It’s like Déjà vu all over again. Yes, I am again quoting from one of my favorite American Philosophers, Yogi Berra. Here we are, back in this familiar place. “Is this the fast I desire?” cries God through his prophet Isaiah. For those of you paying attention, you will notice that this is precisely the Torah Portion we read last year.
It is said that a definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over again, hoping that “this time will be different,” like re-watching the movie Titanic and hoping the boat doesn’t sink. But this is looking back at the past.
We know that we cannot change the past. Instead we look to the future and seek change there. During the High Holidays, we do not only about ask forgiveness for past bad behaviors; but we also believe we can learn from our mistakes and resolve to do better. We will do T’shuva and the future will be great. But the Haftarah tells us it is really not about the future either. For in reality, we cannot control that which has yet to happen any more than we can control that which has already occurred. Isaiah is really all about the now– the present– this very moment. Here and now, we can make a change.
That is why I am so excited about the initiative that Rabbi Straus announced last week in his sermon. We have all received the envelopes to commit to supporting groups such as the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children, HIAS refugee resettlement, and the Calvary Baptist Church in West Philly, dedicated to improving the lives of our neighbors who do not share our many blessings. We can do something today by writing a check and becoming involved. Reform Judaism has always embraced that we are fully engaged in the community and world around us. We at Main Line Reform Temple have decided to make this a reality in a most amazing way. And I am honored and thrilled to be part of a community that is willing to engage in such an extraordinary practice. So please give generously however you are able.
Isaiah makes it clear that before we can be in relationship with God, we first must be in relationship with the other, other people not just those like ourselves, but the poor, the homeless, hungry those who do not share our many blessings, but those who remind us that in someway, we are broken too. In his song Anthem, Leonard Cohen’s poetry expresses it well:
Ring the bells that can still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
Our giving is part of the inspiration and aspiration that is the core message of the High Holidays. The actions we undertake today will make the life of someone needy just a little bit better. And then, the future for all of us shines brighter. When we embrace Isaiah’s call to act in this way, we indeed are on the path towards the fast that God desires.
* This was the d’var Torah delivered at Main Line Reform Temple on Yom Kippur 5774