Monday September 26, 2022
Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Rosh Hashanah Day 1
היום, Today, all around the world, Jews are gathering. From Johannsberg, to Sydney, Tokyo, Moscow, Kiev, Jerusalem, London, NYC, from Peoria to St Petersburg, we are gathering in prayer, enjoying meals with family and friends, and of course, thinking about our choices. Why did we go to THAT synagogue? Why did the rabbi say that? What exactly are we doing here, year after year after year?
Our liturgy asks this question each morning and we return to it next week on Yom Kippur. (skim prayer)
While at first it seems depressing, there is something freeing about it. We are not only the sum of our deeds. We are also the content of our character. We are who we are because of our family, our community, because of our connection to God, Torah and Israel. We are not alone. We are in this together. We live a counter-cultural tradition. A Jew cannot truly be alone. We can only live with a minyan, with a community, with one another.
For 100 years, CBI has worked to build that community. For 100 years, we have worked to support one another, to lift one another up, to be there for one another. We have worked to be a Bet Knesset, a house of gathering, a Bet Midrash, a house of study, and a Bet Tefillah, a house of prayer.
We come together today for holy purpose. We come together to open our hearts, to cry out to God, to say, we cannot do this alone. Our world may be beautiful. It may be filled with blessing and joy and simcha. But it also feels pretty challenging at times. We have lived through a global pandemic that increased loneliness and isolation. We have seen that pandemic turn endemic, trying to figure out how to be around people once again. We have seen misinformation filter through so many diverse sources leading to increased division throughout the world, the country and even our own holy community.
So we say to God---
We say to God, we cannot do this alone. We demand of God: be with us. Walk with us. Help us. Deal with us lovingly and redeem us. I know that in this room there are many different ideas about God. Some of us believe that God is intimately involved in every aspect of your lives. Others believe that God created the world and left it to us. Some think that God is a human invention to deal with the mysteries of life. Whatever we imagine God to be or not to be, Judaism is a vital, meaningful way to live. Belief is not the be all and end all of living a Jewish life--LIVING it is. Participating in Jewish experiences, studying Jewish texts, yes, even coming to shul, teaching our children, celebrating Shabbat, having apples and honey or other symbolic foods--the actions, the living is vital.
When I first started learning about chaplaincy, I spent a summer at a hospital doing Clinical Pastoral Education. The Christian seminary students spoke about being Jesus in the room. I will admit, I was flummoxed. What did they mean? Yet after I was present the first time at the moment someone took their last breath, I began to understand. We can bring Godliness into the lives of ourselves and others. Kabbalah teaches that our actions can be reflected in the Divine realm. Jewish mysticism says that our choices are reflected in the fabric of the universe, that by making a difference here, by showing up for others, by offering our prayers, by eating with intention, we are changing the nature of the world.
This may seem a little bit crazy, but our actions really do make a difference. Think about it. When someone cuts you off or steals YOUR parking space, how long do you stew about it? When someone brings you an unexpected gift--or you bring a smile to someone’s face--how long does that blessing stay with you? Giving and receiving kindness brings the presence of God, the Shekhina, into our lives. The wonderful Jewish Lights Press has a book by Rabbi Robert Levine entitled, “There is no Messiah and You’re It.” He teaches that through prayer, study, Mitzvot and Tzedakah we can change the world.
When I talk to Jews, I inevitably hear, “But I’m not a good Jew,” because I don’t keep kosher or Shabbat. Yes, I think your life would be better if you keep kosher, if you are aware of where your food comes from and have mindful eating habits. I think Shabbat is an absolutely necessary break from the insane pace of our 24/7 world. I think building a Sukkah and giving thanks change our perspective for the better. AND I think that you are a much better Jew than you think you are. Many of those who tell me they are not good Jews are living lives that are steeped in Jewish tradition. They are healthcare workers caring for the sick. They are lawyers fighting for justice. They are shop owners and workers providing for the needs of society. They are non-profit warriors making the world better while struggling to survive. You can be a good non-observant Jew AND you can find more meaning in your life through Jewish observance.
In Christian tradition, there are conversations about faith vs works. As a Jew, there is no debate. We’ve got to get off our tuchus and DO! Study and prayer are actions. Eating is an action. Coming together in joy and sadness is an action! Supporting one another is an action.
Hearing those words you wonder if it’s time to go home. The Machzor page counting is over and it’s time for lunch--sorry not quite yet! What does this prayer ask of God and of us? It asks us to see the holiness in our lives. It asks us to listen to one another, truly, and to know that we are not alone, that we are heard. It asks us and God to be there for one another, to be present, aware, compassionate, loving, kind, to seek out well-being.
We are all familiar with those verses, but the original poem was a full acrostic, that offers even more blessing to us.
הַיּוֹם תִּזְכְּרֵנוּ בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ
On this day, may you remember us with compassion.
On this day, may you invigorate us.
הַיּוֹם תְּטַהֲרֵנוּ מִכׇּל־חֵטְא
On this day, may you purify us from every transgression.
הַיּוֹם תְּיַשְּׁרֵנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ
On this day, may you straighten us up before you.
On this day, may be you be honored by us.
On this day, may you be endeared to us.
הַיּוֹם תְּמַלְּטֵנוּ מִכׇּל־רָע
On this day, may you extricate us from every evil.
הַיּוֹם תִּנַקֵנוּ מֵעָוֺן
On this day, may you cleanse us from sin.
On this day, may you trust in us.
On this day, may you answer us.
הַיּוֹם תִּפְקְדֵנוּ לְחַיִּים וְלִבְרָכָה
On this day, may you take note of us for life and blessing.
On this day, may you be charitable with us.
On this day, may you agitate us.
On this day, may you have compassion on us.
We can live our lives with those blessings. We can share them with ourselves, with our loved ones, with those we don’t love so much AND with God. Let’s try this year.
I have not entirely joked that my catchphrase is “more joy, less oy.” As we gather together this year to celebrate our 100th anniversary, let us live it. Let us open our prayer books, our wallets, our hearts, our souls. Let us put on our gloves or take them off. Let us get our hands dirty. Let us find joy in our connections. Let us find meaning with our community. Let us learn together. Let us grow together. Let us live as Jews, right here, right now. Amen!