Erev Rosh Hashanna, 5774, Rom Rosenblum

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Erev Rosh Hashanna

Sep 4, 2013 (eve) / 1 Tishrei 5774

Rom Rosenblum

So, as this is the first drash that I give this year…actually the first ever! … I’ll make a Sh’hechiyanu prayer. You can join me if this is the first drash you’ve ever heard … otherwise, an amen would be appropriate at the end. … … …

Baruch Atah Adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, sh'hechiyanu vekiimano vhegeanu lazman hazeh

So…good yontif…shanah tova…shana tova u’mtukah… etc.

OK…All over the world tonight, Jews come out to gathering places…to synagogues, Shuls, Schteiblach, Temples, Homes even…to gather together to mark the beginning of this happy, yet solemn, time…our NEW YEAR. Our time of reflection and replenishment … submission and repentance.

Our Yamim Noraim ... Days of Awe … we have that incredible connect tonight with all world Jewry. Think about that…it’s pretty cool. We enter this time of asking forgiveness…finding renewal…looking within and building up new emotional scaffolding to shore up our moral muscles.

And we all go out on the proverbial limb in this process… asking forgiveness is tied to GIVING forgiveness…and making sure we deliver and accept it at the right time - delivered with authentic piety and accepted with the correct sincerity.

Like it or not, I believe we all measure ourselves and our neighbors tonight according to the “Court of Jewish Opinion.” Finding our potential as Jews and as human beings is dependent on the identity woven into each of us from the total of our experiences…as individuals and as a community. For now, let’s just say that we’re here for what we've done, not for what we’ve missed. We have all bought in, at some level or another, to this yearning to be connected. Our community…and it has so many faces, draws us together during these High Holy Days.

These moments…these Sh’hechiyanu moments, as Rabbi Stu Kelman calls them, in which we are woven together like the warp and woof of our spiritual fabric.

The Journey we sign on for this evening is not a burden, but rather a blessing. A collective journey of yearning and achievement through reflection…un-tethering ourselves from the mundane and going, with abandon, towards some new place…new each year but also always the same. …that Yiddish version of faith…heeding the call we move together toward…I’m not sure where, but to some new and perfect place. The Jewish spark in all of us, no matter how dormant it may seem…it’s there…strong and ready to unfold. Like some forgotten glorious spore, ready to erupt into its pre-programmed form…it survives and endures in us all.

When we say the prayer El Maleh Rachamim…G-d, full of compassion…that we say at funerals, during the yizkor service and on a loved one’s yahrtzeit…we pray that the soul of the departed be bound up in that warp and woof of the universe “tzror b’tzror ha’chayim”…the time-space continuum that is G-d, the holy one, the sh’china, into whom we ALL are woven…a crowning achievement for the sum energy of a life now passed. We apply that highest wish…pinnacle of accomplishment… as a balm to help ease the incomprehensible pain of the hole left in our souls by the departed’s demise. A Community of Comfort. That’s where we find strength during shiva and beyond; in our community - in that time.

And what of the community of elation… the rush of love when one of our toddlers goes running up to a davener to high- five them or releases a scream of joy during a solemn moment. When a bar or bat mitzvah performs their part of the service with authority, or sweet melody…or even when they screech along, singing in the key of “L”, with glass shattering voice, but intense kavana…holy intention…or the k’velling with pride seeing someone’s first aliya…when called to the torah for the first time after being welcomed into our community of faith as a newly minted member of the tribe.

Who has not had those moments, or something like them…or just finding meaning in showing up and learning; finding fulfillment in joining in. Keeping our community thriving is an opportunity we've been given and unless we take advantage of that opportunity, we are missing the mark.

Every morning, in our prayer regimen, we start birchot hashachar… the morning blessings prayer …with this bracha……’asher natan la’sechvi vinah l’havchin bein yom u’ven layilah. Thanking the creator of all things for giving us the understanding to differentiate between day and night… but it really comes from a more esoteric concept… giving to roosters the saichel…the common sense…to differentiate between morning and nighttime.

Tomorrow, we will once again, sound the shofar. This is our time of awakening…of crowing out our awareness that we are aware…that we accept the burden and privilege of torah, and of tikkun olam. I, among others here in our Netivot Shalom community, have been blessed with THAT saichel…to know how to sound the shofar. To scratch our fingers across the blackboard of the warp and woof of our collective consciousness …to awaken the sleeper in all of us… It is, I submit, the very power of this, our communal perception of that sound that will make us stronger…to share the ride and to engage together into that new and more fulfilled person we strive to become each and every year. We Do make that promise tonight and we Will evolve…each at our own pace… but together.

And tomorrow, when we hear the call of the shofar … the shrill, sepia-toned cry of the ancient ram’s horn, we will, hopefully, be ready to commit to a place of change that we can actually achieve, not just pay lip service to - like some half-hearted New Year’s resolution to lose weight or stop smoking.

Rabbi Benztiyon Bokser, a Conservative rabbinic leader of this last century, said:

[…] sin is a withdrawal from G-d, whose image we all bear. On the other hand, every step forward in our quest for perfection is another step towards our return to G-d and holiness.

This is teshuvah … from the word return…that signifies these Days Of Awe. The Shofar’s call…a call to a return to G-d.

Teshuvah is a therapeutic process. With all the classic stages, like, first: we have to admit that there’s a problem; second, we can’t get right with G-d before you get right with your fellow human beings. And third, that we have free will… we have a choice, indeed the imperative, to choose right from wrong and accept the consequences and all that comes with that.

But Change is like faith…and somewhat like the E.U.L.A. The End User Licensing Agreement, that we see when purchasing some new software for our computers. We scroll down to the bottom and check the tick box and AGREE…with seldom, if ever, actually reading the fine print.

Heck, I come to shul, but do I really HAVE TO learn Mishna and Gemorah to count myself as a good Jew? I’ll just tick the box! Believe in the Almighty? Some cool cat in a nice robe on a thrown with a scepter? Come on…that’s for kids…but, I can’t figure out Baseball’s Infield Fly Rule, so how am I supposed to get infinity…let alone the awesome and ineffable name of yod-hey-vav-hey?

I say “I don’t know!” And I can, because, thank G-d, we are a community of freethinkers and self starters. Learners and teachers. We have no Pope or Council of Elders that we have we submit to. Just to our community’s standards and to our own concept of our relationship with G-d, ourselves and our community. And each time we move our own empathic meter and moral compass farther forward, the farther we collectively all advance.

Some of us are connected less and less with our physical community and that needs repairing.

Here’s a quote from Cory Booker, the newly selected candidate for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey. This is from a commencement address he gave at Yale this past May:

There was a kid I really liked that hung out in the lobby of my building. He reminded me of my dad. I always wanted to engage him, but never had a free moment. One day, I got another dreaded call that there was a shooting and some bystander kids were killed. It turned out that one of them was that special young man. We were all able to attend his wake for his death, but… where were we for his life? G-d put him right in front of my face, but I was off doing other, “more important things”. I couldn't see what was right in front of me.

Sacred space and community, both physical & spiritual, are like that youth. We can NOT ignore them.

I work with a guy…an engineer who works in our Cambridge office in The UK. He’s a Lay Leader at his church. Now this just ain’t any old Church, but the Canterbury Cathedral…quite impressive. I had a discussion once with him on how the laity can preserve a landmark iconic house of worship. I started to think about our Netivot Shalom community here and how it will be seen over time…into the next generation and after that. What stories will survive and which personalities will endure. How long will the common consciousness of THIS community, and all we hold dear today, carry on, and what can we do to insure that?

And then, I realized: Our oral history is the only thing that will survive the days after we here tonight are all gone. The traditions we choose to hold dear and pass along, are the already-made-footsteps into which we now walk and live. Like those spores we spoke about earlier, that bloom with their own autonomic knowledge, traditions turn into the holy image we can aspire towards. Footsteps made by brilliant and holy men and women over the millennia. And we trust that someday, someone smart will also step into them and be able to put it all together and make sense of it. Our traditions live through us and are passed through us…hurling to a time and place that, though we may not witness ourselves, we KNOW will be achieved someday.

This holy community is the receptacle of our personal and cultural hopes, dreams, and our future. We are writing history and we are stewards of this institution and all related to it. As we meander through the liturgy these coming days, let’s take stock of how our legacy will play into the future.

Tomorrow, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, it’s traditional to say Tashlich…a supplication to seek that initial path of forgiveness as we enter the Days of Awe. We cast bread upon the moving waters. Jewish mysticism teaches that water corresponds to the attribute of kindness. On Rosh Hashanah, we beseech G-d to treat us with kindness during the upcoming year. And we throw that bread on the water because there are supposed to be fish within: the significance of the fish is interesting.

Fish don’t blink. Fish, don’t, blink!

Like those fish, the eye of the Holy One (as we metaphorically say throughout this season), never blinks: the Holy One has an all seeing, all knowing, all recording, all judging eye. And we humbly submit to that all seeing deity. Everyone of us, somehow, in our own way.

Unlike the NSA, to whom we do not submit so freely or want seeing, knowing and judging us without due process. This is actually an intriguing thought. Like our relationship with that End User Licensing Agreement, we are fine with G-d holding our most precious and vulnerable thoughts and deeds and sitting in judgment over us. We mater-of-factly submit to this. But we don’t easily share that same submission with our government, faceless or otherwise, so easily.

And why? I don’t know about you, but for me, taking an account of ourselves during this week of teshuva (self-reflection and return to our grounding pole of sorts) we seek an emotional home base: we look into ourselves and self medicate with an introspective balm of awareness working toward atonement.

That word, Atonement – At-one-ment the state of being at one. Like the word shalom comes from the root word shalem; meaning whole…complete. So, atonement only comes when we are at peace with ourselves and having gone through the process we start tonight.

Now, let's get back to where I bristle at the Government’s compulsion to be that all seeing eye…well…they are not me, self analyzing to complete my journey to a holy relationship with my society and with G-d. But rather THEIR intrusion INTO ME is why I bristle. That’s where the real difference lies…And I bring it up not to be a revolutionary or to go all Woody Guthrie on you tonight, but rather to help illustrate my vision of the journey we collectively begin here and now. Please don’t get me wrong, I do get the need for security measures… and we can take this discussion off line of you like. I’d welcome that.

In Pirke Avot, we talk of an all seeing, all recording G-d, and a ledger into which all our stuff is written. Keeping track, but allowing us a chance to rewrite it as we commit to change and renewal.

So we do the right thing, not because we worry about a reward in heaven, or some torturous hellhole to be the result of our good or bad deeds, some green stamps or frequent- flyer miles we collect, but rather because it’s the right thing to do and that’s enough impetus…or at least it should be.

And as we process through all this, know that failure is an option. I read in this month’s National Geographic about 19th Century explorers and their failures…and how those failures brought inspiration and experience to those who eventually succeeded. So if we can’t deliver completely on our attempts to find spiritual completion, know that the effort of making the attempt moves us in the right direction.

Like those footsteps we place our feet into… to perpetuate the dreams of those who came before us; and like our faith that even moving the needle ahead slightly will be productive.

I remember Saul Raskin’s illustrated edition of Pirkei Avot , the Ethics of the Fathers, my somewhat convoluted initiation into the concept of Jewish ethics. It really spooked me. The illustrations, they were like the original Zap Comix! Intense images for great concepts. One illustration that grabbed me was an image of one of G-d’s minions looking over the shoulder of a young man about to make a bad choice and this seraph was writing in a ledger, while the image of the aura of the Shechina was watching it all. G-d is watching. So be it. And so are we all.

I implore each of us to make time tonight and through the coming days to commit to joining in some new way to something that moves you: solidifying our place in our community. And I implore you to revel in our contributions that make tzror b’tzror ha’chayim, the woven cloth of our souls that is both G-d and our community, even more beautiful.

Chag sameach and shana tova u’mituka