September 12, 2012
High Holy Days: In the rabbis’ words
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
Having a near-life experience
by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben
Today I ask a very simple question on this holiest of days – What are your commitments? Where are you going in the year ahead? What are you going to be? Show me someone who hasn’t decided yet, who hasn’t made a commitment to something yet, and I will show you somebody who is having a near life experience, never quite fully living.
Frankly, the single most powerful lesson I have ever learned about life is simply this — you become what you think about, and you do what you decide to do. Period. Choose, or life will choose for you. Decide your own path, your own journey, your own results or you will simply drift afloat on the sea of life, battered and tossed randomly from one port to the next, at the whim of every other person in the world who has decided, who has chosen where they want to go. …
… In a famous football game between Michigan State and UCLA, the score was tied 14 all with only seconds to play. Michigan State’s coach sent in place-kicker Dave Kaiser, who booted a field goal that won the game. When Kaiser returned to the bench, Coach Duffy Daugherty clapped him on the back and said, “Nice going, but I noticed that you didn’t even watch the ball after you kicked it.”
“I know, coach,” said Kaiser. “I was watching the referee instead to see how he’d signal it because I forgot my contact lenses and I couldn’t even see the goal posts.”
Make a decision, and then have faith that all that is left is for you to follow through on the direction that decision takes you in life. You may remember the story of a young man who was eager to make it to the top so he went to a well-known, successful businessman and asked him, “What’s the No. 1 reason for your success?” Without hesitation the successful businessman answered, “Choosing to work hard.” After a pause the young man asked, “Is there a No. 2 reason?”
Make a decision. Choose what you will become this year. Choose to live fully this year. Choose to let go of your near-life experience and embrace the life you were meant to live. There is a reason that every single year we read these words in the Torah — “See I put before you good and evil, life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life. Choose life. Choose life.”
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben is senior rabbi at Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist congregation. This is excerpted from a Yom Kippur sermon from 2011.
Living in the present
by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
Generally speaking, we rarely occupy ourselves with the present moment. We are always either planning for the future or reminiscing about the past. The present is merely the point in time at which we are engaging in one or the other of those activities. We consider the present moment to essentially be a disposable unit of time, too insignificant to ponder. But from Rosh Hashanah on through to Yom Kippur, we need to alter this perception. The Talmud teaches that Isaiah’s words, “Seek God when He can be found,” are referring to these first 10 days of the New Year.
According to this teaching, we are now presented with 10 days — 14,400 minutes — that are like no others during the year. These are minutes and days during which we are promised by Isaiah that self-examination will be easier to accomplish, and that the obstacles that ordinarily stand in the way of our ability to connect with God will be removed. They are unique days and minutes, which we can only capitalize on if we deeply enhance our appreciation of the oft-dismissed, oft-discounted present moment. The special opportunity is only now.
Rav Yosef Kanefsky is rabbi at B’nai David-Judea, a Modern Orthodox congregation. This is excerpted from a Jewish Journal Torah Portion column published on Sept. 28, 2000.
Are you chicken or not?
by Rabbi Kenneth Chasen
If we want to create the kind of world we always say we want, we’re going to have to do it the old- fashioned way. It so happens that the very thing that will make our temple life stronger — the building of real relationships, the sharing of our stories, the discovery of everything we have in common ... the pains, the hopes, the visions — this happens also to be exactly what is needed to make our neighborhoods, our city, our country and our world stronger.
The well-known guru of social capital, Harvard social scientist Robert Putnam, has laid out the facts. Our emotional isolation from one another is itself one of the main causes of the societal weaknesses we most decry. Failing schools. Struggling children. Rising crime. Political incivility. Philanthropic decline. Even premature death — believe it or not, Putnam has found that social isolation causes us to die sooner. All of this happens in a world where we choose not to relate with one another — where we try simply to drive around one another through the traffic jam of life, while our road rage increases as rapidly as our sense of hopelessness.
There is a solution — for our souls, for our temple, and for this world that needs us. And it’s the same solution that’s being utilized in medicine ... and in prisons ... and in history museums ... and in philanthropy. They are all awakening to the power of personal narratives — the power of story. And if they all get it, we, as a Jewish community, have no excuse not to. After all, Rabbi Larry Kushner rightly states: “Hermits and monasteries are noticeably absent from Jewish history; we are a hopelessly communal people.”
Rabbi Kenneth Chasen is senior rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple, a Reform congregation. This is excerpted from a High Holy Days sermon in 2011.