Jewish Journal

A Sampling of Sermons

Posted on Oct. 9, 2003 at 8:00 pm

This week, The Journal contacted various rabbis throughout the Southland and asked them to share with us excerpts from their High Holiday sermons.

A Time to Rest and Reflect by Rabbi Debra Orenstein Congregation Makom Ohr Shalom

Many Jews understand Shabbat as a series of restrictions. But the purpose of all the Thou-Shalt-Nots is to clear a space for the Thou-Shalts and for what is different and sacred about Shabbat. Laws against work, errands and many hobbies preserve Shabbat as a haven from relentless busyness. Shabbat sets aside time to rest and reflect, to reconnect with God, self, family and friends.

Like Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat asks us to pause, giving thought and time to what matters most. Both holidays honor the story of creation and enlist the power of community.

Rarely does one hear in a therapist's office or self-help meeting: "Today, you change!" Or, "today, you have peace!" Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat dare to make such promises because of a shared calendar and commitment.

When the shofar is sounded, I join with the communal intention to blast out sin and herald a new majesty. When I light Shabbat candles, even if I'm not in the mood, I am supported by Jews lighting candles in other places and eras. Communal agreement, divinely appointed timing and my own willingness all cause a certain peace to descend.

The more you and I engage that dynamic, and contribute to it, the more meaningful our holy days will be.

The Power of One by Rabbi Elazar Muskin Young Israel of Century City

Not long ago, young Americans were labeled the "Me Generation." Emphasis was placed on the individual at the expense of the community. One's personal happiness was paramount, while the community's needs were of secondary importance.

This sounds like the antithesis to Judaism that prioritizes the community. Paradoxically, however, Yom Kippur, the most solemn Jewish holiday, appears to offer a different message.

On every holiday there is a blessing known as "Kedushat Hayom," the blessing for the sanctity of the day that stresses the day itself and its connection to the Jewish community. The individual is not mentioned at all. This, however, isn't the formula for Yom Kippur. Instead, the blessing incorporates each and every Jew individually.

Why on this most solemn day for the Jewish people do we focus on the individual? The fact is that Judaism recognizes that each individual's contribution to the collective is crucial. Often, one individual can have an impact upon an entire community. The message of the High Holiday's is that each and every one of us has to be willing to stand up and be counted.

At a time when the State of Israel, for example, suffers from the lack of support of so many American Jews, we must realize that just one person can add to the collective good.

Prepared for Change by Rabbi Stuart Vogel Temple Aliyah

Our daily existence is predicated on the mystery of forces that conspire to provide the life we live. We work hard to improve the lot of our lives so that most days offer us an appreciation for what we have. But in truth, each day brings the potential of job loss, illness, accident, financial setback or other uncontrollable factors to change our lives.

We are prepared to offer gratitude, but are we prepared for change? Sukkot teaches us to appreciate today because tomorrow may bring undesired change. Each day of life we dwell in a temporary sukkah. When we are prepared for the uncertainties of life, then we are truly able to be grateful for what we have.

Words of the Prophets by Rabbi Ed Feinstein Valley Beth Shalom

On Aug. 28, 1963, 40 years and one month ago, a young Martin Luther King ascended the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and began a speech that changed the world. This summer, as I sat with my children and listened to that speech, my eyes filled with tears of inspiration, pride, gratitude. And, looking at my children, tears of the bereft: For their America has never known a leader like Martin Luther King. In our children's America, no one speaks with authority, no one inspires, no one leads. It's no wonder that the young live today so self-absorbed, with little sense of transcendent mission.

Dr. King's vision was shaped by the Hebrew Prophets. But their vision is rare among us. Are we so scarred from the Holocaust; so depressed by Israel's suffering; so defeated by the dilemmas of America, that we have set aside the prophetic faith? Or is it that we have grown so comfortable, so secure, so affluent, we no long feel called by the prophets? How did the idols of cynicism and privatism find their way into our homes and our hearts? Dr. King's speech is a painful reminder of a precious heritage misplaced, a sacred legacy forgotten. But without the prophets' faith, what are we? Without their heroic vision, what chance have we to reclaim the hearts of our children? Without their hope, why bother? And if not now, when?

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