Erev Rosh Hashanah 2021 5782

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
Erev Rosh Hashanah
September 6, 2021

Hayom harat olam. Today is the birthing pangs of the world. Today is the hint of redemption. Today we stand and sit together and stand and sit again to observe and celebrate and find joy in the blessings of opportunity. Once again the world is in flux. The uncertainty is challenging and yet our desire for plans and certainty ramps up. As a people, as human beings, uncertainty is terrifying. It throws us off balance. Infinite possibility can be challenging. Much of our faith intentionally limits choice, paradoxically allowing more of it. If kashrut allows our diet to be limited, we can use our finite mental resources on bigger ideas. If Shabbat observance creates a regular routine in our lives, it allows us to have unquestioned time with our families. We can consider the meaning of the world or change it for the better--rather than determining the best suit for today.

When I am trying to accomplish a large task, the best thing to do is to break it down into smaller, manageable goals. I know this with every fiber of my being--yet I am far more likely to start working on some other completely unrelated project. I call this productive procrastination. If my desk is completely tidy, I must be thinking about something important. If I have gotten my email inbox to a manageable level or completed my imagined list of necessary phone calls, I must have a Rosh Hashanah sermon to write.

The funny thing is that sometimes that avoidance is exactly the thing we need. Thinking about the holidays, I really wanted to find the perfect story about joy. We all need joy. We need simcha. While it was a small wedding, it was such a mechayeh, a life giving moment to celebrate the wedding of Sheri and Cantor Schultz. Having an afternoon of unencumbered joy, of gleeful celebration, of seeing their future of Torah and mitzvot was just incredible. (Yes the guest list was small with the pandemic. Yes we will not have another in shul catered event for at least the next few weeks, but so amazing to have gilah, rinah, ditzah, vhedvah, ahava, vachva, vshalom vreut)!

Sitting to write recently, I was looking out at the pouring rain. Schuyler decided he needed to go out just as I was finally finding my thoughts. Rather than take him by myself, I asked my girls if they would like to put on rain boots and jackets and join me. There was much bellyaching, but when I said we would intentionally jump in the puddles, the attitudes shifted. When I said they could bring umbrellas, too, the smiles broke through. We spent the next twenty minutes gleefully getting wet. It was joyful. It was pure. And the dog was confused but happy. How often today do we celebrate those small moments?

While I did not get any more productive writing that day, I did get a moment of joy--and perhaps the story I was looking for the entire time. It may lack a Hasidic rebbe and his disciple, but I taught my girls something important. Sometimes we have to go out and get messy to have fun. Life is not lived only online or from the sidelines. We have to choose to find joy, find hope, to find life.

Many of you know the old joke about the guy on a desert island. After a few years he is found and he gives the people a tour, showing two synagogues--one he attends and one he would never set foot in. One of my colleagues shared that this year, we can all be in the joke--we can even make our own synagogue the one we go to AND the one we won’t set foot in. #multiaccessprayer (Laughter I hope!) It is great to see you whether you are here physically or virtually.

In recent weeks I have spoken to many of you about faith, about God, about suffering, about a crazy, broken world. While we may have different answers to many of those questions, I believe with every fiber in my being that Judaism offers us the tools to wrestle with those questions. Jewish tradition has never shied away from difficult issues. It demands engagement. Even the most complicated topics, the most challenging debates can invigorate us, can inspire us, can help us connect to God, Torah and the people of Israel. So let’s talk, let’s argue (productively), let’s find hope together!

As we gather this 5782, this new year of blessing, my prayer for us all is that we can find that joy. It may not always be right in front of us, but with a little work, we can make it happen! Shanah tovah!

My sermon can be found at the 38 minute mark.  As always, it does not entirely reflect the text above.


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