Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eye of the Beholder

Sermon Monday Morning

Yom Kippur Day

2009 – 5770

  1. At this point in the day, we say to each other, Gemar Tov, may we all have a good finish to this season of forgiveness.

  1. A poor disheveled Jew came to an inn along the side of the road. The owner of the inn realizes that this poor Jew will probably only cause him trouble. He will want food that he can’t pay for and will want a place to spend the night and will be unable to afford the bill. He brings the poor man to the back of the kitchen, feeds him some leftovers and tells him he will sleep by the stove in the kitchen, that the rooms are for paying guests. The poor Jew says nothing but eats his meal and goes outside for a breath of fresh air.

  1. But another Jew from the nearby town recognizes the poor Jew and with excitement runs back to the town. Rabbi Elimelech, the great Hasidic sage is visiting the area. By morning there are hundreds of people waiting outside the inn to see the great sage and perhaps to hear some of his teaching. Rabbi Elimelech comes out of the inn and begins to share some stories of the great Hasidic masters. The people stand respectfully and listen to the message he has to share with them. The owner of the inn is embarrassed and ashamed of the way he treated the man who should have been his honored guest.

  1. After the lesson, the innkeeper runs up to the Rabbi, “Please forgive me the way I treated you last night. I had no idea that you were the great Rabbi Elimelech. I am ashamed of what I have done. Please forgive my rudeness.” But the scholar sadly shakes his head. “Rabbi Elimelech the scholar can’t forgive you for the way you treated me last night. The simple poor Jew who came looking for a meal and a place to stay, that is the man you offended, and he is the man you need to ask forgiveness. Unfortunately, that man is no longer here and your apology is too late.”

  1. I thought of this story at the beginning of this month as I attended a meeting of the Palm Beach County Board of Rabbis. Rabbi Jack Reimer gave the main address. I found myself challenged by his words and told him so. We all rush to judgment in our dealings with others and in developing our opinions on the events that make the news. In many ways we are like the innkeeper, we just don’t have the time to really look deeply into every person and every idea that crosses our path. So let us take the time to look at five different people and see what we can discover about them and what we can learn about ourselves.

  1. There were five people in the news this past year who made public apologies for the crimes they had committed. Like our innkeeper they expressed regret over their actions and were looking for forgiveness. The question for this morning is if we think that their words of apology are enough. Can we find a way to forgive them or, has the time for their apology passed and there will never really be forgiveness. To be fair, this is not an all or nothing game, Maybe you don’t think that they deserve forgiveness now, but perhaps there will come a time when you feel they should be forgiven. Has the passage of time changed how we feel about them? Then again, maybe what they have done is so bad that forgiveness now, or ever, is impossible. I will tell you their stories and see how, if we were in charge, we might judge their case.

  1. There is likely not a soul in this country who does not know who Bernie Madoff is. He is the man convicted in the largest ponzi scheme in the history of the world. Thousands of investors lost billions in assets because of his crooked plan. Charitable organizations lost so much money that some had to go out of business. Retirement funds disappeared and their owners were left destitute. Even people who had not invested their life savings with him lost so much money, they could not fulfill charitable pledges that they had promised to important organizations.

  1. Madoff went to court and pleaded guilty to fraud and was sentenced this year to 150 years in prison. At 71 years old, clearly he will die in jail. What is important to us today is that when he appeared for sentencing, this is part of the apology he offered: Your Honor, I cannot offer you an excuse for my behavior. How do you excuse betraying thousands of investors who entrusted me with their life savings? … And how do you excuse deceiving an industry that you spent a better part of your life trying to improve? There is no excuse for that, and I don't ask any forgiveness. Although I may not have intended any harm, I did a great deal of harm. I made an error of judgment. I refused to accept the fact, that for once in my life I failed. I am responsible for a great deal of suffering and pain. I understand that. I live in a tormented state now knowing of all the pain and suffering that I have created. There is nothing I can do that will make anyone feel better for the pain and suffering I caused them, but I will live with this pain, with this torment for the rest of my life. I apologize to my victims. I will turn and face you. I am sorry.

  1. Do you think this was a sincere apology? Are these the words of a man who deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison? Would you forgive Bernie Madoff? Would you ever forgive Bernie Madoff? Do you think God should forgive Bernie Madoff?

  1. The second apology comes from William L. Calley. A former lieutenant in the US Army, he is the only US Army officer who was convicted for killing 22 civilian Vietnamese in the 1968 My Lai massacre. He was sentenced to life in prison but then President Nixon reduced his sentence to three years of house arrest. Calley was speaking this year to a Kiwanis Club near the military base where he was court marshaled. He said “There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families, I am very sorry.”

  1. It has been over 40 years since the massacre at My Lai. Calley has not spoken about the case in all those years. He has refused to be interviewed by reporters and has refused publicity. It was only the request of a long time friend that brought him to the Kiwanis club in Atlanta. Would you accept his apology? Did he make his apology with the proper audience? Would you ever accept his apology? Is he sincerely remorseful? Should God forgive William Cally?

  1. Lynndie England did not kill anyone. She appeared in the pictures that broke the scandal of prisoner abuse in Abu Graib in Iraq. She was among those who were court-martialed for her small part in the abuse. Here is her apology. See what you think about it. "Yes, I was in five or six pictures and I took some pictures, and those pictures were shameful and degrading to the Iraqis and to our government. And I feel sorry and wrong about what I did. Of course it was wrong. I know that now. But when you show the people from the CIA, the FBI and the MI (military intelligence) the pictures and they say, 'Hey, this is a great job. Keep it up,' you think it must be right. They were all there and they didn't say a word.”

  1. What shall we make of this apology? Is there a sincere repentance in her words? Does she believe the words that she says? Do you believe she is sincere? Would you accept this apology? Would you ever accept an apology from Lynndie England for what she did at Abu Graib? Do you think that God should forgive her actions?

  1. Finally, let us turn to Michael Vick. There is no human being who was harmed by this talented football player. He was not even accused of insulting or threatening another person. Michael Vick organized vicious dog fights that resulted in the maiming and killing of attack dogs. He served two years in prison and was released this year after serving his sentence. Some say he got a light sentence because he was a privileged talented athlete. He was fired from his job as quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. (The NFL did not rule on whether he would ever be allowed to play football again.) When he was released a few months ago, he mentioned that he has been humbled by his downfall, he regrets his actions that led to his arrest. He has renewed his faith and found some rehabilitation through his religion. He is now deeply involved with the Humane Society of America teaching inner city youth to stay away from dog fighting. He just signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, a two year deal for 6.8 million dollars. So far, the NFL has not said that he is banned from the game.

  1. Should Michael Vick be allowed to play professional football again? Should the NFL forgive him for his crimes? Is he getting a free ride because he is a talented young man who could make a lot of money for the team that hires him? Would you forgive Michael Vick? Would you ever forgive him his crimes? Should God forgive Michael Vick?

  1. Finally there is the late senator Ted Kennedy. What happened in 1969 was clearly an accident that resulted in the death of a young woman. Kennedy drove off a bridge and did not report the accident until the next day. Perhaps he was drunk that night. We will never know. Many people felt that it was his social and political status that helped him get away with behavior that was criminal. Political reporter Eleanor Clift, in a recent Newsweek magazine, wrote, “If you are not sympathetic to Kennedy’s politics, you note that he led a staggeringly privileged life. He got away with something he shouldn’t have. But if you are sympathetic to Kennedy and his politics … then you are willing to measure the benefits that Kennedy brought to countless people through his politics and give them proper weight on the scales of the man’s record. If you measure his capacity to reform himself, you tip the scales even further.”

  1. Ted Kennedy’s record of benefits that helped the poor, the forgotten and the powerless in America is a formidable record. But does that record redeem the senator from the crimes that were committed that night in 1968? How much would he have had to do, how many bills do you think it would take to bring redemption to the youngest of the Kennedy brothers? Do you forgive him? Should he ever be forgiven? Should God forgive him?

  1. So what is the scorecard for today? Madoff/Calley/England/Vick/Kennedy; Are we able to forgive any of them? Are their repentance and their apologies sincere? Should we forgive them their crimes? Would any apology they offer, or does the lack of an apology, help us weigh their actions? How should we judge them? How should God, who judges all of humanity on this day, how should God judge them? Are we in favor of Justice or will we choose Compassion?

  1. When the Rabbis in early September discussed these cases, Rabbi Reimer then reminded us of two important principles of Judaism. First, that there is only one ultimate Judge in our tradition and second, that Judge is not us. Our point of view is not only limited but inherently biased. Only God can weigh the intentions of those who stand accused and know if they are sincere in their repentance. It does not matter if we agree or disagree with the divine verdict, at the end of the day, we can only recite the blessing “Baruch Dayan Emet – God is the righteous Judge.

  1. Here we are, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Judgment day for humanity and the world. The day that we need forgiveness from God, and we have to now examine our hearts to see if we are as forgiving as we would want God to be. In the bible, King David himself is caught in a sin and asked by the prophet if he would like human justice or to put himself under divine justice. David replies. “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of Adonai, who is very compassionate, but let me not fall into human hands.” Only God can weigh all the components of our soul and all the intentions in our mind and only then does God judge us with compassion.

  1. So how are we to learn compassion instead of judgment? How can we not rush to judgment with our friends and neighbors when they do something that, from where we sit, seems like a terrible sin? Only later do we discover that their mistake was genuine. How is it possible to debate matters of public interest when we rush to judgment, hearing only what Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, MSNBC or Fox News has to say on a topic and not waiting to hear how the other side explains their decision. When we get our opinions from only one source, we become victims not of their reasoned views but of their appeals to our fears and emotions that add heat to the fire but do not enlighten the discussion or the debate.

  1. There are a few people here today who have come to the synagogue over the past two months to get to know the new rabbi, to talk with me, to pray with me and to see how I respond to the daily life at the temple. Some of them have expressed happiness that I am here and others are still thinking about if I will work out or not. How many of you here today, this being the first and perhaps the only time you will see me this year (God forbid you might need me in case of an illness or death in the family) how many of you meeting me for the first time will judge me on this sermon, or maybe on all my holiday sermons and speak authoritatively about me around your condo pool or clubhouse? You know, it just ain’t easy to be a Rabbi.

  1. Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov has written; “you have to judge every person generously. Even if you have reason to think that person is completely wicked. It is your job to look hard and seek out some bit of goodness, someplace in that person where he is not evil. When you find that bit of goodness and judge the person that way, you may really raise her up to goodness. Treating people this way allows them to be restored, to come to teshuva. The psalmist tells us to judge one and all so generously, so much on the good side, even if we think they’re as sinful as can be. By looking for that “little bit,” the place, however small, within them where there is no sin (and everyone after all, has such a place) and by telling them, showing them that that’s who they are. We can help them change their lives. So now, my clever friend, now that you know how to treat the wicked and find some bit of good in them – Now go and do it for yourself as well! I know what happens when you start examining yourself. ‘no goodness at all’, you find, ‘just full of sin.’ ‘Even the good things I did’ you say, ‘I did for the wrong reasons. Impure motives! Lousy deeds!’ Keep digging, I tell you, keep digging, because somewhere inside that now tarnished-looking mitzvah somewhere within it there was indeed a little bit of good. That’s all you need to find, a dot of goodness that should be enough to bring you back your life, to bring you back your joy. You show yourself that that is who you are. You can change your whole life this way and bring yourself to teshuva.”

  1. We read in our Machzor:

Our Creator our Ruler, be gracious to us and answer us for we have no good deeds in our lives. Deal with us in justice and kindness and save us

  1. Is this how we truly judge ourselves on this sacred day? Are we without any merits at all? Are we all so wicked that there are no good deeds that we can turn to so that we may say, “Here is a time when I acted in a holy fashion”? Just as we cannot condemn others in our judgment because we cannot see the true person that lies within, we cannot judge ourselves because we do not see the whole picture of who we are inside. We often don’t understand what motivates us to decide against our own self interest; why we turn right instead of left.. We can only see that we have done so, and that our decisions have consequences that are not always obvious.

  1. Rabbi Hanoch Teller, the famous storyteller, writes a story about a young Jr. Executive, after being chewed out by his CEO must make a mad dash from Downtown New York City to Long Island to conclude a deal that could make or break his career. He has just enough time to catch a subway to Penn Station, so he can catch a train to Long Island and thus catch the client before he leaves for an extended holiday in Europe. Millions of dollars are on the line as well as the young man’s career. He races to the subway and arrives just as the train is pulling in, but his path is blocked by a homeless man selling pencils for a quarter. The executive tosses a quarter into the cup and races for the train but the homeless man stops him, “Hey mister, you get to have a pencil” The executive looks at him in puzzlement. He says “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were a merchant” takes the offered pencil and darts into the subway as the doors close behind him.

  1. The deal is closed. It nets much profit for the company and the executive is not only promoted but given a bonus as well. Four years later, at the end of a long day, he stops to buy a newspaper at a stand on the street. The vendor looks at him and says, “Wait I minute… I know you!! The executive starts to back away, regretting that he even stopped for the paper. The vendor stands up, “You are the guy that who once said to me ‘I didn’t realize you were a merchant’. Years ago, I didn’t know I was a merchant either. But I got to thinking that if a Wall Street guy like you thinks I am a merchant, maybe there is something to it. Now look at me. I got nine stands like this in the city, three in Queens and a couple in Pelham Parkway. I got 14 stands and it is all thanks to you. Take whatever paper you want, mister, it’s on the house and Thanks, Thanks a lot buddy!”

  1. We cannot judge the actions of others and we cannot judge our own actions either. We can only use this time to try and find that spark of goodness in others and in ourselves. Leave the judging to God. Look at the world through the eyes of kindness and see that not every bad deed is wholly bad and even the ideas that we think are terrible may still have a spark of goodness within them. My first Rabbinical School teacher reminded me that any fool can tear down a barn, but it takes an architect to build one. It does not take any talent to find the evil in the world, but it takes a holy soul to find the good in everyone.

  1. So my friends, that is our lesson for this Day of Atonement. If we can find just one dot of goodness in others we will help their soul grow more holy. If we can find that dot of goodness in ourselves, we will begin to grow our own holy soul. With that soul we can learn to sing the sweetest music of kindness and compassion and through that music we can learn the deepest mysteries of prayer. And through that kind of deep prayer we can discover the secret of a happy and joyful new year.

  1. May we be blessed with good deeds, sweet music, uplifting prayer and a joyful new year as we say …


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Can Help

Sermon Sunday Night

Kol Nidre

2009 – 5770

  1. I want to welcome everyone back to our Jewish home tonight. It is good the see all of you here this evening. . Our greeting to each other tonight is Tzom Kal, may we all have an easy Fast.

  1. In the movie version of the book, “Clear and Present Danger” an American anti- drug operation in South America goes terribly wrong. Many of the military personnel involved in the operation are killed. Harrison Ford, plays the acting director of the CIA in Washington who discovers the betrayal of the program and goes down to South America to save whoever may be left of the commando team. He finally saves one soldier from the jungle and as the helicopter lifts him from hostile territory, the soldier turns and screams “Who did this to us? Who is responsible? Before anyone else can try and explain the entire Byzantine plot, Ford looks at the soldier, who has been fighting all week for his very life and replies, “I am” “ I am responsible”.

  1. Everyone on the helicopter is shocked when he says it and frankly we, the audience are shocked too. While the character is responsible for the operations in South America, it was his supervisors and crooked politicians who we know are really to blame. The people in the helicopter are so stunned because Ford’s character is also a victim in this tragedy. He has come, at the risk of his own life, to try and make some good from this disaster. That he should blame himself and take responsibility is the moral force that propels us through the second half of the movie.

  1. Tomorrow we will read a Haphtarah taken from the prophet Isaiah. In the reading, the prophet takes on all the hypocrites among the Israelites who pray as if they want to repent, but by their actions, they show that they have no intention of changing their ways. They fast on Yom Kippur but while fasting they are conducting their business, oppressing their laborers, arguing and even striking each other with clenched fists. Isaiah shouts out against all those who repent insincerely and declares that their fast is no fast and that God will not hear them when they pray.

  1. That is a really extreme sermon from Isaiah. I am not sure that there is a rabbi in the world who would speak that way to his or her congregation. What makes Isaiah speak up? What causes Isaiah to speak so passionately? Why does he feel he needs to remind the worshippers in the Temple that ritual alone will not be enough to erase their sins? At the very beginning of the Book of Isaiah, where Isaiah experiences a vision of the angels praising God in the heavens, Isaiah makes his choice known to God. The text reads:

  1. “Then I heard the voice of my Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And I said “Hineni, here I am, send me.” When God asks Isaiah who will be responsible to teach the people God’s word, Isaiah answers, “I will be responsible.” It is this responsibility that drives the prophet to speak out against those who would pervert ritual to accommodate their bad habits.

  1. The prophet who is the opposite of Isaiah is Jonah. Jonah is the prophet who tries to evade his responsibility. He tries to run away to Tarshish but God forces him back to Ninveh to take responsibility for the evil that is in the city. God needs Jonah to speak up. God knows that Jonah’s voice will make a difference to the people of the city, from the beggar in the street to the King himself. God knows that if Jonah were to speak out, it would cause the inhabitants of Ninveh to consider their actions and sincerely repent their deeds. Jonah can only see that if they repent and God will save them, then he might look like a fool. He thinks, “If they are so evil, let God punish them and give them what they deserve”. God must not only teach the citizens of Ninveh to repent, but he has to teach compassion to Jonah as well.

  1. This holy day of Yom Kippur is a day of introspection. It is a day that we take a good look at our life, and what we are making of it. Ever since the beginning of Elul, the last month of last year, we have been looking hard at our lives and seeing where we need to change so that we can live better lives. It has been a personal, private review, a dialogue that runs between us and God. Only now, with the beginning of Yom Kippur, and the message of Isaiah and Jonah, do we begin to assess our place in the wider world. Isaiah teaches us that the hunger we feel is not about our fasting, but about making us sensitive to those who are hungry every day. Jonah teaches us that it is not enough to understand the problems of the world; we need to realize that God expects us to speak out and make a difference.

  1. At the end of World War II, American soldiers, most of them very young men, came home and tried to get on with their lives. They did not like to talk about what they did during the war. If we asked them, they usually replied, “We did what we had to do.” These were American heroes. They had stopped the Nazi war machine. They had liberated Europe. They had liberated the concentration camps and had seen first hand the atrocities committed by the enemy. They were proud of their service to country and to humanity. They did not want to talk about the killing. They only wanted to get on with their lives and try to live that life by the values they had fought to defend.

  1. But imagine, if you can, the life of a former German soldier after the war. What they feared most as their children and grandchildren learned about the abuses of the Nazi government, was the question, “Daddy, What did you do during the war?” What could they say to their children? “We did what we had to do to kill Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals?” “We followed the orders of a megalomaniac dictator?” “Daddy, what did you do during the war? Did you kill Jews or save Jews?” How does one answer such a question? If the truth was revealed, what would their children and grandchildren think of them?

  1. We have taken a vow that never again will there be such genocide in the world. We made a promise on the ashes of those whose lives were destroyed by the Nazis that we would not stand idly by when the poor and forgotten people of the world were executed. That when nobody else cared, we would care. We would be responsible. But our commitment to this vow has already been challenged. From the killing fields of Cambodia, to the slaughter in Rwanda to the victims in Darfur, the world once again seems to only want to look the other way and not have to deal with the death of so many innocent men, women and children. The death toll in Darfur grows every day. What are we to say to our children and grandchildren when they read about the atrocities in school and then ask us, “What did we do to save them?”

  1. We are taught that all human beings are created in the image of God. Feeding Jews is important. But so is feeding the hungry of all nations. The Talmud in Massechet Shabbat teaches us that if we have the ability to protest an injustice and we do not, then God considers us accountable for the crime. Rabbi Harold Shulweiss of Los Angeles asks “Have we become so wounded by the Anti- Semitism in the world that we can no longer feel the pain of the rest of humanity? If we have become so unfeeling, it marks a very serious spiritual defect for our people.”

  1. It is not easy to stand up and say “Hineini.” “I am responsible.” It is much easier to focus on our own problems rather then take on the rest of the world. But we do have that responsibility. We may not be able to change the world, but we do have the responsibility to respond, to do what we can do, to lend our hand, our voice and our strength to those who strength has all but run out. We can’t do everything, but we can do something.

  1. Can we stop global warming? Can we end the corruption and evil that comes when we purchase petroleum from foreign sources? Can we reduce our carbon footprint? Maybe we can’t change geo-politics but we can still make a difference. Did you know that candles are made from a byproduct of petroleum? The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has begun selling special “Green” Shabbat candles which are not made from petroleum. There is now a movement to use these soy based candles because they are a renewable resource and do not add to the carbon in the atmosphere. Each of us can further reduce our electrical consumption by replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lighting. It is not so hard to reduce our carbon footprint. Making a difference is only as far away as Home Depot. When we are asked who is responsible for the environment, will we reply “Hineini” “I am responsible”?

  1. This past week, the major organizations of our Conservative movement, the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue released for general comment, draft guidelines for the Magen Tzedek seal. Those who eat Kosher try to eat according to the laws set down in the Torah about what is appropriate for food, and what is not. But knowing where the food comes from, in our day and age is not enough. What if the food was processed by people working in unsafe surroundings? What if they are being paid wages which are not much better than slave wages? What if the workers are being abused by their managers and forced to work long hours, to kick back some of their wages in order to keep their jobs or to pay very high rent for an apartment owned by the company who employs them. These conditions were all documented at the Agriprocessor Plant in Postville, IA. Can we say that Rubashkin meat is kosher if it is made on the backs of abused immigrants?

  1. Magen Tzedek is an attempt by Conservative Judaism, to raise the standards of supervision. In these five areas: treatment of employees, animal welfare, consumer issues, corporate integrity and environmental impact; Magen Tzedek gives us a new way to look at our food. The Magen Tzedek seal is not designed to replace regular kashrut supervision; Magen Tzedek can only be given to foods that already are certified Kosher. But the seal certifies that the food we eat, meets a spiritual criteria that goes beyond how an animal is killed and how its lungs are inspected. The meat at the Postville plant was not treyf, but the attitude of the management and the treatment of the workers was far less than kosher. If we had a choice, would we demand Magen Tzedek in addition to regular Kosher supervision? The Magen Tzedek seal will start appearing next year. Are we ready to say “Hineini,” I am responsible for the food that I eat?

  1. Darfur is halfway around the world from Florida. It is unsafe to travel there and the region has been closed to foreigners. Certainly we need to let our Senators and Representatives know that Darfur is a concern for us and that they should not let the humanitarian crisis there be forgotten. But is that all we can do? What do the people of Darfur need that can make their life easier? You might be surprised to learn that the needs are really quite simple.

  1. The most dangerous thing that the people of Darfur need to do is to travel great distances to get the wood needed to cook their meals. Men searching for wood are regularly killed by the Janjaweed and the women who venture out of the settlements are often raped. For a few dollars, a solar stove can be given to each family in the villages, a stove that could heat food and water by solar power so that the need to leave the safety of the village would be lessened. There are some other issues as well: the clinics in the village need basic supplies; water wells need to be dug in the villages; modern latrines are needed to insure basic sanitation. None of this is really expensive, but most government money goes to food relief. A small sum of money can make a great difference. Jewish World Watch ( is an organization of Synagogues that are determined to not let genocide happen in our day and age. They have the connections to the secure stoves and supplies needed by the people of Darfur. Our conscience calls to us to say “Hineini” I will take responsibility.

  1. When we join a synagogue we have a pretty good understanding as to what a synagogue is all about. We know that a synagogue is a Bet Sefer, a school, and that there needs to be educational programs so that we can grow in our understanding of our faith. We know that a synagogue is a Bet Tephilla, a house of prayer, and that we need to provide for the spiritual growth of our members and help them feel near to God when they pray. And we also know that a synagogue is a Bet Knesset, a place where we can get together with friends and neighbors to celebrate the joy in life and to support each other in times of sorrow.

  1. But a synagogue should also be a Bet Tzedek, a place of Justice. Not in the sense of a courthouse, but a place where we gather to do what is right for those who are in need of our help. To reach out to the victims of injustice and to help all people find a way to live in safety and with self respect. We all know what a synagogue is, but we also must look to what our synagogue ought to be.

  1. To be responsible means we first have to ask the question, “What ignites our moral passion?” Is it universal health care? Is it the immoral situation concerning immigration in this country? Is it hunger in a world that has too much food but not the will to distribute it equally? Is it children being pressed to serve as soldiers in West Africa? Is it the genocide in Darfur? Is it the international trade in children for sexual exploitation? Is it the trafficking of modern slavery? What will be the cause that awakens us from our slumber and moves us to make a difference in the world? The cause that moves us to say, “I am responsible”?

  1. One of the projects that I want to introduce to the congregation is a new committee on Social Action/Social Justice. I am calling it the “Hineini Committee”. It is a place where we can gather to reflect on our responsibility to others, our responsibility to our planet and our responsibility as human beings and then to translate that reflection into meaningful action that will make a difference. Our Synagogue needs to be a place that is more than just a house of Prayer, Study and entertainment. Hineini will be a place where we can help to transform the world that is into the world that ought to be. It will help us discover what we can do to change the world and to join with others to plan how we can make a real difference.

  1. How can you say Hineini? It is very easy. Just let me know that you are ready to take responsibility and let me know where you would like to focus your moral passion. I want to create different working groups each one with a focus on just one of the many responsibilities we may have. Some groups will focus on political action, contacting Representatives and Senators on the State and Federal levels. Others may work more locally on regional issues. Still other groups may reach out to those who may be suffering around the world, joining hands with international aid groups who are making a difference. Some may go to Israel to help with issues there relating to immigration and social ills, but others may fight those same ills right here in our own country. Some may decide to speak with students in our local schools and some may join with students from all over the world to lend a hand.

  1. These are projects that do not require a certain age or agility. Everyone has something to offer and we can enlist our friends to help and make new friends along the way. Temple Emeth will provide the resources that will help each group work to make a difference. Who will come forward to lead a group of members to provide meals to a family who has now entered the Land of Cancer? Are there enough drivers in our congregation to help those friends and neighbors who have given up driving get to a doctor or to bring them to synagogue on Shabbat and Holidays? We have shown our commitment to Israel by traveling there and visiting this miracle of the Middle East. If you have not yet gone, are you ready to go? If you have gone, how about traveling to Washington DC and lobbying our representatives there about the direction of our Middle East policy? When this Health Care debate is over, this country will have to confront the next thorny problem of immigration. Who will speak up for those who wish to come to this country and work hard to better their family’s standard of living? Thirty-seven synagogues are already a part of Jewish World Watch, helping to provide the basic necessities for the people of Darfur. Who will help Temple Emeth become number thirty-eight?

  1. Who is responsible for these and many other causes? Who will stand up and say “Hineini, Shelacheni” “Here I am, send me! I will be responsible”? I know that we are very busy with our lives. The great sage Hillel reminds us “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” But then he adds, “But if I am only for myself, what am I?” An important part of our definition of self needs to be our service to others. And finally Hillel reminds us, “If not now, when?” Now is the time, at the beginning of the year, at the time when we are searching our souls to discover just what kind of a person we are deep inside. Now is the time to answer the call to stand up for those who can not stand up for themselves and to lend time and energy to those whom life has left exhausted. We cannot rest on who we are; we have to bring to life the person that we know we “ought” to be. A Jew who understands that a spiritual life must be filled with kindness, caring and compassion. God is asking each one of us today, “Who shall I send? Who will go for us? Will we be like Jonah, who tried to run away from our responsibility or will be like Isaiah, or maybe like Harrison Ford and answer the call “Hineini, I am here. I am responsible!”

  1. May this year be one of joy and gladness for us and for those we will help in the year ahead. May we be the blessing in the lives of others and may that be our blessing as well as we say …


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Avinu Malkaynu

Sermon Sunday Morning
Second Day Rosh Hashana
Temple Emeth, Delray Beach

Dear God,

At the start of a new Jewish year and decade, I , HaRav Moshe Shemuel ben Eliezer v’Sheindle have come to you to once again to pray on behalf my family and my community. This was a long and difficult year for me. We were not able to even have this conversation last year. So it is way past time for us to get back on speaking terms.

I was not angry with you about the difficult time I had in St. Paul. I had given the congregation all that I could but for some people there, it was not enough. I am thankful for my time there. In that short stay I was able to really make a difference in the lives of some really good Jews. I will treasure the memories of those successes long after the frustration and anger are forgotten. When I realized that my time in Minnesota was increasing my distance from you, I knew that you were letting me know, my time there had come to an end. It was time to move on.

And, I must say that it was truly humbling and instructive to sit in the congregation for the past year. To watch other Rabbis be in charge, to meet lay leaders and ordinary Jews from the position of equals rather than spiritual leader was profoundly humbling. I did miss terribly the work of the pulpit that has always been so much a part of my life, but the opportunity to meet the members of Anshe Chesed, the worshippers of Minyan Me’at and the students at the Jewish Theological Seminary and to live, for the first time in my life in a truly urban setting helped me grow in ways I could have never imagined just the year before.

And now you God have brought me back to South Florida, to this wonderful congregation called Temple Emeth, and once again I have the privilege of guiding the members of this synagogue as they try, each day, to sense your presence, and to understand what it means to live a spiritual/religious life. I first of all want to thank you God, for bringing me here, and introducing me to all those who have welcomed me to this city with open arms and open hearts. We are still learning a lot about each other, but with your help, our relationship will only grow stronger each day. I am trying to learn all their names all at once, it is a huge task. Give me the patience to learn not only the names but to know the individual, the essence of the members themselves

I’ll tell you God, This past year was a very tough year all over the world. People who are very close to me lost their jobs and even for Rabbis and Cantors it has been a tough year trying to support a family. For so many people, life is filled with so much uncertainty. On the one hand, I am happy that it is not death that stalks the doors of our country. H1N1 may be a concern but it has not turned into the killer we imagined it would be. AIDS is slowly coming under control, the fight against terrorism goes on but the terror attacks are getting fewer and farther away from our doors. I meet so many people who have survived in their lives the very diseases that killed their parents. I am very happy that we have no reason to fear for our lives as the new year begins.

But on the other hand, the uncertainty of where the next paycheck will come from, if we will be able to buy our next meal, If we will have enough retirement income to live on, If we can afford to keep our homes, these are real fears that are undermining whatever good news we may receive. It is hard to be charitable, to extend a hand to those in need and to support the most important causes if we are unsure what will happen tomorrow in our personal lives. I drive through neighborhoods with “for sale” signs in the yards that have been there for almost a year. Many of those signs indicate a “short sale” or a foreclosure. Each one represents a family in crisis, unable to pay their bills, unable to pay the mortgage, unable to make ends meet. I am not the only Rabbi making less than I did a few years ago. I find myself grateful for the blessings in my life that let me reach out to others in need instead of my being one who is in need. But as I reach out to others who are not so fortunate, I recognize that all of us are only a check or two away from financial disaster. I am thankful for the blessing of being able to pay my bill with income that I receive from an honest days work.

God, this is a very special congregation. Like all congregations, things seem so chaotic at first glance. I know better than to believe first impressions. I have found here a leadership that sincerely wants to do what is best for the congregation and for Judaism. I find the members here can reach back to a solid Jewish education and they let that education influence their personal lives. Everyone I have met has their heart in the right place when it comes to making this congregation the best that it can be. If they seem to argue a lot, that is only because they are passionate about their beliefs. In a world where one often can only get attention by shouting, I am hoping that Temple Emeth will be a place where one can argue passionately but everyone will, at the end of each day, walk hand in hand as friends. Keep bitterness and strife far from these walls and help us to be understanding as well as understood by others.

God, I do want to thank you for the blessings not only in my life but I want to thank you for all the blessings in the lives of my family as well. Ashira and Tim were ordained as Rabbis this year. I am always proud of their lives, but I celebrated their accomplishments. It was a very bittersweet moment as they fulfilled their dreams of service to the Jewish community; and yet, as I watched Ashria receive her tallit from my hand and as her dean conferred ordination upon her, I was only thinking of how proud my father would have been to be there that day, to see her cross the stage and to hug her on her exceptional work. I cried that day for their happiness and for my sadness. Joy won out over the sorrow. Our family celebrated with thanksgiving for the blessings of Learning and Leadership. I am most grateful that they too were able to find meaningful work in this terrible economy and have begun a new chapter in their lives, one that no longer includes school and grades but does include teaching, learning and reaching out to others. Ashira has been a source of information and support for her younger brothers and has taken on some leadership responsibilities in her synagogue. She is blessed with a practical wisdom that her supervisors and her colleagues have come to treasure. Like all young people, she is a little short on patience, but she learns quickly and understands that all her blessings come from you, God. More than that I cannot ask, of her or from you.

Eitan, my son, has matured into the top echelons of his field. Other computer programmers come to him with their problems and glitches and he, shares his time with them so they can learn and grow as he has. Even in his spare time, he has received permission to work on a new application for a new product that he very much want so see succeed, and with his help, it will only get stronger. He is in a new apartment in NY, near his brother and sister and is in a new relationship that, while I don’t know where it will go, at least he has found someone kind and caring. He calls me sometimes with some of the frustrations he encounters, As my parents did for me, I try to hear his question behind the question and help resolve the challenges. His life is still coming together and I can only ask you, God, to help him, every day, find his way in this crazy, noisy and chaotic world, which is so different from the elegant world of mathematics and computers where he chooses to dwell by day. Thank you God, for keeping Eitan healthy and happy.

On my shelf at home is a picture of my youngest, Hillel with his fiancĂ©e Sarah, just hours after he asked her to marry him. Even in the picture, the smile on their faces lights up the room. A great adventure awaits them this year as they prepare to be married sometime this summer. He has a thousand questions each day about weddings, about marriage and about life in general. He has a deep understanding of the differences between the love he has for his parents and the love he has for Sarah. The kindness in his soul, the care and concern for others has him trying to rebalance his life to let in his love of Sarah. Hillel has become the great negotiator in the family. At the slightest sign of a quarrel, he can draw out the essence of the conflict and propose a solution that will resolve the differences. He knows to stand up to that which is not fair and to admit when he is wrong. He knows how humor can lift up someone who is down, change the opinion of one who may be stuck, and gently bring down someone who may be just a bit too full of themselves. It is all done with kindness and compassion. He is an amazing young man and I thank you God for guiding his life. I also thank you for the privilege of raising up these three wonderful children and bringing to the family two new “children” who compliment them so perfectly.

I want to thank you today especially for the gift of life and health you have given my mother. She has endured much in her long life. To be sure there have been times of great joy and celebration. But recent years have been less kind. Sometimes I look at her and see her as being so frail and fragile. But to talk to her is to hear the same fire and determination that help her raise all five of us children, through good and bad times. My dad and mom raised up a lawyer, an Insurance Agent, a Cantor, A Rabbi and an electrical engineer. All of us have children of our own. We think our mom did a pretty good job. And each day that we get to talk with her or visit with her is a joy. Perhaps these days she is a bit more mellow when it comes to her commentary on the world around her but when it is a matter of family, her love and passion for the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren knows no bounds. With your help, God, she will turn ninety, or perhaps we should say, she is turning thirty for the third time. We hope to gather for her birthday, as many as we can round up in this far flung family, and remind her again of all that she has done to make us all who we are today. God, don’t let me let a day go by without letting her know how important she is in my life.

Finally, I have to thank you for the past 33 years with Michelle. We have been through a lot over the past couple of years and, quite frankly, without you, God, and Michelle, I would not have made it. I still cannot imagine what I ever could have done more right than to marry her and to share my life with her. I rely on her wisdom, her wit and her steady hand. I have learned to see the world through her eyes and see life in multiple layers through her heart. We have shared every adventure together and each one has been richer because of her presence. Each year I think I have reached the pinnacle of love with Michelle and each year she shows me how to reach ever higher. Thank you God for bringing Michelle, and her love into my life.

I heard once a story about a little girl who was writing in her diary. She paused and turned to the back of the book. The pages there were all blank. She said, “This is the one book I would love to be able to read the ending and see how it all turns out.” I know, God that how the book of life will turn out depends a great deal on the decisions that I make today. I know God, that if I aspire to the kind of old age that my mother has modeled, then I need to get working on it right away. A good future is not a small production and if I want it to be the best it can be, I will need years more of hard work and determination. You have blessed me God, with the health, wisdom and the heart that I will need this year and every year to serve the members of this congregation and to help them navigate the twists and turns that their lives may take. It is my sacred duty to be there for those who trust me to guide them in difficult days and to help them appreciate the good days. I don’t always know why you send me the challenges that I face, but I hope that I can meet them all with your help and support. Help me share your light with those in need and may I reflect your light into the hearts of all who may know only darkness.

You have taught me, my Creator, that Judaism is less about judgment and law, as it is about knowing your ways and sharing your love. I hope that this year will be a year where I can show a new community and new friends how you can guide them as you have guided me, how knowledge of you will help them master their world and how they can trust you, in the darkest of days, to carry them when they no longer have the strength to walk themselves.

Thank you God, for your constant companionship in my life. I know that there are times when I don’t understand you and I cry out to you in my frustration. I know in my soul that I could not do any of this alone, without your help. I may not always understand you but I will always trust you. I promised you that I would do all in my power to spread your wisdom and compassion to whatever community to which you might send me. I feel honored that you have trusted me with these good people of Delray Beach and Temple Emeth. I will work hard every day not to let you down.

All I ask in return is a year of life, health and joy for myself, my family, my congregation and my community. Let everyone share all of your divine blessings and may this new year be even better than the year before. May it be a year of blessing, of sustenance, of prosperity for our country and a year of peace for the world. And for you, God, may it be a good year too. L’shana Tova U’metukah. May you and all of us have a good and sweet new year.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Unanswered Prayers

Sermon Saturday Morning
First Day Rosh Hashana
2009 - 5770
Temple Emeth, Delray Beach

L’Shana Tova U’metukah, May you have a good and sweet new year

A Good Year? Are you serious Rabbi? A good year!!?? What could be so good about this year. The whole world is falling apart. My life is falling apart! A good year? It is just starting and already it is a failure!!

I lost my job, Rabbi, who will hire me now at my age. My kids lost their jobs in this lousy economy and they need my help to support them. They lost the house, the business and their marriage is coming apart! How will this year be any good? My investments have lost half their value. The entire country is in a recession. I feel sick about it and then I discover that even my health care program is in trouble. My investments have failed, my bank has failed, my business has failed and I guess I have failed. How can it be a good year if from the start I feel like a failure?

These are tough times in this country and around the world. We have gone from a nation of plenty to a nation of insecurity about the future. Fear stalks our streets. Even if I have a job and a paycheck, tomorrow it could all be gone. Realtors have seen the housing market collapse. People can’t afford to pay for their homes and they can’t afford to sell their homes and they can’t afford to move.

My own family is not immune from the failures around us. I was looking for a congregation in a year when there were too many Rabbis looking for work and not very many congregations with strong enough finances to afford a Rabbi. My being here is truly a blessing. Michelle, my wife, came to be headmaster of a Jewish day school, but the economy hurt those who were funding the school and the school did not have to money it needed to open this fall. Now she is looking for work in a year when, for every job there are 50 -70 applicants.

There are plenty of people and institutions who we can blame for the failures around us but as we watch our income and our retirement dissolve, we find that more often than not, we are kicking ourselves, that WE are the failures in this crisis. We should have paid close attention to our investments. We should have saved more money rather than spend like there was no tomorrow. We should have listened to those who said that the end was near, and not laughed at them for their doomsday message. If only I was smarter I would have sold the GM stock and bought the Ford stock. I would have paid down my credit card debt rather than run it up. I would have saved for these rainy days; instead I bought these designer boots. I thought I was so smart, and now I feel like a fool.

Rabbi Jack Reimer includes in one of his books a story of a little boy who came to the rabbi with a heavy heart. “What has happened,” asked the Rabbi. The boy replied, “I have done something terrible and I don’t know what to do about it. At my Little League game yesterday, I was playing second base and the batter hit an easy ground ball right to me. I bent down to scoop it up and it rolled right between my legs.” Asked the Rabbi, “Are you embarrassed that the people laughed at you? Did the mistake cost you the game?” “No,” said the boy, “That is not the problem, we got the out with the next batter and the inning was over. I was embarrassed about it but I got over that and yet I still feel terrible.” “You know,” said the Rabbi, “that anyone can make a mistake, it was an unimportant baseball game, why are you being so hard on yourself?” the boy replied, “Rabbi, you don’t understand, I am a better ballplayer than that.” Imagine, ten years old and he already feels like a failure.

I know parents of preschool children who go to extreme lengths to make sure their children qualify to get into the best preschool in the county. They figure that if they get into the best preschool, they will get into the best elementary school which will get them into the best high school, which will assure them a place in the best university, which will insure that they get a great job and will be a success in life. Of course, if they don’t make it into the best preschool, then at age three, they are already a failure

We may all feel like failures and fools from time to time but perhaps that is not such a bad thing. Perhaps it will be our failures that will make this new year a Good and Sweet year. Country Singer Garth Brooks, in his song, “Unanswered Prayers”, tells the story of a married man who meets his high school flame at a football game. This was the girl that he prayed that he might marry someday. It didn’t work out, now his old flame does not seem so angelic anymore and the woman he did marry is the love of his life. In the refrain of the song he sings, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers. Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs; that just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care, Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

Take a look at some modern failures. There is a long list of failures associated with Abraham Lincoln. He had many business failures, could not get the votes necessary to win a seat in the US Senate twice and had his first true love die just as they were about to be engaged. He had to work hard to become a lawyer and a surveyor. He could not afford a good education so he had to educate himself. And yet he went on to be one of the most important Presidents of the United States.

Maybe we should take a look at the life of Winston Churchill. The great war leader of WWII was responsible in WWI for the catastrophic invasion at Gallipoli. His political fortunes rose and fell many time until he became Prime Minister of England during World War II and strengthened the entire country. Later,even though he lost the election after the war he did go on to win a Nobel Prize in Liturature. He once said that “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

The only real failure, it seems, is not learning from our failures. I don’t know if you have noticed that so many businesses have taken to sending out customer satisfaction surveys. Maybe you fill them out or maybe you ignore them but the true test of a company is what they do with the surveys they get back. On the one side are those organizations that try to inspire their employees to earn perfect scores on these surveys. It is the modern take on performance testing. I am often handed a form by an employee who “reminds me” that if I had good service, to give him a score of “10”. I can see how this kind of survey can help a company discover who is doing an excellent job and who is not.

But there are some companies who are looking for something deeper. They don’t really want to know what they did right, they want to know, it great detail, where they let the customer down. Such surveys ask me what I think of their product. Was it a good value for the money? Did it arrive in good condition? Did it perform as I expected? How could they make it better? What could they do to make it more usable or convenient? Such companies don’t obsess over their successes. They can’t learn much from success. Only by understanding where they “failed” me can they begin to build on a better tomorrow.

I remember a scene in the play, The Lion King, Where Simba, horrified that he has caused the death of his father and feeling a failure at life, runs away to join a band of misfits. Rafiki, the Baboon mystic finds him and tells him to come home and take his place as the true King. Simba says he is not worthy because he is a failure. Rafiki hits Simba on the head with his staff. “Hey!” yells Simba, “cut that out!” Rafiki swings again but this time Simba ducks and the staff misses its mark. “You see, Simba,” says Rafiki, “already you have learned from a failure”. It is only a failure if we don’t learn from our mistakes.

What is a failure anyway? Just because one aspect of our life fails does not make us a failure. Life is way too complicated to fail on all fronts. We all have successes as well as failures. When we feel like a failure, We have to rise above the chaos and assess were we are and where we need to go. We must first ask the question, do we have friends and family who love us? If so, we cannot consider our life a failure. Do we have a friend who will come to help us in a crisis even at 3 AM? That does not sound like a failure in life to me. Are you such a friend? Would you go to help a friend in crisis at 3 AM? Then don’t let me catch you calling yourself a failure. To your friend, you are a hero.

Hannah Senech, the Hebrew Poetess and soldier from Palestine, risked her life to parachute into Hungary to save Jews from the Nazis. Her mission was discovered and the Gestapo caught Hannah and her friends. They were all tortured and executed. It would seem that the mission was a failure. But, as one general noted; From a military point of view, it is often difficult to identify a mission as a failure. Sure they were caught and executed, but they gave hope to those who were down and oppressed. The Jews in Hungary knew that while this mission may have failed, the Jews of Palestine had not forgotten nor abandoned them, and this gave the Jews of Hungary great hope.

Remember the spaceship Apollo 13? There was a terrible accident on the way to the moon and three astronauts were in danger of loosing their life in space. The engineers on the ground did not kick themselves for their failure. They did not moan over what they had done wrong. They were rallied by the flight director who refocused their priorities. He said: “There are three American astronauts out there and we need to bring them home safely. We have never lost an American in space and it is not going to happen on my watch. We are going to bring them home gentlemen and failure is not an option.” All three were brought home safely.

Think of Joseph, the son of our Patriarch Jacob. Every good thing that happens in his life causes a problem; the multi colored coat, the dreams, his hard work in his master’s home in Egypt, it all leaves him abandoned by family, sold into slavery and thrown into prison. His own dreams do not make him great. He became great only when he learns to listen to the dreams of others. Failure can teach us that when we stop caring only for ourselves and start caring for others, even in prison, we can rise toward success.

Victor Frankel was a doctor in Vienna before WWII. He had just finished a manuscript that was his life’s work when the Nazi’s came and arrested him. He stuffed the manuscript into his coat thinking that someday things could change and he would be able to publish it. When he got to the concentration camp, they took away all his clothing and he lost the manuscript. He was given worn out clothing that had been taken from prisoners who had already been killed. In the pocket of this prison uniform, he found a piece of paper with a prayer on it. Even in this dark place and in the dark times, this prayer was the light that kept Victor Frankel going. After the war, Frankel wrote a different book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. It is still in print. In this book he maintains that we don’t get to pick what will happen to us in life. But we do get to assign it meaning. As long as there is hope, as long as we can learn from life, then nothing is really a failure.

The little ten year old Little League player I told you about did get some important advice from his Rabbi. When the boy said that he felt like a failure because he was a better player than that, the Rabbi replied, “What you are saying then is that on that play you didn’t do your best. You didn’t do what you know you are capable of doing. You let yourself down, more than you let the team down.” “Yes, that’s it!” exclaimed the boy, “I know that the games are not that important but I learned something about myself that day. It doesn’t matter how good I am at doing something if I don’t do my best. But now what do I do about it? There is no way for me to fix the problem and say “I’m sorry” to the person I may have hurt. To whom should I say “I’m sorry”?” The Rabbi responded, “When we hurt ourselves we need to say “I’m sorry” to God and we need to say “I’m sorry” to ourselves. That is the reason we have Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.”

When we feel like a failure, that we have let ourselves down, these Days of Awe come to help us get some perspective and they allow us to forgive ourselves. We sometimes get so busy with our feelings of failure that we fail to see not only the good we have done but the good that may still be possible not in spite of the failure but BECAUSE of the failure. Today we may feel like a fool for not hearing the warnings, for not paying attention to the signs that the world was coming unglued, but even a fool has lessons that can be taught and learned if we are open to their message.

Jacob the Baker, in the book by Noah ben Shea, tells a story of a fool who set out for the palace of the king. Along the way the people laughed at him, “Why should a fool like you go to see the king?” the Fool replied, “Well, I am going to be the king’s teacher.” But his conviction only brought more laughter by the people along the path. When the fool arrived at the palace, the King decided to make short work and great laughter at the expense of the Jester. The Jester was immediately invited to the royal court. “Why do you dare to disturb the King?” said the Royal Majesty. “I have come to be the royal teacher.” Said the Fool in a matter of fact voice. The king roared with laughter, “How can you, a fool teach me?” “You see,” said the Fool, “you are already asking me questions” The royal court froze in silence. The King gathered himself and stared at his ridiculous opponent. “You have offered a clever response but you have not answered my questions.” “Only a fool has all the answers.” replied the fool with a sly smile. “But, but...” now the King was sputtering, “What would others say if they found out the King had a fool for a teacher?” “Better to have a fool for a teacher than a fool for a king.” Said the Fool. When he heard this, the King, who was not a bad man, confessed, “Now I do fell like a fool.” “No,” said his opponent, “It is only a fool who has never felt like one.”

The only fool is the one who has never felt like a fool. The only failure is the one who does not see what the failure has to teach. Lewis Timberlake in his news letter, wrote the following message to all who may feel like a failure in life:

Failure doesn’t mean you have accomplished nothing; it just means you’ve learned something
Failure doesn’t mean you’ve been a fool; It just means you had enough faith to experiment.
Failure doesn’t mean you’ve been disgraced; it just means you dared to try.
Failure doesn’t mean you don’t have what it takes; it just means you must do things differently next time.
Failure doesn’t mean you’re inferior; It just means you’re not perfect
Failure doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your time; it just means you have a reason to start over.
Failure doesn’t mean you should give up; it just means you must try harder.
Failure doesn’t mean you’ll never make it; it just means you need more patience.
Failure doesn’t mean you’re wrong; it just means you must find a better way.
Failure doesn’t mean God has abandoned you; it just means you must continue to pray as if everything depends on God and act as if everything depends on you.

I hope that by this time of the year most of you have already asked forgiveness from those who feel we have done something wrong to them. I hope that by now, we have returned to those we may have offended and asked for forgiveness. I hope that when others have come to us, we were quick to forgive and to reassure them that we value their friendship too much to carry grudges into a new year. If all of that is done, it is time to begin to forgive ourselves. It is time to set aside the failures, the times we acted foolishly. When we knew we were better than that and discovered that we were not giving this game of life the best we have to offer.

What is the formula that will guarantee a good year in 5770? It is the same formula that got us into 5769, the same formula that got our parents into 5720 and the same formula that our sages used in 3770. To forgive others their mistakes, to ask forgiveness of others for our mistakes and to forgive ourselves for the times we were not the best we know how to be. The New Year is beginning. It is time to start over, with more patience and the wisdom that comes from trying and failing, and to enter the New Year with the faith we will need to continue to try harder, to experiment with new things and to keep searching for a better way.

Author Robert Fulghum has written: “Remember that nursery rhyme about the “eensy weensy spider that went up the water spout? It failed in its climb when the rains came and washed it right back to where she started. The sun came out, dried up the rain and our friend the spider, perhaps with an eye to the sky looking for clouds, went out to climb again.”

Today is a new day and a new year. The sun has come out to dry up all the rain. With the lessons we have learned, with the faith that we have earned and with a spirit that has returned, let us aspire again to the top of the waterspout, to the top of our game and to the top of the world. Armed with the lessons of the past year we enter this New Year with faith and with the conviction that we must give each day, each hour and each minute our best; and always remember, Failure is not an option.

L’shana Tova U’metuka – may we truly be blessed with a good and sweet New Year.