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.”[1]

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[2]:

“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.

[1] Avot de-Rabbi Natan (c.700–900 CE)

[2] Seeds of Contemplation