Six Wise Words
Rosh HaShanah Contemporary Service
Monday, September 14, 2015
I don’t usually follow sports too closely. Of course, Iroot for the Rockies and the Broncos because if I don’t, I will be in troublewith my in-laws. There is always a place in my heart for the Wildcats.
I occasionally pick up the sports page and read the boxscores or read about something extraordinary that a sports figure hasaccomplished. The other reason I read the sports page on occasion is becausethe sports page is the only place where everyone plays by the same rules andwhere you can believe that what is being reported is what actually happened.You can’t say that about many other news stories that you read in thenewspapers or see on the news.
Oh yes, of course I follow my son’s college basketballteam, the Skidmore Thoroughbreds. They are the Thoroughbreds because the campusis found in Saratoga Springs where there is located a famous horseracing track.
As long as we are on the subject of horse racing….
On June 6 American Pharaoh came out of the far turn andsquared his shoulders to let his rider Victor Espinoza stare down the stretchof Belmont Park, a sense of inevitability surged through the grandstand. On thetips of their toes, 100,000 spectators stood and let out a roar as the 37-yearsearch for the next greatest race horse was coming to an end.
There have been only 11 Triple Crown winners in historyand we have elected five presidents, fought three wars and lived through threeeconomic downturns since Affirmed had last completed the feat in 1978.
The colt’s trainer, Bob Baffert, standing next to his21-year-old daughter, Savannah, shot his fist in the air and turned to hiswife, Jill. “That it.” She turned and threw her arms around her husband’sshoulders and cried out, “You did it.”
As I watched this remarkable race, I was transported toa similar attempt at the Triple Crown 17 years ago on the same 1 ½ mile track.Victory Gallop had started the Kentucky Derby in dead last behind 14 otherhorses at the ½ mile pole. Then he made a powerful drive but ran out of trackand finished second to Real Quiet. At the Preakness, he again finished secondto Real Quiet.
The Belmont on June 8, 1998 was no ordinary race. Itwas a thrilling race. It had been twenty years since Affirmed had won theTriple Crown. By the way, the trainer for Real Quiet, the Triple Crown hopefulwas the same trainer of American Pharaoh, our very own Arizonan native, BobBaffert.
It was a photo finish and it wasn’t until the judgesexamined the film that they were able to say definitively that Victory Galluphad, this time, beaten Real Quiet by inches, literally by a nose.
What was impressive that day was not the upset by anose. What was impressive were six words that were spoken by a four-year-old,that a reporter happened to catch and put into her broadcast. Those six wordsmay be the most important words you will hear this year.
During the race cameras caught Baffert standing up inhis box and cheering as his horse led all through the race. Real Quiet wasabout to be the first Triple Crown winner in 20 years. You could see theexcitement on his face every time the camera came his way. As he turned for thefinal stretch Real Quiet took a commanding three-length lead.
And then, in the very last mili-second of the race, hishorse lost to Victory Gallop. Bob Baffert would not go down in the historybooks as the trainer of a Triple Crown winner. His horse was not going to winthe ½ million dollar prize for this race and he would not win the five milliondollar bonus from VISA for having won all three races. In a flash, so quickthat machinery could barely record it, all these prizes disappeared, and bobBaffert became the trainer of the race horse that came in second, which isanother way of say that he became a loser.
The camera caught the transformation on his face, fromjoy to disbelief, from ecstasy to disappointment. It captured the look ofbewilderment and shock and then deep sorrow. As the crowd around him went wildin the stands, you could see him slump down. Everything he had worked for,waited for, hoped for, for so many months had come to nothing in a fraction ofa second.
He was holding his four-year-old daughter Savannah, inhis arms all during the race, lifting her up so that she could watch the race.Leslie Visser, ABC reporter was standing nearby. Usually there is a reporterstanding by when a public figure says something dumb. This time Leslie wasstanding nearby when someone said something smart.
``Atthe eighth pole, I thought we had it,'' Baffert said. ``I started getting alldifferent emotions. I thought we might have held on, but photos can be cruel.``What got me through was my little Savannah, my 4-year-old daughter. When theyfinally put up the numbers, my wife said, `We lost.' I said, `Yeah, we lost.'And my daughter looked up and said, `But Daddy, you still have me,' and shegave me a kiss.''
Those were very wise words coming from a 4-year-old. Iam sure that many times since that disappointing loss, Bob and his wife thoughtabout those words.
I hope that in the coming new year, when things gobadly for us – and there will be some such days, if this is a normal year – Ihope that during those days, we will think about what she said too.
For when we lose the raffle, a cash bonus or thelottery that might have given us many luxuries, or a job that we really wantedto have, or the tennis game that we felt we should have won, or something elsethat hurts to lose, we need to remember what really counts the most in life andwhat doesn’t.
If you still have a child or a grandchild or a spouseor a friend or your health, then ‘nu’ – when life doesn’t serve up roses or thepot of gold – those things, which in reality carry little value in the wholescheme of things…remember what Savannah said to her parents that day and takeit to heart.
That day Bob Baffert and his wife really were TripleCrown winners; perhaps not at Belmont, but at life. At that moment, when hisdaughter spoke those words it didn’t matter whether his horse came in second orlast place.
Life does not last forever, but relationships do. Keepyour priorities straight and know what really counts and what doesn’t in therace of life.
The Talmud teaches us: It is incumbent on a man toconsume food and drink that cost less than he can afford; to wear clothes thathe can afford; and to show honor to his wife and children beyond what he canafford.
When your friends ask you if the rabbi gave you hell onthe High Holy Days, tell them, “Hegave me paradise in six words, ‘But Daddy, you still have me.’” Change thosewords to fit the relationship that counts for you to remind yourself of what isreally important this year.
May we be spared from many defeats in the New Year. Butif we face them, let us remember the wise words with which Bob Baffert’sdaughter comforted him, and may they comfort us too.
L’shana tova tikateyvu.
Adapted from a story by Rabbi JackReimer
Categories: 5776-2015 HHD Sermons
God Desires What Your Heart Desires
Erev Rosh HaShanah
Sunday, September 13, 2015 (5776)
My friends, the world’s birthday iscelebrated tonight on Rosh HaShanah and it is the New Year. Jewishmythology tells us that 5,776 years ago God created the world and began toreign over it.
1300years ago Rabbi Natan taught that Adam repented of his sin by standing at theRiver Gihon. For one hundred andthirty years, until his skin began to shrivel, he stood at that shore askingGod to forgive him for making a bad choice in the Garden. When God saw thatAdam had truly repented, He absolved him, giving him the Torah as a substitutefor the Garden of Eden that he had lost. That eventful day was the first ofTishri. Therefore God spoke to Adam: “You shall be the prototype of mychildren. As you have been judged by Me on this day and absolved, so yourchildren, Israel shall be judged by me on this New Year’s day and they shall beabsolved.”
So fromhere we learn that God judges all of His creations on Rosh HaShanah. It is decidedin heaven whether everything in creation is fulfilling the secret purpose ofcreation, which is known to God alone. For if God determined that creation wasacting against God’s intent, there would be no future need of it, and allexistence would come to an end.
Let’sput the idea of God’s judgment aside for a moment. I am more intrigued bytrying to discover how the celebration of the creation of the world has anyrelationship to us as we begin our New Year.
Whatapparent reason is there for celebrating the beginning of creation and the New Year?Leviticus 16 tells us that this day will be a Sabbath for us, a remembrancewith shofar blasts. Seven chapters later it is referred to as Yom Ha-Zikkaron(the day of remembrance) and Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of theshofar). And yet, despite this text about Adam, connecting this New Year to thecreation of the world, there are no passages from the first two chapters ofGenesis found in our prayer book today or tomorrow. It would seem to be anobvious selection for our Torah reading tomorrow to hear a description of God’screation of the universe and humanity. In its stead we recite the biblicalnarration dealing with the conflicts surrounding the near sacrifice of Isaac.
The reason for this absence isclear. Creation is the beginning – however you perceive it – six days or BigBang -- 5,776 years ago or 4.54 billion years ago. It does not matter which istrue. That is not what Rosh HaShanah celebrates.
In beginnings worlds are created.How they were created and why they were created are interesting questions butnot really relevant to our lives, don’t you agree? The important issue tonightis not the moment of Creation, nor the substance – what was created. The issueis that from that moment and from that substance arose for us a grandopportunity.
Tonight we celebrate great potentialcreated at the Beginning. From that starting point humanity has been able to give shape and moral order to our world fromthe amoral energy that emerged from Creation.
The wheat needs to be harvested,ground, brought to market and made into cinnamon buns. Our carbon footprintneeds to be reduced to slow the impact of Global Warming. Basic human rights ofindividuals need protecting. The chaos in the office needs a compassionatehand. The scraped knee of your child needs your loving attention. The harshwords about supporting Israel amongst friends needs quiet refrain and pause. Makinga difference in the lives of your community matters.
You see, my friends, everythingcreated…requires repair. Today you are asked to respond to your creation. Todayis not a time to regret your past. On Rosh HaShanah you are asked instead toreach deeply into your imagination and your creativity in order that youimprove your future.
Our attention on Rosh HaShanah isnot drawn to the seven days of creation, it is toward the struggles of ourfather Abraham with conflicting claims from his children and contradictoryvoices from heaven testing his faith (and yours) and your own moralsensitivity. His salvation is not found in the God of creation; rather it isfound through a moral transformation. Meaning is found not in our beginning,but in where we end up and how we get there.
Five Decades ago I went to summercamp in Maine. There I learned about camping, hiking, swimming, boating andsailing. In addition, I was taught how to use a bow and arrow. I remembersmoothing the fletchings on the end of the shaft, placing the nock in thestring, pulling back, aiming, and releasing the arrow toward the bulls-eye. Thecircle of the target is an expression of perfection. The arrow and the bowalone have no inherent meaning – whether they are made from wood, bamboo,fiberglass, or aluminum – it makes no difference. Whether the fletching is madefrom bird feathers or plastic vanes is not the point. It is the arrow inmotion, covering new ground toward its intended target. It is not where thearrow begins that is important; it is where it ends up.
Friends, tonight is not a moment toforget the past and start over. Tonight is not the moment when we put anothercandle on the world’s birthday cake. Tonight, each of you is being asked toreflect on the trajectory and speed of your arrow from its point of origin. Isthe target you have selected worthy of the energy you have expended? Is it anexpression of the person you are and the person God calls you to be? Yourdeepest desire is what God wants from you. From there you will discover meaningand purpose in your life.
Meaning and purpose is not handeddown from creation. It begins there. Meaning and purpose is wrested from thelessons learned from your parents, your upbringing. We build them from selectedmemories and sacred stories – Abraham at Sodom rejecting genocide, and atMoriah (tomorrow morning in our Torah) rejecting infanticide. Just as Abrahamand others in our sacred writings have struggled to make the right choices, wetoo have struggled and we have strived to be successful. Tonight we ask, havewe made the best choices in our lives and are our goals meaningful andpurposeful?
Thomas Merton’s book, NoMan Is an Island asks us the definitive question for Rosh HaShanah:
“Why do we spend our lives striving tobe something that we would never want to be? If only we knew what we wanted.Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think aboutthem, are just the opposite of what we were made for?”
This isthe question that should change your life. What would you want to do if youcould do anything? This is the clarifying question for all of you tonight,whether you are 16 or 60.
This isa freeing opportunity for you. It opens possibilities – it is not necessarilyeasy. It is a process. You may have to let things go that you are notparticularly called to be. This is not easy. You may have your concerns andyour doubts about this process. Being a process means that meanings are not onenor are they given once and for all. The meaning you may find purposeful now,there is no guarantee that it will be true for all time. There are those whowould feel secure that meaning is absolute, immutable and guaranteed. Historyhas taught the terrible price of such certitudes.
Menachem Mendel of Kotskcounseled a member of his community who had experienced “terrible thoughts”questioning whether God truly was the proper Judge because the world is sofilled with injustice and there is no meaning in the world. And to each doubtand accusation against God, Menachem Mendel responded the same way over andagain, “And so—what do you care?” And seeing that the Hasid truly cared, headvised him not to worry about his doubts, “for if you care so deeply, you arean honest person, and an honest person is entitled to such doubts.”
Here isthe test to determine if you are on the right track – also from Thomas Merton:
“Ifyou write for God you will reach many men and women and bring them joy.
If youwrite for men and women--you may make some money and you may give someone alittle joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while.
If youwrite for your own self promotion, you can read what you yourself have writtenand after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you weredead.”
TonightGod is calling on you to be the person you deeply desire to be. This is aprocess that has joy because you will be fulfilling a passion in your life. At thesame time it is filled with heartache as you let go of the things you are notcalled to be - those things holding you back. Understanding and accepting yourdeepest desire is not selfish because it is a fulfillment of God's wish foreach one of you. This is liberating.
So, let us celebrate Rosh HaShanah,not as the Day of Judgment, but as the Day of our liberation as we dream withnew imagination. We can see the world with different eyes beginning tonight. Wecan live our lives without fear, knowing our deepest desires, and not beingafraid to ask for what we need. We can live this year without judging othersand certainly without judging ourselves harshly. Tonight we celebrate a NewBeginning. This New Year can take us places we have never been before. May weaccept the notion that we can grow and change, and make the year fresh.
L’shanah tovah umtukah tikateyvu.May we all be inscribed for a sweet, healthy, compassionate, loving and goodyear. Amen.
 Avot de-Rabbi Natan (c.700–900 CE)
 Seeds of Contemplation
Yom Kippur Yizkor
Sharing Our Music
Wednesday, September 22, 2015
Four times a year we gather for our Yizkor services to re-read in our thoughts the obituaries of our loved ones. At each of these services we are taken back to that terrible moment in our lives when the wound of our loss was open and fresh.
Perhaps with each passing Yizkor service it becomes successively easier to remember with clarity and with a smile the loving moments and words; the times spent together on vacation or at home; and family gathered around celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions.
For those of you who have lost loved ones this past year, you might be recalling the eulogies that the rabbi, members of your family and friends shared for your loved one. Perhaps it is a word of comfort from a close friend, or just their comforting presence giving you respite from the pain of grieving. Most often our memories are pleasant. Sometimes our memories are painful. There may never be an end to our mourning. Our lives and our loves are complicated. Mourning and its inherent emotions may manifest in a moment of surprise years later and at our seasons of remembrance, like this one. The power of our traditions understands this truth. This is one of the moments when we realize that love and loss, that happiness and bitterness, and grief and joy are two sides of the same coin.
At this moment, at this service, we come to realize as well that life is a flash of lighting, an echo, a cloud in the wind. In the wonderful film, Love and Mercy, Brian Wilson plays that brief tune for his love, Miranda. “Where is that from?” she asks. “Is it written down?” Wilson, adoringly holds her close, looks into her eyes, “It is from my mind when I saw you and now it is gone forever.”
We share our music with each other and then the music is gone; but the love we shared is afire that burns eternally until our last breath.
There will never be one like the person you are here to remember. You are marvelous. You are beautiful. You are unique. And, that is why, when you died, there was a tear.
At this moment, Yizkor will be a time to remember all those who touched our lives for the good. We gather in prayer and in appreciation for those who added meaning to our lives.
Office: email@example.com President: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: email@example.com