Tag Archives: t’shuva

If not now? A call for change on Yom Kippur

#4 What do we do now- Be Kind

 

We come to the Third part of Hillel’s quote: If not now, When? The answer is NOW.

I have refrained from speaking directly about Charlottesville with you thus far.

I am sure that the public display of hate deeply pained you.

The horrible chants, torch-lit marching, gun-toting thugs,

40 Jews inside Congregation Beth Israel that evening,

spiriting their Torahs out the back door, expecting the Temple to be burned, it sickens me.

 

The Nazi march was vile and despicable behavior by people who live on the fringes of our society,

a group that trucks in hatred,

truly disenfranchised miscreants who crawled out from the dark underbelly of this great nation

and are mired in their own bizarre fantasies of violence and white supremacy.

I am very angry and deeply saddened by this horrific display.

And I am equally appalled by the lack of moral leadership on this and all issues at the highest levels in our land.

However, I am not fearful.

And in response to the horrors of Charlottesville

I have a one-word reply:

Houston.

 

Charlottesville and many other places make it clear we have a long way to go in the battle for life, liberty, and equal justice for all.

Again I say Houston. For there in Houston, there is hope.

 

In response to the devastating Hurricane Harvey that dumped floodwaters of biblical proportions on the region,

the very best of humanity showed up to the rescue.

There were only two groups in the city:

The rescuers and those in need of rescue.

Race, religion, color, creed, age, sex, gender identification, political affiliation, economic class, social class-

Nothing mattered except the need to save lives of people.

The Cajun Navy spontaneously appeared, people helped people, human chains literally reaching out into the floodwaters,

holding tight to each other

so that another life could be saved from the torrents of water. Everyone was on both ends of that lifeline.

In losing everything, the people of Houston found something truly precious, their humanity.

My response to the horror of Charlottesville is the beauty of Houston.

We seem to be at our best in the aftermath of a calamity.

Houston, Sandyhook, 9/11- these are only a few catastrophes to which we have risen up as a people,

United in bonds of love and fellowship.

Why must we reserve our best in response to tragedy?

This Yom Kippur, I suggest we preemptively deploy our best behavior in our everyday lives.

 

Let us shine light into the darkness

and illumine a path that leads out of the narrow places,

the Mitzrayim- the Egypt- those spaces both literal and figurative that both confine and oppress us.

Let us join together doing acts of loving-kindness.

Let us not sit helplessly and lament the world we long for.

Let us reach out to one another and build the world that should be. Let the humanity of Houston be our inspiration.

 

 

Together let us march forward

carrying love in our hearts and good deeds in our arms.

We have come to the proverbial edge of the Red Sea,

yet one more time in our history. Let us cross over together.

 

(And if I sound a bit like a Southern Baptist preacher, I can only say, Thanks, Grandma.)

 

How do we do this?

For you may say, I am only a single individual-

what effect can I possibly have?

I recall the story told of Mother Theresa,

that saint who tended the poorest of the poor in India.

A cynic asked her how she intended to feed the overwhelming masses who were hungry- she responded simply,

One Mouth at a Time.

And that is how we do it.

Each of us has the power to effect change.

The V’ahavta prayer says VeLo Taturu.

Never underestimate the power to make a difference- each of us.

It is about meeting people, one person at a time.

It is about individuals building relationships with one another

and building these connections into bigger connections,

building a community with shared values and purpose.

And it all starts with one simple idea: You.

 

Rabbi Hillel says in Pirkei Avot,

“In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.”

As Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic insightfully translates,

it means to be a mature, courageous human being;

it also means to be a mensch. So I sum it up and say simply to you: Be Kind.

 

In an age and culture where we have become coarse and combative,

BE KIND.

In a world filled with overwhelming loneliness and alienation,

BE KIND.

In a world quick to cynically chastise and separate with fractiousness and divisiveness,

BE KIND.

Hillel condensed all Torah to this:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to another.”

BE KIND. This as our call to action.

 

Start with yourself.

Let us free ourselves from the shackles of guilt and sin keeping us mired in the past.

Learn from it to live next year better.

Be kind and forgiving of your self. Starting now.

Promise yourself to engage.

 

Jews are taught to awake with the words “I am Thankful.”

“Modeh Ani Lifanecha, Elohai Nishama Shenatati bi tihora hi.” ‘Thank you God for restoring my pure soul.”

What a beautiful intention to start the day.

A fresh slate, built on gratitude for our blessings

and hopeful for the possibilities that await us.

Use the day to engage in the things that motivate you- your Why. Actively support something you believe in,

a philanthropy or a cause,

be part of something greater than yourself.

 

End your day with a bedtime Shema- prayer.

Go to sleep knowing

you are in the sheltering arms of the One who loves and protects you.

 

Nurture your relationships.

Be compassionate and forgiving; for they too are as flawed, seeking wholeness and love.

BE KIND.

 

Find your community and

BE KIND.

We need a caring community to support and comfort us

During times of celebration and sorrow.

Temple Micah is an extraordinary community to find people with shared values.

And together we can make a difference

rising up our voices as one,

speaking with more power than one alone to affect greater change. Give to the food bank,

give to help the suffering victims on Puerto Rico.

BE KIND.

 

Our greater communities, both our nation and the world,

need people to champion our values now more than ever.

Your voice, your time and your money are all necessary

to champion the things you believe in.

There is no shortage of need, and we cannot be silent.

 

“Kol Arevim Zeh BaZeh.”

All Israel is responsible for each other.

Whether you see Israel literally or metaphorically,

you can make a difference in

the genocide of the Rohingya, happening as we speak,

climate change, Israel, healthcare, the political debate both national and local.

These issues are our issues.

Find the one that resonates with your and pursue it.

 

We need to build a better world.

I believe it can happen.

But only if we are willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work necessary,

for it cannot happen on its own.

As it says in Psalm 89 verses 3,

Olam Chesed Yibaneh. “We will build this world with love.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewish Love is not romantic love.

We learn Jewish love in the Shema and V’ahavta prayer.

Love is an active verb.

Jewish love is not a state of being, it is a state of doing.

The prayer instructs us to Love God by living the commandments, teaching them to our children

and fully embracing them in all of our thoughts and actions.

Jewish wisdom sees the Heart as the guide to emotion and action.   I am the change I want to see.

This is the empowering message of the Torah.

It implores us to embrace that

only through our own action will we begin to build the world that should be.

 

The people of our nation have always had to fight for the values we hold dear;

from the moment we first expressed them through the present day. This amazing country of ours is both resilient and great.

But we remain a work in progress with a long way to go before all of her children will enjoy the aspirations of our foundational documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty.

Life, liberty, and equal justice for all remain the promise we still strive to achieve.

This promise is the beacon of light shining from on top of the hill to the other nations of the world.

We will build this nation on love.

Olam Chesed Yibaneh. We will build this world on love.

 

As we move toward the end of our prayers today

we will hear that the gates are closing and also

that the gates of repentance are never closed.

These two seemingly contradicting ideas both live in our texts.

I believe that with Ne’ilah, our closing prayers,

the liturgists are exhorting us to act.

It is the urgency of now. We cannot wait.

The prophetic tradition that is ours,

The fragility of life that makes each day a gift-

they combine to say “don’t wait another minute.”

So here is this sacred space, as we conclude our services this day,

I encourage everyone here to smile at one another,

kiss and embrace your loved ones,

and kiss and embrace whoever is near you.

This is the start of something new.

We will build this world with love.

 

G’mar Tov- May you be sealed for Good

Olam Chesed Yibaneh  (sing)

 

 

 

L’Shana Tova

Leon Bridges song River has been in my head for most of Elul as I try to prepare myself for the High Holidays.  It seems a perfect song for Tashlich.  I hope you enjoy it and find it deeply moving too.

Wishing everyone a Happy Healthy 5778, may it be a year filled with blessings.

L’Shana Tova!

The Godliness of Forgiveness- It’s all about me

 

mobiusbraceletHow do I forgive? I am supposed to use the month of Elul to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time of introspection, to reflect on how I can improve in the year to come by looking at where I went astray in the year past. I need to seek forgiveness from God as I bare my soul. But our tradition teaches I cannot ask God for forgiveness until I have sincerely attempted to reconcile with my fellows. It all starts and ends with me.

 Who among us does not deserve an apology from someone who has treated us improperly? But am I ready to welcome that apology if it comes? And if it does not come, am I prepared to reach out and help those who do not know how to ask for forgiveness and how would I do that? It is very hard to rise above my pain and hurt to embrace the humanity in the other.

 And what about those whom I have wronged? Can I find it in myself to be contrite and ask forgiveness from them? Pride and principle often get in the way, blocking what could otherwise be a caring relationship. Even when I sincerely believe I am right, standing on principle creates an impasse. Then I must consider whether it is more important to be right or to be the one who can reach out and embrace someone I care about.

 Finally and very importantly is forgiving myself. I look inside and see my shortcomings, the places where I did not do as I hoped I would, the places where I am shackled by guilt, immobilized by my personal sense of shame or deficiencies. I am the victim of the harshest critic of all, me. What can I do to finally say I am sorry; I forgive me so I can finally begin to heal from my wounds and move forward, not place a bandage over them. Keeping them locked inside only chains me to a past filled with hurt.

 Sins and transgressions are big and small. Whichever they are, my inability to move beyond them and sit in judgment places barriers between us. They estrange me from those I love locking me into a narrow place. If I can move beyond the pain and hurt, however, forgiveness can be a transformative experience. It is quite difficult but when I truly forgive, a great weight is lifted from me. Barriers that once separated fall and I can reunite with those who had become distant whether it is another I love or the child within. If I can temper “din” (judgment) with “rachamim” (mercy), then I am acting in a more Godly, selfless way. And perhaps it is through these acts of human forgiveness I might attain forgiveness from the Eternal One.

 Perhaps the first step on this path is through our traditional MiShebeyrach prayer for healing. May the one who blessed our fathers and our mothers bless those in need of healing with a refuah shlemah, a restoration of completeness. I will speak the words for them and for me too.

 May this be a year of health, wholeness, and healing for us all~

L’Shana Tova!

The pressing message of urgency in Parashah Acharei Mot

CoachingReconciling the strange message of death

 Acharei Mot opens with an instruction from God about Yom Kippur prefaced by a bizarre phrase: “After the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord.” Is this a warning to Aaron that he has a job to do, so get to it, but do it right or you will end up like your kids? That seems like the unnecessarily harsh treatment of Aaron. Why would God start off in this way? Perhaps it is to guide us toward a deeper idea surrounding the urgency of atonement.

 Kippur is translated as Atonement, broken down to mean becoming “at one” with God. We atone when we harmonize ourselves with God. In this Parashah’s connection with the Yom Kippur ritual, the High Priest is responsible for creating this harmony between God and the people. Aaron is given elaborate instructions in this Parashah to prepare himself and to also prepare the Holy of Holies so that all will emerge pure and in line with God. Later we learn of how the people are involved in the Yom Kippur rituals. Our later writings further elaborate that only asking forgiveness of God is insufficient. But the opening of Acharei Mot challenges us more than with the importance of doing the rituals right. There was a need for action and T’shuva demonstrating a cleansed and pure heart.

 Leading with the seemingly incomprehensible deaths of Nadav and Abihu creates a powerful message intended to shock us into action. We understand that forgiveness of one another is important; before we can reconcile with God, we must reconcile with each other. However, full presence is necessary to the process and time is of the essence. T’shuva and forgiveness are critically important and must not be put off. In the normal course of relationships, such as between parent and child, we hope that parent and child reconcile before the parent is gone. Often we still wait, postponing such conversations until we see parents in their decline. But in Acharei Mot, the stark tragedy of Aaron’s two sons being struck down before his eyes makes the urgent message of atonement even more jarring. The gift of life is precious and tenuous; the estrangements that we may feel need to be repaired before it is too late to repair them at all. The unexpected deaths of Aaron’s sons, command our attention to acting immediately. But it must be with full intention and presence.

 Aaron is warned not to come inside the Holy of Holies at will lest he dies. He must be thoroughly prepared. The High Priest’s preparation and cleansing of the sanctuary are symbolic of the cleansing that needs to occur within each of us. Like the careful removal of all impurity in the holy sanctuary we too need to be cleansed and prepared, so we can approach another with an open heart both asking and giving forgiveness. When we search deep inside ourselves, we often find the hurts we have caused and the wounds we have suffered should not keep us estranged from each other. Our Relationships are precious. We have too little time before it is over, people die and relationships fade into memories.

 Acharei Mot assertively and starkly makes us confront the significance of forgiveness set against the backdrop of our mortality. We risk a lifetime of regret and guilt about things we might have done but did not. The Parashah metaphorically challenges us to find the way back into relationships and again become “at one” with another. Acharei Mot gives perspective to us, showing the overriding need to reconcile with and forgive those we should care about while we are still blessed with the time to share.

What does forgiveness look like for me?

What does forgiveness look like for me?

 Many Jews were amazed by the forgiveness offered by the survivors of the Charleston Church massacre. This Christian understanding of forgiveness is an extraordinarily powerful display of love but alien to many Jews. So what does it look like to offer forgiveness to another?

 How many of us carry a hurt and cannot let it go. How many of us feel that someone’s poor treatment of us gives us license to treat them similarly? Or perhaps many of us want to extract a retribution or punishment before we will entertain forgiving another?

 What might we look like if we could find a way to get past the hurt and find a way to repair a broken relationship? Can we set our egos aside or do we need to carry the hurt as a validation?

 I wonder about these questions this Elul due to my particular perspective as a rabbi. As a rabbi, I am someone who has the sacred privilege of serving at funerals. I find it very sad that many people leave things unresolved until it is too late. The pain and the guilt that survives death becomes an even greater burden than the hurt that caused the rift between the two.

 As we prepare for the High Holidays, let us examine our own motives and realize that even when the hurts are real, when we cannot forgive, these hurts become walls separating us from people we care about.

 As we come to the end of the 6th day of Elul,

 Shabbat Shalom