Why the Comma?October 4, 2014Yom Kippur 5775
The moon of Tishrei was barely visible ten days ago on Rosh HaShanah. It has swollen into an oval tonight on Yom Kippur. If the new moon on Rosh HaShanah represents birth, just as the holiday represents a reminder of the birth of Creation, then the oval moon tonight represents a development of identity. Tonight, we as a religious community are ready to face God and tonight, collectively, we feel our strongest partnership with God. The expression of that partnership, for many is found in the Bible. To this end, I would like to help you understand your partnership with God through the Bible.Earlier this year I was asked to participate in a press conference to build support for freedom to marry in Arizona. I was one of fifty clergy from Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson presenting arguments on this important social issue. As I entered the church I noticed a banner on the wall with a large red comma and underneath a quote from Gracie Allen, George Burns' wife. I asked, "Why the Comma?" I was told by my friend, Pastor Milligan, that the comma represented the anthem of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and was inspired by Gracie Allen's quote: "Never place a period where God has placed a comma."
The reference relates to how we look at our Bible. Is it the direct word of God or something else? Are these commands from God to be taken literally for all time or are they expressions of desired discipline for a people that may be interpreted in subsequent generations?
A rabbi asked his students, "What is the Bible?" A half-impudent and half-inconsiderate student replied, "It is a book." This is incorrect. The Bible is kitvei kodesh, "holy writings." The real question is what is its essence and is it meaningful for us today?
1. To a theologian it is the record of a great event in the history of the universe marking the time the divine entered the consciousness of the finite.2. To a literary historian it is the first continual succession of deeply moving and creative literary expression, from the poetry of the Psalms to the meaningful history of the kings of Israel.3. To Rabbi Solomon Freehoff, one of the great thinkers of Reform Judaism, the Bible describes the spiritual education of a special group of students – ex-slaves. In the beginning they were ignorant and miserable and these books taught them about the infinite God and the values which would sustain and protect them. This people, now taught about God and eternal values, possessed a fortress which no hatred or persecution could storm or capture.
We wonder how, despite the best efforts of those who have hated and discriminated against us; how, despite living in more open societies with the attraction of assimilation, that we have survived after all of this time? It is no wonder.It cannot be because of the Bible, some have insisted. It is filled with violence, hypocrisy and inconsistencies – a charge not unnoticed by some of the great thinkers throughout time.In preparing for my American Jewish citizenry classes on Mondays I discovered that Thomas Paine, American political activist and revolutionary, lashed out at the Bible in his book, The Age of Reason (1794) when he said:
When ever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we calledit the word of a demon, than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.
There is great validity to this charge. Our Bible describes God as loving, protective and compassionate at one moment and then in the next God is brutal, violent and cruel. How can we deal with such inconsistencies? How can this fortify us? How can we listen to God telling us to care for the poor, be righteous in how you deal with people, be a person of faith and integrity, do not slander others or do evil to your neighbor, and then in another passage, the ground swallows up the wicked, instructs us to stone our arrogant children, and not to associate with foreigners?Do you associate or trust people in your life who are similarly inconsistent? How about your parents? Were they ever inconsistent in what they said and what they did? Then how could you trust them? Are you ever inconsistent? And if you are, do your virtues outweigh those inconsistencies? Despite the fact that our parents were not always consistent, we trusted them because we valued them as parents. We hope our children continue to trust us and our insights despite our inconsistencies.
At the end of Moses' life, he was addressing the second generation. He wanted to fortify their faith beyond the teachings of the Bible. Perhaps he realized these inconsistencies in the sacred writings as well. He advised, "Ask your parents and they will tell you. Look to the days of past generations" (Deut. 32:7).On the one hand it was clearly a reference to the history of the Exodus from Egypt. Remember God's direct intervention in history. Out of that event came the celebration of Passover, the wine ceremony, the Kiddush prayer we chant on every Shabbat.However with the long sequence of generations the deliverance from Egypt, as the central proof of God, is difficult to justify. That moment and others are full of miraculous and supernatural events we no longer believe in. How many of us believe that Moses waved his staff and the waters of the Nile turned to blood? Can you fathom plague after plague occurring one after another as depicted in the Exodus story? Do you believe that these former slaves wandered through the desert guided by a special pillar of cloud?We moderns realize that this great event, the rescue from Egypt, was so marvelous that they could not write it any other way than in a language of miracles. The whole event was miraculous for them and so they described it that way.Our trouble with miracles is not that we do not believe them. It is rather that they do not impress us. We can poison rivers more than the Nile was poisoned. We can kill our vegetation. And the mushroom cloud of an atomic blast is grander than the pillar of cloud that led the Children of Israel from bondage to freedom.The advice from Moses, "Ask your parents and they will tell you," means more than for us to remember the Exodus miracles. The rabbis used that verse two thousand years ago to justify lighting Chanukah candles. When the Talmud asks, how can you say, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav vitzivanu l'hadlik neir shel Chanukah, "who sanctified you by the commandments and commanded you to light the Chanukah candles?" you know and I know, and the rabbis two thousand years ago knew, that this commandment is found nowhere in the Bible. The Maccabees did not exist until centuries after the last prophets. And so, how does our God of the Bible command us to light the Chanukah candles? How do we know? – Ask your parents!In other words, just like the "comma" in the United Church of Christ building, we believe, as they believe, that God is still talking to us! Just because the Bible is in print and if we open up to the last page we see a "period," that doesn't mean God stopped telling us what values are important. Judaism is predicated on God still speaking to us. Chanukah, Purim, how we perform weddings, funerals, how we view contemporary issues like abortion, homosexuality, our environment, are based on the values of the Bible and how we interpret them – Ask your parents because it won't be on the written page of the Bible! Moses is telling the next generation of Jews after the Exodus and he is telling us, God is still speaking!Friends, our Judaism, our religion, our faith is based on how we read and interpret the Bible, not on how our ancestors wrote down their stories.This idea of the Comma invites us to believe that God speaks through other people, nature, music, art, our modern intellect to interpret the Bible.
The Comma reminds us of the unusual religious freedom and responsibility to engage the Bible with our own unique experiences, questions, and ideas.The Comma reminds us to balance our rich religious past with openness to the new ideas, new people, and new possibilities of the future.My friends, God did not speak to us only at Mount Sinai. We know (or should know) God had conversations with Abraham, with Moses and Aaron, and with the prophets. When we hold up our Torah and the 34 other books of our Bible we continue that conversation that began long ago. God is still speaking and God is speaking to you.This afternoon I opened my bible to the 100th Psalm. The phrases that struck my heart --"all the earth","we are God's people,""enter the gates with thanksgiving,""the Lord is good,""God's love endures forever."
Encouraged by how these passages opened up to me, I understand that our religion is more than laws, commandments and "do this's" and "don't do that's." Our vital Judaism is about relationships, collaboration, and it is not only for us Jews, it is for all people. It is about thanks, goodness and love. These are the values that we make meaningful every day, not just in a way a book told us to do it thousands of years ago.How can we possibly adhere to literal words found in Proverbs, "spare the rod, spoil the child" in light of the domestic violence we have seen in the news that has hospitalized children and women? How about looking at the use of rod in the 23d Psalm as we read of God as a Shepherd and "Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." How can a rod used to strike against the flesh bring comfort? Rather, a shepherd uses the rod to guide the sheep. If we, as parents, don't guide our children to be good and decent human beings, then certainly they will be spoiled. That is the correct reading and understanding of the verse in the 21st century because God is still speaking to us today!How possibly can we be living side by side with loving individuals who are of the same sex, living committed lives and raising a family and believe for one moment that the God who spoke about love and kindness is not speaking about them as well?Tonight on Yom Kippur I want your identity, like the moon outside, to be developing in a renewed partnership with God and the values taught to us those thousands of years ago. The eternal values, not violence or cruelty is what will sustain us in this New Year and beyond. We reject the boundaries created by a literal reading of our Holy Writings and accept boundaries that work for us and are meaningful to us. That is the Comma, and it represents that God is still speaking.I am assured that God speaks to all the people equally – may we all have ears to hear, hearts to love and hands to serve the Still-speaking God.
Let me share with you a moving story of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
The Ninth Symphony of Beethoven premiered on May 7, 1824 in Vienna. It was remarkable for two reasons: "The Ninth" included a chorus and vocal soloists in the final movement. He was the first composer to do this in a symphony. And secondly, this was Beethoven's first stage performance in almost twelve years and by this time he was almost entirely deaf.He still wanted to be part of the performance, conducting. While Beethoven was conducting on center stage, Michael Umlauf was quietly conducting the choir and the musicians on the side. He was instructing the singers and the musicians to ignore Beethoven, who was entirely deaf.The great composer's actions were animated to say the least. The violinist, Joseph Bohm, who played that day, gave this account: "He stood in front of the conductor's stand and threw himself back and forth like a madman. At one moment he stretched to his full height, at the next he crouched down to the floor. He flailed about with his hands and feet as though he wanted to play all the instruments and sing all the chorus parts." It was a good thing that the conductor had already instructed the musicians not to pay attention to the composer!When the symphony was completed, he remained facing the orchestra and could not hear the thunderous applause of the audience for his new symphony. Caroline Unger, the mezzo-soprano soloist, had to tap the deaf composer's arm and have him turn around so that he could see the crowd's response. Many of those in attendance, including Miss Unger, had tears in their eyes when they realized the extent of Beethoven's deafness. Beethoven himself began to weep.Tonight, I ask each one of you to value the gifts from all of our kitvei kodesh, "holy writings." If Beethoven had given up hope because he interpreted his deafness as a permanent boundary that limited him, the Ninth Symphony would never have been composed or performed. When we allow our kitvei kodesh, our "holy writings" to be read in a way that prevents us from creating our compositions or being present at our own performance, then we too are finished. Rather, Beethoven heard the notes, composed the music and we herald him for that. We too can hear the new notes from our fresh reading of Scripture and that can inspire us to live a life beyond our deafness. We must realize that perceived boundaries of the past do not define us today. Let reading the Bible with a "comma" define what you think and do. What defines you are your gifts that allow you to create Beethoven-like symphonies; to act with beauty, dignity, and compassion; to connect yourself to what really matters so you can live in a magnificent way.Let the Comma be our anthem tonight from this day forward as a new way to proclaim "Our Faith is 5,000 years old, our thinking is not!"Amen.
Categories: 5775-2014 HHD Sermons
Shmitah: A Sabbath for A Year Making a Difference for Your Lives
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Rabbi Thomas Louchheim
What if, all of a sudden the machinations of industry came to a screeching halt? What would happen if, starting today all the plows, combines were locked up infarmers’ sheds all across our nation? No harvesting of corn, wheat. Notrucks or trains to carry produce to market. Nothing onthe shelves of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Basha’s or Safeway. Imagine theimpact.
By tradition, that is exactly what is supposed to be happening starting today. We are in the seventh year of our seven-year sabbatical cycle, known as the shmitah year. In Leviticus, God commanded that every seventh year you will give the land “a Sabbath of completerest, a Sabbath of God. You shall not plant your field, or prune your vines.You shall not harvest your crops or gather any grapes from your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for your land.”
While standing at Sinai, our ancestors were also told: When you enter the land ofIsrael, “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so thatthe poor of your people may eat.”  From these two passages we learn that we are to give the land a rest and thatwe are to take care of the poor amongst us.
You won’t starve. Well, maybe a little. Jews may not eat anything planted or grown during the shmitah year. They may eatonly from perennial plants or wild edibles — these are the vegetables and fruits you do not have to plant every year (fruit from trees, tomatoes, avocados,berries, and the like). Also, if anything happens to grow on your farm land anyone may take crops growing untended on those private lands. Finally, personal debts must be forgiven if the debtor so requests.
Okay, this is partly my fault. I should have warned you. I should have been like Joseph and told you to prepare and store away food during the year. What was I thinking last year on Rosh HaShanah when I spoke to you about a different way of thinking about God in your lives?
Actually, you are fine. This law only applies to Israel. This is how observant Jews in theHoly Land have observed shmitah forcenturies. It is of some interest to note that Alexander the Great and JuliusCaesar agreed to relieve Jews of taxes during shmitah.
Nor have Jews starved over the centuries every seven years either. This would also be bad for those who depend on produce from Israel to feed other European countries. Fruits and vegetables grown in Israel may be consumed and sold during the shmitah year when it is derived from five sources:
So Israel has found ways to observe the commandment without undue sacrifice. While planting is forbidden during the shmitah year, some watering, pruning and weeding is allowed. Seven years ago, some 3,500 Israeli farmers observed shmitah and rested 400,000 dunams (about 100,000 acres) of land, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Let me give you an example of how this is done on an orthodox kibbutz. Kibbutz Lavi (located in the lower Galilee) has divided its fields that grow wheat, corn, barley, chickpeas and citrus. Some fields are being left as is — left fallow. In a second set of fields the kibbutz has been planting wheat vigorously over the past month. This will be harvested during the shmitha year at the end of the Spring. A third category of land issold to Arabs. Israeli Arabs are not restricted by shmitah. The farmers at Kibbutz Lavi will have time this year tofocus on education, their families, and on fortifying their spiritual energies.
Different Jewish communities in the United States are looking at shmitah beyond the boundaries of the Holy Land and the agriculture restrictions placed on it this year. There are some Jewish leaders who are viewing shmitah as an opportunity to take another look at our relationship to the environment, property and social inequality. This year, not only in Israel, but in Jewish communities around theworld, there will be a concerted effort in some circles to extend the principles of shmitah beyond the letter of the law.
Let’s take a look at it first just in terms of Sabbatical. Just as the weekly Sabbath allows usthe opportunity to renew ourselves and reminds us of our obligations to God, shmitah gives the land a chance to regain its strength.
The practice of shmitah reminds us that regaining the physical strength of the landis similar to the physical renewal our bodies gained through rest.
Similarly, as Shabbat is a celebration of the Exodus and of Creation, we are reminded both that we are free to rest because God redeemed us from slavery, and that we are partners with God in maintaining Creation.
In the same way that Shabbat calls us to take a break from thework week and recall our divine link, shmitah calls for a collective break from the race of modern life for a year.During that time we are to focus on community, culture and spirit. In this way,our yield — likethe land — will become greater over the many years ahead.
Let’s consider how shmitah can open our eyes. It is a series of obscure, ancient concepts about how we relate to land, to food, about inequality in our community, the nature of work, rest in our lives, cooperation with those who are not our intimate friends, and our relationship to debt. Every one of those issues are central to our lives today in 2014. Shmitha can be a remarkable source of inspiration, impetus for change, and the medium for unprecedented cooperation for us this year.
Part ofthe value of shmitah is sharing. In the Bible you open up your fields in the shmitah year, and everyone can come and benefit. What grows on your farmland this yearis not yours. You may not harvest it for yourself. It is to be shared byanyone who wants or needs it. Most of us don’t have fields, literally, but whatis your field? What is your expertise, your source of your livelihood that youcould share more widely?
We can envision a world in whichour material and spiritual needs are met in a deep, reciprocal, sustainable,and satisfying way. This can be a year where we can rehearse, for one year, what it would be like to live a life of “enoughness” for ourselves and for ourneighbors. And when the year is over, the sustainable practice need not beover. Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, co-founder of the Sova Project in Baltimore suggests in her February third Blog on this subject that we can “re-enter theother six years taking what we have learned and put it into practice in oureveryday lives.” The significance of shmitahis not only renewal but that we have a break in our usual patterns. When westop and examine our bad habits, we can then review what habits we value, andwhich ones suit our purposes.
Next week, on October 2, there will be apanel discussion on shmitah called “Give It A Rest,” taking place at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Lifein Berkeley. I don’t imagine many of you can make it, but perhaps we can beginour own shmitah discussion about whatwe need to “Give A Rest” to.
This year, Israelis are taking a fresh look at shmitah and how its emphasis on social justice can be more fully expressed beyond land and harvest restrictions. Earlier this year a group of activists led by a former Knesset member, Rabbi Michael Melchior, approached the Ministry of Welfare seeking about $27.5 million for debt relief for some 10,000 families.The request was approved.
In keeping with the environmentalist precepts behind shmitah, Israel’s Ministry of the Environment has proposed a year long moratorium on fishing in the Sea of Galilee to replenish depleted fish stocks.
I propose that each of us make New Year’s resolutions based onshmitah. Shmitah encompasses three areas of essential ethical behavior and unavoidable engagement: food/environment, money and people — a daily encounter. So, I propose you make your resolutions in these three areas by asking yourselves two questions:
1. How is my behaviorat this moment contributing to — or detracting from — a more equitable and enduring world?
2. What changes in society should we implement to bring about a more equitable and enduring world during the othersix years?
Ever since Sinai, the observance of shmitah haslargely been limited to the land of Israel. But this year, through a confluenceof reasons — the growing crises of environmental degradation, climate destabilization, radical wealth inequality, the global obesity epidemic, globalfood insecurity and the false promise of the marketplace that having more things will yield more happiness — this year we must ask: How shall we, thoseof us guided by Torah, live a year of shmitah? How can we understand, honor and observe the deeper meaning and ethic of the shmitah year, both as individuals and as a community? This leap is difficult, I know, and that is why shmitah comes only once every seven years. The first step is to commit to living intentionally this shmitah year.
This Rosh HaShanah, as we prepare to welcome in a sweet new year by dipping slices of apples intohoney (both organically and locally grown), this Rosh HaShanah I am inviting you to think deeply about developing a strategy about how to look differently at food/environment, money and people. This is the beginning of our shmitah conversation,
On Yom Kippur afternoon, our conversation is Being in Rythmn. I hope that many of you will be there to share your ideas on how we as a religious community can live with less and share more with others. Let’s be mindful of the values of shmitah and how its principles can inform each of us on how we canmake a difference in the world.
 Leviticus 25:1-7
 Exodus 23:11
Erev Rosh HaShanah 5775
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
What To Do With the Time You Have Left
Rabbi Thomas A. Louchheim
Friends, I have stopped looking at my face in the mirror watching silver replace dark brown hairs on my face. I am what most call middle aged. If I am in the middle, I have a chance to live to 114.
Prior to the nineteenth century a typical person was fortunate to reach 40. By the middle of that century life expectancy was 47. Newborns today have a life expectancy of 79 years in America. By the end of the century it will be 100 years. We are so concerned about longevity. Many of us hope that we will live a bit longer than our parents or grandparents. With pride, a few of you have told me that you have done just that.
When one of our congregants died at 99, some said, “Oh if only she had lived a little longer,” as if 100 is a magic number. Of course the joke is that for those fortunate to live past 100, when the time does come, the same people say, “It was about time.” Both comments reflect a confusion regarding whether it is the quantity of years or the quality of years that is important.
Nevertheless, our focus tends to be on quantity. How many more years can we squeeze into a lifetime?
A generation ago, Linus Pauling, a winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, proposed that megadoses of vitamin C would retard aging. It turned out that at megadoses, vitamins can become toxic.
A decade ago, a biotech start-up called Sirtris sought to devise drugs that mimic the supposed health-giving properties of red wine. GlaxoSmithKline bought Sirtris for $720 million in today’s dollars, money the company may wish it had back. The Sirtris experiments have yet to lead to any practical product.
I was curious about how many years I had left so I went online to deathclock.com yesterday. I had heard about it earlier this year on a radio program. I put in my day of birth, month of birth, year of birth, sex, whether I am optimistic, pessimistic or normal, my BMI, and hit the tab for “check your death clock” The result: 1,143,267, 150 seconds – and counting down. I have13, 610 and ¼ days left. I have 37 and 1/3 years left. So, on Saturday, December 30, 2051 at 6:00 o’clock in the morning, according to these cyber-calculations, my clock will run out.
Now that I know exactly how much time I have left, what do I do with it? How do I plan for the rest of my life? Should I plan my retirement? Marcia says I have 10 more years with you all. Are you going to survive without me? What do I do after that? According to the clock, I am actually past middle age. When our congregation started almost twenty years ago, my life was mostly time ahead and very little memory. Now, for me and for some of us in this room, life is almost entirely memory and little time left.
Well, here we are together, celebrating 5,775 years since the creation of the world. Despite our clock, our tradition calls us to greet this moment with a blessing:
Praised are You Adonai, our God, Sovereign of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.
My friends, what a gift! Regardless of what happened yesterday. No matter what burdens you bear from 5774: A bad prognosis or aging in front of you, you are to welcome this New Year as a wonderful and mysterious gift. No one knows what tomorrow will bring – wonder, splendor, a surprise just around the corner. All the changes we witnessed in the last twelve months of living: the growth and the decay; the celebrations and the miseries; the successes and the failures – at this moment Jews all over the world pause to catch our breath as we let those memories sweep by us like a rushing stream. And as we let go, watching what we did become memory, we wonder, “What is next over the horizon, in the coming year?”
These days are called Yamim Noraim, usually translated, “Days of Awe” – so as not to scare you too much. The word “Awe” in most translations of the Hebrew is to promote within us a positive perspective on our future that these days and this year may give us glimpses of wonder, amazement, and respect.
Actually, the true translation is “Days of Terror” or “Days of Fear,” or “Days of Dread.” As we look back over the past year, we have seen:
How can we have a sense of awesomeness, amazement and wonder for the New Year in the face of tragedy after tragedy we experience on a daily basis or see on the daily news? We are all adrift amidst this madness. With growing despair over the future of our world we tend to exist with less clarity and a lesser amount of conviction. As you face personal struggles, I am sure that your lives may seem empty at times. The thought arises whether hope is a virtue worth keeping.
And yet, despite it all you have returned here tonight, as you have returned each year so that you might hear that the universe ought to be just; that the universe is just, perhaps in some way that you are not quite aware of. How can that be?
“Some people are mean to me.”
“I am not taken seriously.”
“I cannot get ahead.“
“Shouldn’t life be fairer?”
“Why is life not fair?”
These are all good questions, but rarely do we wait for the answers. We flee from the complexities of living. When things go badly, we wonder, “Doesn’t God understand the obligation to manage some justice in the world?” “What is the use of doing anything if there is no justice and I continue to be treated unfairly?”
We seem to be surrounded by doom and gloom. And if I can no longer avoid the gloom then life is really not living.
I hope it is only poor Edgar Allan Poe, broken by drink, cursed by the world’s indifference, who actually believed when he saw the dread symbol of the shadow of the raven on his floor that, “My soul from out that shadow shall be lifted never more.” As for the rest of us, as for our souls, our values ought to lift us in the opposite direction. No sooner are we in the shadow than we begin looking to see where the shadow ends. We all have the power to overcome that gloom; we have the mandate to fight for the light.
A caller to a radio show in Los Angeles asked the host, “How can we raise our children in a society that is so corrupt?” and the host responded correctly, “You cannot view the world as if evil and bad are raining upon you and you can do nothing to shelter your children from the storm. What you need to do is to raise your children with ethics and a sense of morality. Those children will grow up and provide ethics, and values, and morality to society and then our society will be a better place for everyone.”
As you begin a New Year once again, you can choose to live your lives wisely. You can choose those values that reflect kindness, love, caring and compassion, because they do make a positive difference. You should never give up hope. The greatest sin is despair. Despite the prejudice and oppression and persecution in the world, you should never despair. Despair leads to hopelessness and hopelessness leads to inaction, doing nothing. The homeless can be housed. Barriers can be broken down. Power can be used for something constructive. Rifts among family members can be mended. Your participation is necessary for those things to happen.
When do I start? Perhaps I can do it tomorrow. But tomorrow may never come or tomorrows stack on tomorrows and you may never face the Truth. At shivah services we read, “All things pass; all that lives must die. All that we prize is but lent to us, and the time comes when we must surrender it. We are travelers on the same road that leads to the same end.”
Yes, we will all experience the same end – death. But what are we to do with the time in between? Rabbi Eliezer (two thousand years ago) said, “Repent one day before your death.” His disciples asked, “How can one know which day that will be?” (At the time there was no deathclock.com!) “Precisely,” he replied. “Repent today, therefore, in case you should die tomorrow. Thus will you spend your days wisely.”
Each one of you has the power to “live your lives wisely,” to do what is right in this world, to make a difference. But you have to rise up and do something. You can’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. Though you may be unsure, take a chance. Take a first step. You may be surprised at the outcome.
Live life with confidence. Take a chance that life has meaning.
For some, it is regrets that prevent you from taking positive action. The Dalai Llama was once asked, “Do you have regrets?” He answered, “I have many regrets; but I do not let them burden me or weigh me down.”
Don’t let your regrets stop you. Let them go and do what you are called to do. You may fall and you may fail, but learn from your failures and rise again. Hope does replace despair. Your life is not dependent on what circumstances befall you or on what someone says to you. You will succeed and others will learn from your successes.
On this Rosh HaShanah, God is telling you, “I want to be good to you. I extend My Mercy to you. I grant you Forgiveness. These are My gifts to you for this New Year. This is a New Beginning – take advantage of it. You are starting with a clean slate – get started now.”
This is what God has in store for you. Will you believe in God’s mercy? Will you believe that God has forgiven you? Or are you going to say, “I don’t deserve it?” Today, God is declaring to you that God is not finding fault with you. Stop finding fault with yourself!
You are not perfect, will never be perfect. You are not a finished product. This is your opportunity to allow redemption to come to this world that sorely yearns for it “When [you] master the violence that fills our world. When [you] look upon others as [you] would have them look upon [you]. When [you] grant to every person the rights [you] claim for [y]ourselves.”
Friends, you have come here at this time, to this place, to shape your future, to control it as best you can. Circumstances and people may tempt you or thwart you, and yet you will learn from every moment and return to your God-given purpose.
This is why we wish each other Gut Yontiff, “Good Year.” And today, it is also a Yom Tov, “a Good Day.” With apples and honey on our lips we say, L’shanah tovah um’tukah, “May it be a sweet New Year,” not because by accident or fate it might be; rather because you will make an effort to make it a sweet New Year by your thoughts and your efforts.
You will find healing from past mistakes and events and take a chance that no matter how many or few your days are ahead, you will bring blessings into this world just as you have been blessed this night.
Blessed is the One, the Nameless, the Unknowable, who by some miracle has kept us alive, sustained and given us another chance to enter a New Year with a renewed sense of hope.
Put forth your energy and achieve great things this year. May God grant you this year that the evil days are few and that the strength, the passion and the joy are abundant. Amen.
 (Cast your bread upon the waters and in the fullness of time it will return to you, Ecclesiastes 11:1 – Always be ready to do a good turn even if you do not expect a reward for it. For some day, you will surely find your reward waiting for you.)
 Gates of Repentance, pg. 103.
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