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Yom Kippur 2016

10/12/2016 05:05:47 PM


Rabbi Herman Blumberg

Grace – The Jewish Version Preface I do not recognize many of you. That is understandable and it is great. I retired over ten years ago and you represent the next generation of Shir Tikva. New faces, new families; you testify to the vigor and health of our congregation. Even this way it is good to meet you. And many of you are as familiar as a beloved old sweater. And that is very great for two reasons: 1) It is really nice to be together again. You haven’t changed a bit! 2) Your ongoing connection with Shir Tikva – the continuity of your decades long relationship with each other and with the congregation -- is testimony to the way in which our synagogue is part of your lives. You are deeply rooted here and this means great strength for Shir Tikva today and tomorrow. Note to young people present, (B’nai mitzvah age, pre- post) If you can’t figure out everything I will say in the next 15 minutes or so, listen carefully to the little story I will tell about the two pieces of paper. That’s all you have to think about. The rest of you…. Grace – The Jewish Version On June 27, 2015 President Obama delivered a eulogy for Rev Pinckney (Peek-ney) and eight members of his AME Church in Charleston who were massacred by a race-crazed individual. He spoke as a Christian of the Grace with which the families of the murdered victims and the circles of the city and the state of South Carolina had responded to the tragedy. You may recall that at the end of his remarks – probably impromptu – he sang “Amazing Grace.” For me it was a great speech, memorable moment! Is there such a thing as Grace in Jewish tradition? Except for the phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I” when we realize that we have escaped one calamity or another that has hit close by, we Jews don’t talk much about Grace. It feels like a very Christian notion. 2 In fact, we do have a concept of Grace. It is ours to embrace. It is ours to offer others. Some of us will say it is a gift from God. But with or without traditional beliefs and language all of us have the capacity to experience it in our lives. To better understand the concept from a Jewish perspective we need look no further than today. Grace may be present, palpable, here, on Yom Kippur. Explore with me. Let’s see what we can find. We begin with what we might call a “Soul Inventory” or a reality check of our lives. Today is a day to have a frank talk with ourselves, asking the most basic questions and seeking the most honest answers: • Who am I? • How did I get here? • What am I not, more often than not? • Where am I going? No doubt this is an exercise for every day, but on this holiest of holy days it takes on special meaning. Listen again to the questions. Here is one way to to begin answering these existential probes into self. It comes from Rabbi Simcha Bunim, one of the early Hasidic masters. It is said that Rabbi Bunin used to carry in his pocket two notes on which he would meditate: On the first note were inscribed the words: “The whole world was create for my sake.” A reflection of Torah’s first word about human kind: “And God created man in His image…and said, Fill the earth and master it. [Young people: Hear the words on your piece of paper: • I count. • I can be a star. • I’m special • I do great things with my life.] “Who am I? How did I get here? -- I am a worthy person, capable of incorporating in my life the most elevated of human values. I have been cast in the image of the Divine. I am 3 a co-partner in the ongoing work of creating a world worthy of God’s blessings. I count! What a gift I have received. The gift of life. Much of Judaism – certainly liberal Judaism with which we resonate -- celebrates this positive view of who we are and what we can become. Torah offers a lofty characterization of our position in partnership with God, at the pinnacle of the creative process. In the words of the Psalmist, “…You have made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:5) Today – and every day - we herald our power to understand and to conquer, to control, improve, to correct nature’s faults and enhance every life experience. We celebrate our unique ability to appreciate and enjoy the grandeur of an unfathomably awesome universe. In a sense “…the whole world was created for us!” However. However. At the moments when we think best of ourselves, Rabbi Bunin would have us pull out the second note. On it are scribed the words first spoken by Abraham when he approached God to plead for the righteous few in Sodom: “I am but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:28) Here we find insight into this day’s second group of questions: What am I not, more often than not? Where am I going? The reality of our humanness stares us in the face. In the scheme of measureless time, we are as small as speck of dust. In the vastness of the created universe we are so totally insignificant. We are dwarfed by the sweep of history. And when we examine our behavior -- our actual record as elevated human beings -- we see how much dust we have kicked up: Our failings, our mistakes and screw-ups along the way; our best intentions unrealized; weaknesses of will and body. How often we miss the mark. • [Young people: On your second piece of paper are the words: • I make mistakes • How mean and hurtful I can be. • I am only one tiny star in the zillion galaxies filled with zillions of stars.] This day we undertake an intense, two-pronged “Inventory of the Soul.” It is as if we hold before ourselves a portrait with two images, if you will a split screen “selfie.” One is brightly colored, reflecting our accomplishments and our further potential as human beings; the second is bathed in shades of gray, revealing the profound depths of our failures and the ultimate darkness when our finite years are completed. We are barely able to voice the questions deep in our hearts: 4 How did it come to be that I am the delicate, finely balance physical being that I am? Heart beating, lungs breathing, brain receiving and sending messages, muscles expanding and contracting all in perfect rhythm, countless times a minute. I am graced with the gift of life. When afflicted with with malady fleeting or serious, From where did I get the power to pick up, to heal, to adapt, to start again, to find meaning and purpose and love and joy in my life? I am graced with the gift of healing. How did it come to be that when I lose those closest to me and know profound sadness, in time I can rise up from mourning to remember and continue my life journey? I am graced with resiliency of body and spirit -- the spark of life and it’s healing power - - beyond my understanding. How is it that I have the ability to create new life, to nurture tender souls, to shape minds, transmit ideas, to add something good to the world? My life is another link in the generations of family and community! I am graced with life beyond my finite years. How did it come to be that I am here in this place of plenty, this land of freedom? How did it come to be that my grandfather had the to wisdom and courage to leave his homeland and I didn’t end up in the Gulag or the oven? How to explain that my neighbor is dying of cancer and a life-long friend years younger than I is afflicted with cruel dementia and I stand here before you today? There but for the grace of ….go I. Do I, a minute moment in the immeasurable universe, deserve to experience the grandeur of mountain ranges, the roar of the ocean, the calm of a flowered meadow?, “The whole world was created for my sake.” And I bow my head before the blessing of Grace. I shape these questions in the first person because they are my questions. But they belong to each of us: Your life, your blessings your grandparents or great grandparents, your mistakes. When I look at the second piece of paper, “ I am but dust and ashes,” the last two questions jump from the page: “What am I not, more often than not” new questions rush forward: 5 How did it come to be that I receive love and friendship that I have not returned in fullest measure? How can it be that I fail so often, giving in to weakness and my dark underside -- my word and deeds harming, causing pain to those I love -- and yet be granted another chance…and another…and another to do what is right? How is it that despite my resolve and my best intentions, I miss the mark so often -- Al chate sh-chetati – and I am forgiven? How can it be that I enjoy so many unearned, undeserved blessings? Everyone of us can voice these same questions? Who will not emerge from this Inventory of the Soul without the recognition that there is something about our existence that we cannot fully explain? There are words: Nature with its exquisite consistency and inevitable anomalies; Coincidence, Randomness, Accident of time and place. Mystery – perhaps with a capitol, “M”? Our tradition uses the word Hesed, God’s gift of Hesed as the ultimate source of nature’s intricate beauty and human kind’s capacity for goodness and for healing and for love - blessings given to us unconditionally, and without regard for our merit or our unworthiness. This Soul Inventory leaves each of us with a profound, unique and overwhelming sense of awe before a gift beyond our capacity of understanding. The gift of Hesed. [sing] Adonoy, adonoy el rachum v’hanun... Hesed – Grace: Unconditional Loving-kindness, Mercy, Graciousness, Compassion, Forgiveness. Hesed at the core of our Jewish Being. Grace is the realization that beyond what we can see with our eyes and understand with our minds there is a Mystery, a Power a Transcendent Reality worthy of our profound humility and unending gratitude. Is Hesed real? Is there such a thing as Jewish Grace. Each of us must answer that question for ourselves. But here is one answer, one that fits Judaism -- and perhaps every faith system - Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Humanist. 6 If we emerge from this day – from this Soul Inventory of a day-- one measure different than yesterday we will know that it is real. We will have been touched by Grace - by the Hesed that transcends every-day reality. The new-found perspective on who we are and who we are not will have entered our being. We will be moved to live our lives with humility and bring that gift into our world. We will be more forgiving of the failings of those around us, particularly those whom we touch each day. We will be less critical of ourselves. We will be more compassionate in the face of suffering around us. We will be more patient when others do not meet our standards. We will reconsider our standards, our expectations, our demands of others – our parents, our children, our peers - - and of ourselves. We will be more aware of ordinary miracles of life, more cognizant of the multitude of blessings in our lives. We will race less and be more present to everyone we meet. We will see the love others extend to us and look within ourselves for the love and respect we can give to them in return. We will look for the humanity that rests in fellow human beings just beneath their skin color or religious beliefs or political ideologies. Each day we will find a way to join in building the world and repairing its fissures., to performing acts of Hesed in our society. Each day a new measure of hope will embolden us to tackle formidable tasks. Each day we will hope to have earned the Hesed that is at the core of our existence. Probably you have realized that my remarks this morning reflect my personal journey; These last years have afforded me the precious gift of perspective. 7 I have experienced much joy and fulfillment, the gift of years and the gift of caring for people gravely ill at the end of life. I have suffering some physical pain and live now with slight impairment. I have experienced recovery and each day find new strength. In the last five years with awe and profound gratitude I have watched Asha and Pukar -- our youngest grandchildren -- blossom here, having escaped the fate of orphans in a broken Third World country. These moments have opened my heart in very special ways to reality of Hesed. And there is no doubt that Paula’s unconditional love for me over the decades despite everything that I have not been and I am not today has brought an abundance of Hesed into my life. May each of you – every man, woman and child – be so blessed. 8

Sun, October 25 2020 7 Cheshvan 5781