. From Haym Solomon who financed the Continental Army during the American Revolution and actually made an appeal for funds for it during the High Holy Days at Shearith Israel Congregation, the first congregation in New York to Judah Benjamin the first Jewish Senator, to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, to Emma Lazarus’ whose poem “The New Colossus” Is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty—“Give me your tired your poor your huddled masses yearning to be free…” to Congresswoman Bella Abzug, to our own Senators Boxer and Feinstein, to the great song writer of “God Bless America and “White Christmas” Irving Berlin, as well as authors Cynthia Ozick, and Phillip Roth, baseball players like Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax and Shawn Greene. Jews are a part of America as America is a part of us. Of course the list could go on and on.

America has secured our freedom to worship, to be distinctive, to succeed financially and educationally, to climb beyond quotas and restrictive covenants to every neighborhood and university and profession. America has been good for the Jew and yes the Jew has been good for America.

Other ethnic communities have modeled themselves upon our communal institutions and how we embrace our traditions on the one hand and America on the other. Even today non-Jews imitate our rituals and ceremonies, with kosher foods selling in huge numbers way beyond the number of us that keep kosher because of the perceived benefit of cleanliness and holiness. And the Wall Street Journal recently reported that some non-Jewish children are begging their parents for Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations as a coming of age party and to mark the entrance into teenage hood. Non-Jews study our mystical tradition, the Kabbalah and even take Jewish names as their own. Who knew Madonna is really Estherle…. Once Jews in America pretended to be non-Jews—now non-Jews pretend to be Jews!

As good as America has been for Jews in many ways and as good as Jews have been for America, there is still a problem. On this Yom Kippur morning, as we observe this 350th anniversary of Jews in America, we the Jewish community in America should take pause to examine ourselves. Just as we look to examine our individual actions and transgressions, we the Jewish people, and in particular, Jewish Americans should do so because something is amiss in our communal life. Something is missing for the Jew in America.

While there are more Jewish organizations than ever before, even more synagogues than ever before, we are a diminished and diminishing people. There are less Jews in America. Once our grandparents and great –grandparents were immigrants to America. We are now natives and immigrants to Judaism.

If we really look at the data from the most recent National Jewish population survey we find that 44 percent of Jews do not align with any movement. They are unaffiliated.

At present the Jewish population of the United States totals, 5.2 million people estimated at 4.1 million adults and 1 million children in households and 100,000 Jews in institutional settings, like hospitals and homes for the aged and prisons. This translates concretely that Jews resides in 2.9 million households with a total of 6.7 million people both Jews and non-Jews. In other words intermarriage is significant.

Of that population – only 40% of American Jewish households belong to synagogue.

Combine the lack of connection of Jews to Jewish community with low fertility rates brought on by late marriage age combined with the increase in interfaith marriage, and we must analyze the data and look to see what kind of future if any is left for Judaism in America at all.

Is there a Jewish American future? Is there relevance in Judaism, enough to make Jews stop and think about how their actions and their personal decisions affect the Jewish people globally? All too often Jews talk a great line but their actions do not back up their statements.

In the Population Survey while 67% of Jews hold or attend a Pesach seder and 72% of us light Chanukah candles… only 27% attend Jewish religious services monthly or more. While 52 % say they regard being Jewish as very important most do little measurably to demonstrate this feeling.

While 55 % will read a book with Jewish content, most Jewish adults will not give philanthropically to Jewish causes. In fact 67% of Jews in America give tzedakah to non-Jewish causes—while only 41% give to Jewish causes and this percentage drops even lower as you examine younger population pools so that in the under 35 years group-the giving to Jewish causes drops even further.

The combination of these factors should give each of us pause for reflection on this Yom Kippur. Can Judaism in America continue to exist, given these alarming statistics? If younger Jews don’t give to Jewish institutions and as our aging population dies off, who will support the synagogue? The Jewish centers? Hillels and Federations? If Jews would rather give to the opera, symphony, cancer unit, hospitals and animal organizations than to American Jewish Committee, Israel organizations and Hadassah who will care for the Jewish poor and the immigrants? If Jews vote with their feet by not attending services, nor belonging to any Jewish institution why bother to have a synagogue at all? If parents don’t send their children to religious school, how will the next generation be prepared to take their place among the Jewish people?

Famous architects and designers design our homes, but few of us have ever seen the stars through the roof of a sukkah. We and our children attend the best universities, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, and SC but when it comes to the history and teachings of our people, in the secret places of our souls, we know that our children and we are illiterate.

Does Judaism not have something to offer? And most importantly, if Judaism does have some eternal truths and precious teachings for living in the world and bringing the Divine into ones life, why then do Jews fall away from our community and what can we do about it? These are important questions that each Jew must ask and must personally answer.

These questions and our answers are important. It has to matter… to you and to me… It has to matter to our future here in America—the Jewish future—our future.

Our own synagogue is uniquely poised to help you answer yes, for the future, yes, to Judaism in America. Our own synagogue that we have created these last 13 years together has programs to teach Judaism, to welcome those who are intermarried and to create a safe space for those families. This is a place to raise your Jewish children with a Jewish expression of diversity, inclusion and acceptance. . This is a place to celebrate Jewish holy days, a place to observe the rituals and rites of our people. Does it take some effort? Yes, it does—nothing comes easy—and if you do nothing—then I can guarantee the outcome—nothing—no Jewish life in America. So instead…

Let this year be the year you help Judaism to thrive in America and in your own life. TAKE A CLASS—sign up for our beginning Hebrew, study Bible with me once a month—that’s not too taxing a demand. Relearn what the Jewish holidays mean and how to celebrate them in a contemporary setting with Student Rabbi Fleekop. Send your kids to Sunday school, even if it means you have to get up on Sunday morning and drive them. –or bring your youngest children—15 months-3 years to our new Parent and Me program beginning on Saturdays in October. Attend one of our lectures or our Film series— this October we are showing “The Chosen” based on Chaim Potok’s novel of the same name. We have an outstanding Jewish Adult Education program to help you keep your Jewish self-alive and vital. Resolve on this Yom Kippur day to make a new Jewish beginning for yourself and your family. This is the year. This is the time. This is the synagogue that can help you and welcome you and together we can make a difference for your soul and in the process make a difference for the Jewish future.

Our weekly worship experience- Shabbat can do more than stem the tide against falling affiliation numbers. Shabbat can uplift your spirit and renew your soul. Each Friday night and often-on Shabbat morning we provide a sacred space to wind down from the week and to begin the renewal process. Observe Shabbat at home, light some candles say a bracha—get in touch with your inner Jewish self and let that Jewish self-soar this year. Call friends and family together to observe a holiday –come to Israel with me in February and explore your history and walk in the footsteps of our ancestors. Make those footsteps your steps to a deeper connection to Jewish community.

Let us not let this 350th anniversary of Jewish life in America be for naught. Let us resolve—that our prayer for this Day of Atonement—will be that we atone for the sin of omission of our Jewish life. Let us resolve that our teshuvah will be in the learning and in the doing and in the connection to Jewish community in the coming year. Let us not be the ones who future generations point to and say –they let it go by the wayside. Instead this High Holy Days and this 350th anniversary of Jewish life in America can be a new beginning—a beginning of renaissance for you and for our Jewish community.

In our ark are three Torah scrolls. Soon to be four. On October 24, a Sunday at noon—our temple will dedicate a new Torah scroll that we have been working on for the last two years. Many of you wrote your own Hebrew letter in that new scroll with the help of our sofer, our scribe. And some of you will still have that opportunity. This is what gives me hope.

Our community will soon fulfill the 613th mitzvah—in the Torah—the mitzvah that each person should write a Torah scroll in his or her lifetime. The Torah symbolizes our history, our traditions, our ethics, and our values. And I think we can safely say it symbolizes not just our past—but our future as well.

Deuteronomy Rabbah teaches. A community is too heavy for anyone to carry alone (1:10). I cannot save the Jewish American future, and alone you cannot save the Jewish American future by yourself but together our descendants will rejoice in a rich Jewish life here in our country if we join together this year as one community dedicated to learning and celebrating Jewish life together.

On this Yom Kippur let the Torah’s enduring message of God’s love and presence among the Jewish people continue to be the message we seek as we commit together to celebrate, observe, study and learn, connect and rejoice in our Jewish life here in America. Ken Yehi Ratzon.

Posted by Lee at 01:08 PM

Kol Nidre 5765, by Rabbi Denise L. Eger

THE JEWISH VERSION OF EXTEME MAKEOVER

Shana Tovah.

Yom Kippur is our chance to start over and start again, renew ourselves and renew our lives. This is no small task. And of course we live in a city infamous for people making themselves out to be something that they aren’t! But as some of us age—as the gray peaks through and the wrinkles begin to show, a makeover doesn’t seem all that bad. It certainly is the rage. Everyone seems to be making him or herself over. Certainly our student Rabbi spoke about some possibilities on Rosh Hashanah.

There is the story of the Yemenite Jew who arrived in Israel in 1948. In Yemen, if an Arab walked on the sidewalk, the Jew had to walk on the street so he'd be lower. If an Arab rode on a horse, the Jew had to ride on a donkey. In Tel Aviv he walked into a tall building and saw an elderly lady enter the elevator. A couple of minutes later he saw a young lady walk out of the same elevator. Immediately he ran home, grabbed his wife, brought her to the building and shoved her into the elevator.

He thought his wife could have an extreme makeover.

In 1948 they didn’t have what we have today—from botox to body sculpting—if only the Yemenite Jew had those! He could make his wife new again and he could make himself over from top to bottom.

Instead of shoving her in an elevator –maybe he could have sent her on one of the many television shows—and out she would have come—new teeth, new hair, new nose, face, bosom and bottom. Really a different person than he married!

With more than 8.7 million people having some procedure in 2003, up 33 percent from the year prior, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, its no wonder that these shows are very popular. Rising consumer interest in nose jobs and brow lifts has translated into hit reality shows like Fox's The Swan and ABC's Extreme Makeover.

And of course it hasn’t stopped there and it’s not for women alone, Straight men have Queer Eye for the Straight Guy—remaking both body and home. There is wardrobe advice on Lifetime, Surprise Gardner for outdoor landscaping makeovers, Housing makeovers with Xtreme Makeover: Home Edition and my personal favorite on MTV—Pimp My Ride—A makeover for the jalopy of the week. Because in Los Angeles we are what we drive!

Indeed there are makeovers for everything.

Well tonight and tomorrow is our Jewish time for a makeover.

In our world today there is so much emphasis on changing the outside—our hair and teeth, nose and brow, clothes and couch and car that little time is spent on the stuff that really matters. Changing the heart and soul—changing our behaviors and misdeeds to living lives of values and holiness.

Judaism would say these are the values that matter.

Tonight on Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur we have a chance to change. We have a chance to make fundamental changes in our lives and turn ourselves through teshuvah –around.

You might say Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur are our version of the Extreme Makeover. In the next 26 hours you will have the chance to examine your thoughts and words, deeds and actions—you will have the chance to confess your transgressions and seek forgiveness from God and others. And you will emerge better than any swan. You will emerge purified for a year of holiness and sweetness.

On Rosh Hashanah Eve, I spoke about the universal. Rosh Hashanah was dedicated to values of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam—Justice and Healing the world. Rosh Hahanah was about the Universal values of our tradition. Rosh Hashanah was dedicated to living Jewish values in a universal way.

Tonight as we begin the Yom Kippur Holy Day—we move from the universal to the particular. We move from the world at large to our world within. We move from the outer world, to the Jewish world and in particular on this Kol Nidre night—the mysterious world inside each and every one of us. Yom Kippur helps us to makeover that which we have fouled in the past year.

Yom Kippur—Day of Atonement—helps us look within. We go inside to examine our thoughts and behaviors, actions, deeds and words of the past year. We look at our relationships and the way we acted. We examine our errors, mistakes, and transgressions and yes, sins and offer them up to God for expiation and cleansing. Our mysterious lives are to be laid out before us and we are to try and make some sense of ourselves. Our fast, which begins tonight –helps us to clear our spirits from the stuff that has clogged our souls all year long. Our confessions tonight and tomorrow, the penance that we shall do together, and the sincere efforts to turn our lives around will change the quality of our being, and in the end change our world.

Our Yom Kippur—Day of Atonement is part of that fine balance we spoke about on Rosh Hashanah Eve—the balance between the universal and the particular—the world at large and the world within. That is why our theme this year has been about shleymut—wholeness. And you notice the logo Shin. Lamed, Mem—on the wall—the root for shalom, peace and shleymut wholeness. Together this season—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is about wholeness.

In truth, our tradition has been preparing us for the last month to make these changes in our selves and to seek wholeness. Since the beginning of the month of Elul, the Jew is to begin her Selichot prayers, prayers of contrition and forgiveness. The Jew is supposed to confess his sins to God and to set right the relationships that he harmed in the past. For the 30 days of Elul and the 10 days of Tishrei—until tonight –we count 40 days and nights of examining our souls. We are to have been doing the tough work of Cheshbon Hanefesh—taking an accounting of the soul. It is no mere coincidence that there are 40 days and 40 nights of preparation for Yom Kippur. For the number forty in Jewish tradition is the redemptive number. Deliverance comes to Israel when Moses stayed 40 days and nights on Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. The People Israel experienced a new found freedom when they accepted the covenant. So too, for the cleansing rains in Noah’s time—40 days and nights of rain to cleanse the world and redeem it from the evil that persisted. And So too for us… 40 days and nights to cleanse ourselves from any iniquity, any vice that lives inside of us. This time has been if you will a Jewish version of detox.

And then on the 40th day—Yom Kippur day, we are cleansed, healed and reborn—new and fresh for the New Year.

In the inspiring words of my friend and colleague, Rabbi Harold Schulweis, one of the great rabbis and teachers of our generation:

"The last word has not been spoken,
the last sentence has not been written,
the final verdict is not in.

It is never too late
To change my mind,
My direction,
To say no to the past
And yes to the future,
To offer remorse,
To ask and give forgiveness.
It is never too late
To start over again,
To feel again
To love again
To hope again.
It is never too late
To overcome despair
To turn sorrow into resolve
And pain into purpose.
It is never too late to alter my world,
Not by magic incantations
Or manipulations of the cards
Or deciphering the stars.
But by opening myself
To curative forces buried within,
To hidden energies,
The powers in my interior self."

On this Yom Kippur—our makeover is to open ourselves to our hidden energies, the power in our interior selves and alter forever, the despair, anger, and hurt that have caused us harm and have caused us to harm others.

Yom Kippur comes to teach us that today can be different than yesterday. And tomorrow—we can soar to even new heights.

The prayers we say, the connections we make on this sacred night and day of Yom Kippur—can transform us in the most beneficial ways. On Yom Kippur, if we truly examine our inner life—then we can admit to ourselves what is hard to say aloud, that we messed up. That we weren’t as ethical as we could have been, that we shaved corners—that we did wrong—but now we are committed to doing right. These admissions can teach us a new way of being in the world. These admissions said with humility, recognizing our human frailty—help us conquer the part of ourselves that never admits failure that can do no wrong. As Robert Frost put it, “ Something we were withholding made us weak/until we found that it was ourselves…” Yom Kippur can help us get ourselves out of our own way.

The Yom Kippur makeover can make us see ourselves and yes, the world through a different set of eyes—with clearer focus—and with sharper images of our role in the world. Yom Kippur is our great teacher. That if we do our examination, and free ourselves of the guilt of the last year, the shame we brought on ourselves, we might see ourselves differently and might even act differently when faced with the same situation in the future.

For that is the test of teshuvah—of true repentance in Judaism. Not to commit the raw errors of the past again and again. As the great Chasidic Rabbi Baruch once said: What a good and bright world this is if we do not lose our hearts to it, but what a dark world, if we do!” (Everyday Miracles, p.271) True teshuvah helps us not lose our hearts to the world. True teshuvah helps us uplift our hearts to God. This Yom Kippur can be the year of your makeover—the year you let go of the old ways—and make the new and holy a daily part of your life. It will bring healing and miracles to you—just as it did for Rabbi Abba –

The Power of Forgiveness: A Zohar Legend

Rabbi Abba (the scribe of the Zohar, the book of the kabbalah) once sat at the gateway of the Town of Lud. He saw a traveler sit down on a pile of rocks at the edge of a mountain overlooking a cliff. The man was exhausted for his journey and immediately fell asleep. R. Abba watched this innocuous scene for a bit until to his dismay he watched as a deadly snake slithered out of the rocks making its way towards to the sleeping man. [R. Abba, who for some reason was immobilized and transfixed by this unfolding drama,] suddenly watched as a new turn of events happened. All of a sudden, there by the sleeping man, a giant lizard jumped out between the rocks and killed the serpent.

R. Abba continued watching and saw that the man stood up and was perplexed to see a beheaded snake lying in front of him. He quickly gathered his possessions and rose to continue his journey. At that instant the pile of rocks he was sitting on collapsed and fell into the ravine below.

The man was about to wander off when R. Abba ran after him and recounted everything he had witnessed. R. Abba asked the man, "My friend to what do you attribute all these miracles that just transpired?"

The traveler at first did not want to be bothered but felt the sincerity of R. Abba's question and confided in him. "Throughout my life I have never let a person harm me, where I did not pacify him. Never have I gone to sleep without forgiving someone for hurting me in any way. Anyone who would hurt me would I endeavor, with all my heart, to resolve whatever animosity was between us. And lastly, I would turn the hateful situation to doing acts of kindness for the person involved in the misunderstanding."

When R. Abba heard this he burst into tears. This person's actions were greater than our patriarch Joseph. For Joseph had to deal with his brothers; of course he was going to forgive his brothers. But this man forgives anyone and everyone who has harmed him. It is no surprise that God performs miracles on a daily basis for this blessed man. (Maasiyot HaZohar Vol. 1 P.169 Miketz P. 201B) Each day is a new day—a pure day—without hate and hurt without resentment and grudges. That alone Is a miracle!

So too—miracles can come to us—all it takes is a commitment to make these changes—changes for the good—to forgive, to put the past away. A makeover –a new you for a new year.

The great Israeli poet—Leah Goldberg—born in Lithuania in 1911 was a Hebrew poet and student of literature who is considered one of Israel’s classics poets. She spoke seven languages and was one of the greatest translators of foreign literature into Hebrew. She wrote many beautiful poems full of longing and sometimes lonliness. She wrote of the beauty of the land of Israel and of nature.

She encapsulates for us—the spirit of this makeover day—Yom Kippur—Lamdeini Elohai Bareich v’htpallel—Teach me my God, to wonder to marvel at the mystery of the withering leaf, at the luster of the ripening fruit. At the freedom to live, to feel, to breathe, to know, to hope, to stumble. Teach my lips words of blessing and songs of praise as you give me the time to live at morning and night –That my day today be different from those that came before. That my day today be not an ordinary day.

That is our prayer—on this Kol Nidre Night—the this night—this day—of atonement, forgiveness, healing, and cleansing be a new day—not an ordinary day—and that each of our days—be different, be better, than those that came before.

Then will the miracle of the makeover occur—the miracle of healing from the inside out—to reach a new year—of holiness, love, and blessing.
Ken yehi ratzon—so may it be God’s will.

Posted by Lee at 01:00 PM

September 21, 2004

2nd Day of Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5765, by Rabbi Denise Eger

We live in an age of anxiety. The news we watch on television is designed to make us nervous- with the headlines blaring at us over and over each 22 minutes. And the perennial news ticker scrawling across the bottom of the screen adds to the intensity. The radio and newspapers are no better---the radio blares the sounds of terror from around the world and the newspaper pictures—now in full color show us the horrors of war. The Internet—sends us email alerts on a variety of topics when the economy is up and when it is down. You can tailor make, which alerts you will get. In other words personalized anxiety!

Our whole society sits increasingly on edge. Urban life with all its complications moves to an increasingly intense tempo. Traffic is more intense--making a simple trek across town a nerve-wracking experience. For most of us our work demands more and more from us with less and less time off. It is no secret that American workers have less vacation time than any in the industrialized world. Most of us must take computers, phones and email from work on any vacations that we do have and we are increasingly being asked to work longer hours for less pay. Whether on the front line of blue collar workers—like the housekeepers in local hotels who are struggling to clean more rooms per hour at a breakneck speed with harsh working conditions or we are white collar workers who must put in more than the 40 hour work week with no overtime pay according to the new standards put into force by the Bush Administration this past August. Corporations are downsizing, outsourcing, and going bankrupt at breakneck speed. We worry whether we will have a job at all. Anxiety and frustration in the workplace is at an all time high.

Travel to foreign lands—is more exhausting as the hurry up to wait in longer lines at the airport has its own frenzied rhythms. With fewer flights—no meals on board even on cross country flights, and cramped quarters whether in coach or business and fewer upgrades available—travel isn’t the easy going, pleasant occasion it used to be.

It seems we live in a constant state of near panic.

Those who suffer from diagnosed anxiety and panic attacks are on the rise. One out of 75 people will experience a panic attack in their lifetime. An anxiety disorder isn't just a case of "nerves." According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), an estimated 19.1 million Americans ages 18 to 54 (13.3 percent of the population) experience this illness. It is the most common psychiatric condition in the U.S. No wonder more of us are having a difficult time coping and sales of anxiety calming drugs are through the roof.

We all need to take a deep breath and get our bearings. We need a time out from this frenetic pace to examine the impact of this situation on our lives. And most of all we need a strong center to cope with the competing concerns of our postmodern world. We need to learn to stop and hear the voice of God calling out to us. We need a core of faith to give us strength to face our fears.

This second day of Rosh Hashanah reminds of this need to breathe and to organize our beings. It reminds us to say Hinneni – I am here. The 2nd day Rosh Hashanah helps us to get our bearing on the New Year. These Ten Days of Awe help us reframe our lives, and help us put our priorities in order. Rosh Hashanah helps us address the anxieties we face. Through prayer, ritual, meditation and study we can look at the plague of anxiety and help ourselves to refrain from engaging in the urban cacophony of nerves that we daily face. The second day of Rosh Hashanah specifically calls out to us to slow down. Our celebration need not be cramped into one 24-hour period. Our celebration of the New Year and respite from our everyday lives gives us a chance to put away the quickened pace of our lives and to stop and luxuriate in these moments of reflection and prayer and yes, faith. Today gives us a chance to say –Hinenei—God --I am here—ready to face the New Year—ready to face others and myself.

But most of all the message of this second day of Rosh Hashanah is one of faith. It’s message is to remind us that one way we can cope with the competing concerns, the contradictory messages, the nerve wracking pace is by placing our faith in a Power much greater than ourselves. This second day of Rosh Hashanah teaches us about fear and faith, anxiety and shalom—peace. One way can do so this morning is to examine closely our Torah portion.

With the second day of Rosh Hashanah we read from the story of the Akedah –the binding of Isaac. This classic tale—of father and son— of near-sacrifice and redemption, of faith and fear points us toward thinking through the costs of our constant state of anxiety.

Today let us think of Abraham—ordered by God to sacrifice his son, even though he knows that this is the son that is supposed to carry on his line and his name. This is the son, Isaac that is according to tradition, to fulfill the covenantal promise. Do you think Abraham was calm in the face of God’s call to him? Or do you think he was anxious? Nervous about what the future was to bring? Can you imagine that in the story that we read this morning—that the three day journey to the Mountain God would show them, was perhaps the most anxiety provoking trip Abraham had ever been on—torn by his faith in God and his love of his child? The Torah is silent about their emotions and feelings. It is up to us to imagine how they felt.

And think of poor Isaac, accompanying his father on a journey to a place they do not yet know. Abraham makes Isaac carry the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain. And Isaac even questions his father, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” The father in perhaps the most ambiguous statement in the entire Torah, replies God will see to the sheep for the burnt-offering, my son. Streams of Jewish commentators from Rashi to Ibn Ezra have had a field day with the Torah on this line. Depending on how you read the Hebrew and where you place the emphasis—this line can mean many things, it could be read as we did—God will see to the sheep for the burnt-offering, my son… or it could be read that God will see to the burnt offering of the sheep—my son. Imagine how Isaac felt—being described as sheep and offering. What might have been his level of panic and fear when he realized he was to be the offering? What was it like to be bound to the altar and see his own father’s hand about to bring the knife down around his neck? Panic? Fear? Anxiousness? Anger? Sadness?

This story indeed reminds us that our own fears are part of the human spectrum. This story reminds us too—that each of us face trials in life—just as this was Abraham’s Trial by God. How we face those trials is the measure of our character. Do we meet our fears head on as Abraham did? Or do we shrink from our tasks?

For many of us who are cynics and skeptics-our faith is fragile if there at all. And the pace of our lives allows little time or effort to build our faith in God. And yet, this story with its most complex themes and ideas comes to teach us exactly this Jewish ideal that helps us deal with our fears and possibly with our anxieties too—that is the ideal of faith –emunah

When our fears, our anxieties get the best of us—we need a place to turn that can provide the steady and calming source of shalom—of peace. This story of the Akedah that we read on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah –as much as it is about fear is also about faith—strong faith that allows us to overcome the irrational, to overcome our fears, and to open ourselves to a deeper connection to faith in God. This story time and again has been taught that Abraham’s trial by God is a test of his faith and yes, tests of faith by Isaac, as well. This trial, this test was built of a faith so deep and so rich that Abraham’s faith in God carried him through the most repugnant actions—to bind his child of his old age to the sacrificial altar. But this wasn’t a faith built overnight—it was built of communion and communication with God throughout Abraham’s lifetime. It was built on hearing the voice of God’s love speak to Abraham’s heart and Abraham’s dialogue with Divine. This was a faith built on prayer and sacrifice at other times—of God calling to Abraham and Abraham quiet and still enough to hear God’s words so that he could answer –Hinneni. This was a faith built on Abraham taking God to task for Sodom and Gemorrah and arguing with God on their behalf. Abraham’s faith was the outpouring of a deep relationship that had time to grow.

And what about us? Do we allow ourselves the time to build that relationship? Or are we rushing around—overwhelmed by the pace of life, the tasks on our lists, the anxieties of our time, too busy to build a communion with God? Do we leave time for prayer? Do we leave time to listen for the voice of God?

Abraham’s faith in God’s ultimate Goodness and in the promise of the covenant allowed him to fulfill God’s command to offer up Isaac. God who blessed Abraham and Sarah with a child so late in life to fulfill the covenantal promise must have a greater end in mind. Thus Abraham’s steady faith and belief brings him to the moment with knife in hand poised to do God’s will—just as the angel calls out to him—Abraham Abraham—and again—Abraham answers—Hinenei I am here… And in that moment—when the angel calls out and Abraham replies Hinenei—That is the moment of goodness, and faith. The moment our fears and yes, their fears melt away. Those moments before the angel calls out—peaks our anxiety to a fevered pitch. And then in that Hinenei --the model of our faith is born out.

We too must look towards those moments—moments when our fears seem to get the best of us; moments of panic, and nervousness—when we must stop to listen for the angels that call out to us—so that we may answer Hinenei. For when we do—we too will know a faith in God—not unlike Abraham and we will be able to put aside the pressures of traffic, the anxiousness of deadlines, the nerve-wracking competing concerns of life—and say with a perfect faith—Hinnei—I am here God—place your gift of shalom, in me that I may do your will.

But we must also use this day of Rosh Hashanah as a way to build our faith and our relationship with God- Let Abraham be our teacher—that our ongoing dialogue with God must happen throughout the year—not only once or twice a year. This is how we build our faith and how when our fears get the best of us—we can turn to our God at the core of our being for comfort, hope and strength. This was the test of Abraham—let it be our example as well.

Posted by Lee at 11:37 AM

Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5765, by Rabbi Denise L. Eger

Shana Tovah tikateivu—May you be inscribed in the book of life for goodness and sweetness and health this year.

The Jewish New Year – 5765 has begun to unfold around us. We pray it is a year of health and peace, sweetness and joy for each one of us and for the world.

We Jews date our calendar to the creation of the world. And yet we know from science that our world in older than the 5, 765 years of our calendar. Suffice it to say our spiritual celebration of our Jewish New Year is metaphorical celebration of the creation of the world rather than a celebration of the actual creation of the world. We Jews are not literalists.

Rosh Hashanah and the majesty of the High Holy Day Season points us in two important directions, —one toward the universal and second toward the particular. At Rosh Hashanah, with its call of the Shofar to awake to the New Year—we think of the universal—we do not just focus on the creation of the Jewish people, but the creation of the world. Yom Harat Olam we call this Rosh Hashanah Day—the birthday of the World.

We do not just pray for ourselves, but we pray for the welfare of humanity. During the Shofar services we remember the covenants God has made not only with the Jews at Sinai, but with all of humanity by recalling the rainbow put in the heavens following the flood of Noah.

We read the story of Abraham and the near sacrifice of Isaac on Rosh Hashanah on the second day but on the first day of the New Year we read of how God hears the prayers of Ishmael and Hagar—clearly not Jews but nevertheless an important part of Abraham’s family and the human family. Yes, Rosh Hashanah points us toward the universal.

On Yom Kippur we are pointed toward the particular. The Day of Atonement focuses our thoughts and prayers in personal way towards revitalizing our lives and renewing our souls for the coming year. We confess our transgressions, ask forgiveness for our errors and misdeeds, and pray for God to cleanse our spirits and release our burdens. We do this as Jews and on behalf of one another. We say our confessions communally, Al Cheyt Shecatanu – in the plural—We have sinned. We fast to offer up ourselves in atonement for the actions during the past year. We read “Love Your neighbor as Yourself” from the Torah and “Be Holy for I Adonai Your God am Holy.” These are particularistic messages of holiness, and relationship of the Jew to God and to One another. Yom Kippur points us toward the Particular.

Together these ten days—the Ten Days of Awe, and Ten Days of Repentance, combine to uplift each one of us, our community and the world and to find a sense of shleymut—wholeness. We can’t only have the universal, we can’t only have the particular—both must be woven together into the unified fabric of our lives. We can’t only be focused on ourselves—we must also be concerned with our world around us. It is a balancing act. You see it is no mistake that the Jewish zodiac sign for this month of Tishrei is the scales—we seek a balance between the universal and the particular. Between compassion and judgment. We seek a balance for our lives of inward reach and outward gaze.

And tonight at the beginning of the New Year, and tomorrow with the sounds of the Shofar that will ring out –call upon us to look out to the world around us, and to stir each of us to action and concern. Tonight we begin our journey towards wholeness. We begin a journey toward balance. Tonight we place our focus out into to the world to make a difference, to change what we can.

Our world is a very scary place. We are faced truly with war and famine, discord and strife, poverty and illness. It seems everywhere we look—the world seems in shambles. The air we breathe is polluted, global warming threatens our world, and terrorism hangs over each of our lives.

It is enough to make it hard to get out of bed each day, let alone face a New Year. But what we do tonight can make a difference for ourselves and for our world. Our thoughts of the universal message of Judaism—of love, of justice and righteousness are healing messages for our screwed up planet. The universal messages of tikkun olam—healing the world –matters for us and for others—These values woven throughout Torah and our tradition is an Or L’Goyim—a light to the nations—and they need and we need this healing light.

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum of the American Jewish Committee told this story recently. He was invited to go before the Democratic National Platform Committee to speak of issues of Israel, prayer in public school and other policy issues of concern to the Jewish community. He arrived at the meetings in New Mexico to be greeted by familiar faces—as LA City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa chaired the meeting and also on the dais was Bill Lan Lee former US. Deputy Attorney General appointed by President Clinton.

As Rabbi Greenebaum talked about the issues he was asked to address, Villaragosa and Lee started a dialogue on the dais. Villaraigosa, said, “ Oh Rabbi, you mean you see this as an issue of Tzedek—righteousness. Whereupon Bill Lan Lee—replied—Yes, Antonio—and I think it is part of the idea of Tikkun Olam—healing the world.”

Neither are Jewish and yet, both were able to correctly use and explain important Jewish concepts—concepts that are universal concepts and concepts of Justice and Righteousness and Tikkun Olam –healing the world that are indeed needed in our world today.

Rosh Hashanah is here to remind us –that these ideals –are not just for Jewish keeping. But Rosh Hashanah –Yom HaDin—Day of Judgement judges how we bring these concepts to the world. Tzedek-justice and righteous, Tikkun Olam—healing the world are radical notions that speak of Divine love. When Righteousness and justice exist in us and in the world—there God lives. When we affect Tikkun Olam – When we repair the very fabric of society—we bring God and wholeness to our lives.

Our pathway of Teshuvah that begins tonight on Rosh Hashanah –must begin with these universal Jewish ideals—Tzedek-and Tikkun Olam—Justice and Healing the world.

They were fleeing the Nazis through the forests of Dej (in Transylvanina) when their Hungarian guide, whom they had paid lavishly, disappeared. The Paneths- one of the most noble and distinguished Hasidic families in prewar Europe-had depended on the man to lead them to the border of Romania. The guide had insisted that they put as much distance as possible between themselves and the city of Dej. Once their beloved hometown, now it had become a place of peril, reeking of danger and death.

The guide had left them encamped during the day promising to return by nightfall. But when twenty-four hours had passed with no sign of the guide, they knew they were on their own. Now Grand Rabbi Paneth, his wife and their eight children stumbled blindly through the forest, recognizing that the Only One they could always depend upon was God above.

They walked at night and hid and rested by day, when discovery was more likely. Tired and weak and hungry, they walked relentlessly, in sear of food and shelter. Finally, they reached the edge of the forests where a little silo stood, seemingly unused and abandoned. They slipped inside and concealed themselves in the hayloft. At last they had some semblance of shelter but they were all faint from hunger. None of them had eaten for forty eight hours.

“We must go out and try to find some food,” Mrs. Paneth told her husband resolutely. “ We must take the risk of being found out. What difference does it make what a person dies of? Which is worse, to die of a gunshot or hunger?”

So she and her son Moishe, left the barn and walked across a field where two laborers were tilling the soil. Having discarded their Hasidic attire in favor of the less conspicuous peasant garb, they hoped that their disguise would prove effective. Trying to pass as authentic peasants, they walked at a deliberately slow and casual pace. Mrs. Paneth’s eyes studied the peasants, resting on one tall, neatly dressed man who seemed to stand out. She approached him boldly and asked. “ Do you have God in your heart?”

The man flinched for a moment and then surveyed her and Moishe silently, as if assessing their situation. “Oh good woman, what are you doing here?” he asked, instantly grasping their predicaments. “ Don’t worry, he added quickly, “I won’t give you away.”
“My children are suffering so much,” she cried. “ They haven’t eaten in two days. Can you help us?”

“Where are you hiding?” he asked. “I’ll send my wife home to fill a basket with food.”
“Don’t worry,” he reassured them again, “ My name is Tarnowan and I’m the village minister and judge. I won’t turn you in.”

The two returned to the barn and told the others about the encounter in the field. “He said he’ll bring food as soon as he can. I think he can be trusted, “ Mrs. Paneth said.
True to his word, Tarnowan soon appeared at the barn, accompanied by his wife and baskets of food. On their arrival, Rabbi Paneth jumped to his feet. “ I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am to you for your kindness,” he murmurmed. “You are saving our lives wit this food.” He extended his hand in greeting. “ Thank you so much. I understand you are Judge Tarnowan. And my name is Yosef Paneth.”

Tarnowan suddenly blanched, gazing at the Rabbi in awe and disbelief. “Paneth?” he asked in stupefaction. “ You did say… Paneth?” The rabbi was puzzled by Tarnowan’s strange reaction. “May I ask what your father’s name was?” Tarnowan pressed on. “Rabbi Yecheskel Paneth.”

Now Tarnowan was white as a sheet, staring at the rabbi in open –mouthed wonder. “If it is true what you say- that you are indeed the son of Rabbi Yecheskel Paneth—then I owe you a good deed. Your father performed a great favor for me and I can return it.”
Trembling, the judge recounted the following story.

“Twenty years ago, when I was a police officer, my two year old son became deathly ill. My wife and I traveled all over the country, searching for a cure, but every single healer that we consulted was pessimistic and gave us a bleak prognosis. There was nothing to be done, they advised, the end was near. We tried hard not to be swayed by their negative words. We were not ready to give upon our son. Then I heard about a very holy rabbi who lived in the city of Dej. Being a religious person myself, I had no qualms about approaching a rabbi for a blessing for my son.

“When I arrived in the city, people directed me to a large building with many students milling about. I approached one young man and asked him if the great rabbi could give my son a blessing. He told me that he would go inside and see what he could do. A few minutes later, he returned saying that he had a personal message for me from the rabbi.”

‘Your son is going to be well. But one thing I want you to promise me. Whenever you see people in trouble, help them.’

I returned home only to discover that my son’s condition had already improved. His recovery was in fact both rapid and remarkable. None of the healers could explain his sudden recuperation. They had all relegated my son to an early death. This incident happened almost two decades ago and today my son is alive and well,” Tarnowan concluded. “Ever since this time, I have revered Rabbi Paneth as a holy man and my son’s savior. In his merit, I will do all I can to help you.”

Tarnowan hid the Paneth family for two weeks, providing them with food and shelter. When the Nazis became suspicious and started searching the woods, the judge sent the Paneths on to his cousin, who lived in a different part of the country and who agreed to hid them for several months.

Thus, in this way, both the judge’s debt and the rabbi’s injunction—intertwined as one – became fulfilled, and the Paneth family survived the war. (Small Mircales for the Jewish Heart, P112-116)

This is a story of Tzedek and Tikkun --justice and healing of the world. Values that are Jewish values but universal values –when put into practice just as the Romanian judge did—these values save lives. It saved the life of his child and the lives of the Paneths. In both cases—God’s presence was made real in their lives by these values—just as Mrs. Paneth asked Judge Tarnowan---“Do you have God in your heart?”

Whenever we Jews live our values and act upon them—we can answer affirmatively to Mrs. Paneth’s question—Yes, God lives in my heart. When we walk in righteous paths—God walks with us.

Let this year be the year you let God live in your heart. Let this be the year you finally allow God to walk with you down the path of Tzedek and Tikkun. Here are several ways you can put Tzedek and Tikkun in our world—and to begin the process for the New Year. Here are several ways to bring God’s presence into your heart and into the world.

There is genocide a foot in Africa. In western Sudan, a government-backed militia known as Janjaweed is engaging in campaigns to displace and wipe out communities of African tribal farmers. The brutal violence and killings have resulted in over 50,000 deaths and the displacement of as many as two million Darfurians. An estimated 200,000 refugees are now living in Chad.

We who recall the horrors of the Nazis against our own people –must not be silent. Tzedek and Tikkun Olam requires us this Rosh Hashanah—to speak out, to take action. As Elie Wiesel said this summer, “How can I hope to move people from indifference if I remain indifferent to the plight of others? I cannot stand idly by or all my endeavors will be unworthy.” We cannot sit on the Rosh Hashanah eve, the beginning of a New Year as we contemplate the power of Justice and Healing if we remain silent.

In 1994—10 years ago—the world remained relatively silent during the genocide of the Tutsi people in Rawanda—we cannot remain silent again. We must speak out. And we must call upon our own government to not sit idly by. The rhetoric of the election is thick—many would rather look at the actions and inactions of 35 years ago—than focus on the future or the now. We must help them focus—we must call our legislators, and we must call the United Nations to action, and we must give financial relief. In our lobby is our social action table-there are several informational flyers and an important petition to our United Nations Ambassador John Danforth about how you can help the situation in the Sudan. There are way to help.

In our country and yes, in our world—there is so much poverty. In our own country—the gap between the rich and poor grows wider daily. More and more people in our own country are faced with no work—no health care, and they are unable to provide the basics of life for their families, shelter, food and clothing. We who live in relative ease can bring Tzdek and Tikkun — When we bring our food for Sova—the Kosher food pantry. Sova—feeds Jews and non-Jew alike and in the last several years their load has increased. You can bring Tzedek and Tikkun –Justice and Healing into our own community by taking the brown paper bags tonight that will be given out by our ushers—and bring them full on Yom Kippur. I know we have done this for many years—but the truth is we have been slacking off in the last few years. We have not given as we could have, and the need is greater than ever. So this year—as part of our commitment to tzedek and tikkun let us set our goal of bringing more than ever before, to fill the pantries of Sova. Let us show how God is living in our heary through this act of tzedek and tikkun olam.

Finally a third options for bringing justice and healing into our world. When we fill out an Envelope for Mazon—the Jewish Response to Hunger, we make a difference to Jews and non-Jews alike. Mazon an international organization headed by our own temple member Dr. Eric Schockman—asks that we give them 3% of the cost of our simchas—our celebrations—our weddings, our dinner parties, our birthday celebrations, b’nai mitzvot and Mazon redistribtes that money as grants to agencies that feed the hungry and homeless. Mazon works locally, nationally and internationally. A most recently has made a serious and significant emergency grant to help the starving refugees in Darfur, Sudan. Mazon helps us to live our Jewish values—of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam- justice and healing the world. We do Mazon here at temple—even at our annual dinner dance we take 3% of the cost of the food and send a check each year. This year our religious school children chose Mazon over three other charities to send their tzedekah to—they collected over $700 last year by bringing in their tzedakah coins each week. Mazon—which means sustenance helps us live out our values—and brings God’s presence alive in hungry people.

And tonight you can fill out a small pink card to the Govenator—urging him to support same-sex marriage. Justice and healing the world comes in many forms. While our State Legislators look ready to pass Assembly member Mark Leno’s bill –the Marriage Non-Discrimination Act—it is anybodies guess what Mr. Schwarzenegger will do. He must hear from us—He must hear from people of faith—who support marriage for gay men and lesbians. He must hear that to us –marriage rights are a matter of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam—Justice and Healing the World. The cards too are out in our lobby. Please fill one out and we will be happy to mail them for you!

Tzedek and Tikkun Olam. They aren’t just words—these are ideals to live by and to put into action. Rosh Hashanah is a reminder that we must get out of our cozy lives, our self absorbed concerns to share our values of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam with others.

As we celebrate Rosh Hashanah tonight tzedek—justice must be our mantra—we must bring this value to fruition in our prayers and yes, in our actions. Justice and Healing are God’s address. As Mahatma Gahndi, taught—“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

If we hope to find teshuvah –repentance this High Holy Day Season—then let us begin with Tzedek and Tikkun—with Justice and Healing. We must be the change that makes these values live. For when we bring these into our world through our hands and mouths, through our actions and prayers, then we help to bring some balance to this so out of kilter world and some balance to ourselves as well.

It shows us the truth of what Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav toaught us: Im Attah maamim sheefshar lekalkeyl. If you believe that its possible for as single person to make a difference by being destructive, taamin sheefshar letakkeyn, you have to believe that it is possible for as single person to make a difference in healing.

May this year be a year of balance and justice and healing for you and your family and the world. And may you be the person to bring it about. AMEN.

Posted by Lee at 11:32 AM

September 20, 2004

Spiritual Winkles, Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5765, by Student Rabbi Joel Fleekop

In Jewish folklore men and women go in search of many things. They look for wisdom and for treasure. They search for great teachers and for true love. But in no story recorded in the Talmud, in no hassidic tale of the Bal Shem Tov does anyone go in search of the cure for wrinkles.

But that is exactly how some of our best minds now spend their lives. Engaged in the never-ending battle against wrinkles. A battle that has led to development of weapons like moisturizers, botox treatments, and of course the weapon of mass wrinkle destruction, the face-lift. The war on wrinkles has become so important that profiling the lives of its soldiers, plastic surgeons, has been warranted worthy of a reality TV show.

I have watched this program and I have seen the prime time makeover shows. I have witnessed the incredible difference that they make. And I think we should follow their lead. On this Rosh Hashanah morning we should as a community resolve to join the fight against wrinkles.

We should join the fight against wrinkles, but not the ones on our faces. No, we should fight a battle against a different type of wrinkle, the wrinkles that develop on our insides. The wrinkles that obscure the beauty of our spirits.

These wrinkles are not caused by the sun. And laughter certainly does not cause them. No these wrinkles are caused by something else. They are caused by the cynicism that afflicts our minds, hearts and spirits. They are caused by the cynicism that paralyzes our hopes, dreams, and desires.

But the effects of cynicism are not immediately apparent. Like the development of wrinkles on the skin, internal wrinkles don’t appear overnight, they are slow in developing. You can only notice them by looking back and seeing how things once were. So I ask you now to think back to your childhood. To the way you saw yourself, the way you thought of others, and the way you viewed the world.

Think back to when people used to ask you what you wanted to be. It was such an exciting question. A question full of potential. A question that made your face light up with hopes and dreams.

Now think about your response. I think it is safe to say it had very little to do with expected salary and benefit packages. It is my guess that your answer had a lot to do with what talents you saw in yourself, the things you really cared about, the things you loved.

But then as you grew up you encountered cynicism, a force that can be as powerful and devastating as love. It might have come in the form of a parent who forbid you to study music in college. Or a guidance counselor who laughed at your hopes of a career in marine biology. Or maybe it was you yourself who decided that you lacked the talent for a career in art. No matter how you encountered cynicism, it played a role in shaping how you now spend your days. It played a role in ending some of your childhood dreams. And by ending these dreams, it formed a wrinkle that now conceals a part of your true beauty. A wrinkle that conceals a part of your spirit.

But spiritual wrinkles don’t only come from letting cynicism affect the way we view ourselves. They are also caused by letting cynicism affect the way we interact with others.

This summer I spent an hour with my niece 3 year old niece in the park. She played on the swing. She went up and down the slide a few times, and played in the ball pit for a few minutes. But then she did something that impressed me even more than her ability to climb the slide ladder. She went over to a young boy in the sandbox and they began playing together. With shovel and bucket in hand, they spent a few minutes of their young lives open to one another.

But it seems that as we grow older these encounters become few and far between. We become increasingly closed to one another. We begin to question the motives of not only the stranger who approaches us, but also our friends and family.

That we become cynical about people and their motives isn’t really a surprise. Many may see it as one of life’s many lessons. After all, who hasn’t been used by someone they thought was a friend. Who hasn’t been hurt by someone they once called a lover. These experiences are so universal author Nick Hornby writes that “cynicism is our shared language, the Esperanto that actually caught on.”

But whether it is wise or not, cynicism keeps us from fulfilling our fundamental desire, our fundamental need to live life in community. And by going through life with this need unmet, a wrinkle is formed. A wrinkle that obscures our inner-beauty. A wrinkle that blemishes our spirits.

And finally there are the wrinkles that cynicism causes when we let it affect the way we view the world.

Anyone who has watched our religious school perform acts of Tzedakah knows that the human spirit contains a passion for tikkun olam, for improving the world in which we live.

The Israeli pop-singer Erick Einstein captures our youthful passion for tikkun olam when he confidently declares, “Ani vAtah Nshaneh Et Ha-Olam,” You and I will change the world. As the song continues he acknowledges that others have said these same words and failed, but again he confidently asserts that their failures don’t matter.

But history does matter. It matters that every Sunday the paper publishes an expose of a corrupt charity. It matters that after years of regulation we still pump pollutants into the air and water. And it matters that after billions of dollars and hundreds of programs, 25% of American children still live in poverty.

These cold facts make it very easy to become cynical about the possibility of things every changing. And even more cynical that our actions could make a difference. And so many of us stop trying to make a difference.

We force ourselves to ignore our passion for tikkun olam. And this decision too brings another wrinkle, a wrinkle that conceals a part of our spirits.

But unlike Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey, our spirits are not irreparably blemished. There are ways to reduce the signs of aging, to erase the wrinkles that cynicism has placed on our spirits. I’d like to share three effective treatments for internal wrinkle reduction.

The first is to give ourselves a mental exfoliation treatment. By scraping away the surface level of everyday thoughts, by releasing our minds, even for just a few moments, from the demands of work, schedules, and bills, we give ourselves a chance. A chance to reconnect with a part of ourselves that has long been ignored. A chance to once again expose the talents and passions that dwell in our spirits. Talents and passions that cynicism and self-doubt long ago forced us to abandon.

This high-holiday season, with its moments of reflection and contemplation is a great time to start this process of reconnection. But in order for the mental exfoliation treatment to be successful, we have to not only unearth our long forgotten passions and talents, but be responsive to them. There has to be room for them in our lives. And this means making changes, making tshuvah.

We make tshuvah with ourselves by acknowledge that we were wrong in ignoring the passions and talents of our spirits. We make tshuvah with ourselves by changing things. By blocking off a few hours, or maybe just a few minutes a week to paint, to reconnect with an inner artists. By nourishing a love for animals by getting a membership to the zoo. By digging out the saxophone from under the bed and releasing the musician that has for too long been held captive by the demands of everyday life.

These are small steps. But they are steps that can make a big difference in eliminating the wrinkles that now blemish our spirits.

The second treatment that can help eliminate spiritual wrinkles is to give our insides a face lift. Internal face lifts eliminate wrinkles not by pulling back skin, but by pulling back defenses. Defenses we have built around our hearts. Defenses that are designed to keep us from being hurt by others. Defenses that in reality keep us from being touched by others.

In the second chapter of Genesis, God forms a human being from the dust of the earth and gives the human life by breathing the Nishmat Hayyim, the spirit of life into the human’s nostrils, Just as soon as God has given the human being a spirit, God realizes that it is not good for the human to be alone. It is not good because our spirits long to be in communion with one another. To spend life surrounded by love, friendship, and fellowship.

God resolved this problem in the Garden of Eden by creating a companion for Adam, the first human. God has resolved this problem for us by surrounding us with people. But being near people doesn’t guarantee you or me an ezer k’nedgo. And the ability to trade a rib for the gift of human companionship came and went with the garden of Eden. No in order to receive that divine gift, we have to be willing to do something much more difficult than removing a rib. We have to uplift our hearts from their protective bunkers and open them to one another.

It is only when we do this, only when we allow ourselves to receive the divine gift of human companionship, only when we allow ourselves to be touched by others that our internal face-lifts are effective.

And finally there is the third treatment for internal wrinkles, spiritual botox treatments. As you may know, a conventional botox treatment eliminates and prevents wrinkles by deadening different parts of the face. A spiritual botox treatment works in exactly the opposite way. Instead of eliminating feeling, it brings it back. It frees the spirit of cynicism and lets you once again feel your youthful passion for tikkun olam.

Sounds great? But where do you get this incredible treatment? In order to receive a spiritual botox treatment you don’t go to a doctor’s office and get an injection, but rather you reach out to the world and inject yourself. Inject yourself into a neighborhood campaign to gather school supplies for needy students. Inject yourself into the creation of an office recycling program. Inject yourself into the debate over whose family values our nation should protect.

The specifics of where you decide to help do not matter. Even if you are not convinced that you are making a difference, which you are, it is still worth doing. It is worthy doing because your pursuit of tikkun olam makes a difference to who you are. It fulfills a need that lies in your spirit, and in so doing it frees your spirit of the wrinkles that obstruct its divine beauty.

Winning the battle against spiritual wrinkles will not be easy. Victory will be achieved only when we can release our minds, uplift our hearts, and most importantly free our spirits of cynicism. Victory will be achieved only when we commit ourselves to fulfilling and nurturing the hopes, dreams, and desires that together form our spirits.

Winning the battle against spiritual wrinkles will not be easy, but it is a battle worth fighting.

And if we truly dedicate ourselves to this battle, than maybe one day a mother will tell her child the story of how one Rosh Hashanah a community of Jews set out on a journey and found the cure for wrinkles.

Posted by Lee at 06:00 PM
UAHC