Ten days of holy entrance into the New
Year: We started with Erev Rosh HaShana.
There was a new moon in the sky as Jewish
people and friends around the world poured
into our houses of worship. The doors out
there in front were open and from my place
here on the bimah I saw the beautiful sight
of people literally streaming in.
Our Jewish way is not to start a new year
by partying, drinking, staying up till
midnight. Our way is to take a look at the
year that went by, do our best to clean up
whatever unfinished business lingers, and
move with reflection and intention into the
year to come. These Ten Days of Awe are our
transition period, book-ended by Rosh
HaShanah on one side and by Yom Kippur on the
Within this very traditional set of
bookends, the invitation is actually to take
some spiritual risks: to open yourself to new
learning and new possibilities. I asked you
on Rosh HaShana what would it look like to
leave our comfort zones, to follow in the
footsteps of our biblical ancestors and often
our personal ancestors too, who left the
lives they knew to follow the call of God? I
asked if you'd be willing to look at places
of hurt and fear that keep you, keep us, from
moving freely forward to heed that call to
create a world of shalom, of wholeness and peace.
I asked if you are willing to grow your
inner wisdom because our very survival and
the survival of the planet depend upon
growing our resources for kindness,
co-operation, caring and sharing. These have
been the themes of our sermon-conversations
during these days; if you missed some of
them, make sure we have your e-mail address
and we will send them to you in the weeks to
come with our lovely e-newsletter.
So here we are at Yom Kippur going deeper
and deeper until we find the take-home
message of the season. The heart is open and
we are ready. We've done away with the
trappings of food and work and fashion on
this day so that we can focus on what is most
important. So, what is most important?
Close your eyes and imagine that you are
at the end of a very long life. You look back
over this long life. What is it you want to
remember about your life? What do you want
other people to remember after you're gone?
Now hold on to that. Because that is very
important. But the reason you are here in a
room with hundreds of other people, rather
than sitting home alone thinking that same
thought, is that what is important is even
bigger than whatever it was you thought of.
You are bigger than you think you are, your
responsibility is bigger than you think it
is, your response-ability (ability to
respond) is bigger than you think it is.
We know that our families and loved ones
are important and even that our tribe is
important. Maybe there's a human genetic
instinct to that end; it's common nature to
commit to our own. Therefore Judaism, and
other universal religions, stretch that sense
of family. Who is your family? God says to
Abraham, "I will make of you a great nation
and I will bless you and make your name
great. I will bless those who bless you and I
will curse those who curse you. All the
families of the earth will find blessing in
you." We learn from this that we are to be
part of something good for all the families
on the earth.
Remember the custom at the Passover Seder
of taking ten drops of wine from the goblet
as we recite the ten plagues ---diminishing
our joy because there was so much suffering
for the Egyptians as well as for us, during
our liberation from Egypt? We know from
midrash, that God wept when Pharoah's
soldiers died in the red sea. God cares about
all the families of the earth.
(Footnote: If I were an orthodox Jewish
teacher, I couldn't make the point I just
made in the way I just made it. To take an
example from Torah and complement it with an
example of a custom from a seder wouldn't be
kosher because Torah holds more weight than
custom in orthodox tradition. But in
Reconstructionism, we draw wisdom from the
whole of Jewish civilization, not just from
the sacred texts, so I am okay quoting Torah
and remembering custom. The point is that
through a God perspective, all human beings
In Weinberg's article, she quotes Martin
Luther King, speaking about what gets in the
way of caring about all of God's creation. He
said, "When machines and computers, profit
motives and property rights are considered
more important than people, the giant
triplets of racism, materialism and
militarism are incapable of being conquered."
This giant triplet, racism, materialism
and militarism is toxic to the fundamental
Jewish concept of inter-connection. Our
central statement of faith, the Shema, lets
us know that all is One in God. To separate
ourselves out is to exile ourselves from God,
to exile ourselves from our own beings. We
are part of creation. At special spiritual
moments sometimes we become aware of our
place in this unity:
moments of inspiring love,
of awesome glimpses of nature,
of moving reconciliations.
But much of the time, each of us goes
around in our unique fragmented universe, now
and again suffering from the consequences of
fragmentation: loneliness, helplessness,
depression, alienation, isolation, poverty of
the spirit. Becoming whole means engaging
with the whole picture.
I'll share some brief reflections on the
giant triplet but this is really a course of
engagement that I hope will play out during
this next year of community life.
We live in a city in which more than 400
people died last year from guns. Most of them
were poor black young men, some of them were
innocent bystanders and children. If you're
afraid to walk down the streets of Jerusalem
think about this statistic in our own city.
There are some understandable reactions
to this crisis: That's their problem. They're
out of control, they're making really bad
choices and there's absolutely nothing I can
do about it.
Or, This is awful and it's terrifying and
I'm going to stay as far away from it as
possible. Judgement and fear are very human
reactions to this terrible situation.
To give up a piece of our city to
generation after generation of psychic and
physical violence is to cut off a piece of
ourselves. It's unacceptable.
Reeling from the violence in this city, Leyv
Ha-Ir~Heart of the City president, Michael
Meketon, posed a question to a gathering of
Jewish community leaders, a few weeks ago.
Could the Jewish community organize hundreds
of allies to stand with folks in these
troubled neighborhoods, re-claiming the streets?
Weeks after Michael's proposal, the police
chief called on ten thousand African-American
men to show up to patrol the neighborhoods
where so many people are being killed and
injured. This idea is now being debated in
the media - do they have to be men? Do they
have to be African-American? How can we help?
This crisis is not "theirs" alone. These
problems have to do with American history,
with education, with economics and with our
values. These problems are our problems and
Judaism has a lot to say about them,
especially about refusing to see the people
in these neighborhoods as "other."
We are all inter-connected in God's
wholeness. If God wept when the Egyptians
drowned in the Red Sea how do you think God
feels about what's happening in Philadelphia?
I think God's voice is that part of each of
us, reading the headlines, thinking, "I wish
I could do something about this."
We live in a world that runs on greed: on
the concept of more, more, more, better,
better, better. Advertising makes it
impossible to avoid coming into contact with
a constant barrage of stuff. The upshot of
all this stuff often is a combination of two
feelings: overwhelm at having so much stuff
to manage and deprivation because there is
always more stuff to aquire. We are stuffed
with the material things in life and deeply
wanting in the spiritual realm.
Pretty much every individual I speak with
these days feels one or both of those
feelings: swamped by stuff or "less than" in
relation to a perfectionist society that
prioritizes things. No one can ever possibly
live up to the ideals posed by a
thing-oriented world --- you're too fat for
the fashions, or you aren't educated enough,
or you're in the wrong kind of relationship
or the kinds of relationships you are in
don't count as valid. We so easily judge
ourselves and each other as not good enough.
Then the consumer economy suggests that
you buy more to compensate. You treat
yourself to bring yourself up to par but you
can never have enough because those material
things aren't really what fills up a person's
soul. We will never be satisfied if we pay
attention only to material culture. Yet it
distracts us from the spiritual work of
taking care of the whole.
In Judaism we have a name for prioritizing
material things over what really matters. The
name is idolatry and idolatry is considered
one of the absolute worst defamations of
And then there's the matter of racism, of
seeing any of God's children as less than
Godly. Racism wins the day when we allow
ourselves to give up on any part of God's
creation. By making it the "other" and
dis-owning it, we dis-own a part of our own
God-given selves, a part of God's wholeness.
The truth is that we are all
inter-connected and part of the whole.
Reality is that we are all made of the same
matter: the waters of the earth, the waters
of our bodies, the DNA of the chimp, the DNA
of human beings, it all comes down to atoms
swirling around in empty space and you and me
and the trees and the rocks and the bald
eagle really aren't so different. But part of
modern fragmentation is to say "I'm a this"
and "you're a that" and we are completely
Have you ever known someone, or maybe even
you yourself wrestled with this, to say "I
can't imagine going to Germany. I would never
learn the German language. I don't buy German
goods." I've heard this many times from
people I know and love. I understand the
anger and the hurt that is behind decisions
like this. But when you make a decision to
cut off a group of people just for being
members of that group, you are cutting off a
piece of your own humanity.
It's racist that we tolerate a situation
in our city in which hundreds of people die
each year and thousands are wounded each year
by guns. It's racist to condemn Islam or
people from Muslim backgrounds in general or
people who speak Arabic. We cannot cut people
off because of their religion or skin color
or background. To cut off another human
being, to give up on another human being, is
to give up on part of yourself.
The tug of racism, materialism and
militarism in this world is so strong - how
in the world can we do the inner work and the
outer work to make a difference?
The message of the holy days, repeated
again and again, is teshuvah, tefillah,
tzedakah : each word has a cluster of
meanings to capture the full resonance in Hebrew:
Teshuvah: responsiveness, repentence,
Tefillah: truth, prayer
Tzedakah: making things right, from the root
"tzedek," including how we dispose of our wealth
These holy days invite us to look at the
fear, hatred, anger, violence that underlie
so much of our society, with fresh eyes.
These are symptoms of a society that is
fragmented into "us", "them," into "good
enough" and "not good enough." The holy days
point us back onto a path of seeing ourselves
as part of a unity, of being accountable to
that unity and of being nourished by the
health of the unity.
Taking to heart this re-direction, in this
year to come will you start the conversation
at the dinner table by asking, "Have you done
any good deeds today?" Will you take stock at
night before going to bed by asking "How
generous was I today?" "Where did I cultivate
compassion or patience with another today?"
"Did I take a stand today to make things
right for the down trodden?" These holy days
direct us back to what is important.
The prophet Micah said, "What does God
require of you but to do justice, to love
kindness and to walk humbly with your God." (6:8)
Yom Kippur is a wake-up call to pay
attention to what is important, to the fact
that you are part of a whole, you are
responsible to the whole and you will be
nurtured by the well-being of the whole.
The tasks are daunting, no doubt, but
thank God we are surrounded by an amazing
religious civilization, Judaism, to support
the walk. Built in to the sacred cycle of the
year are times for rest and replenishment,
for joyful celebration, for communal grieving
and for learning together. You aren't meant
to take on the task of healing the whole
alone. Rather you are invited to be part of a
community responding to its inner needs and
joining together to address the world's outer
needs. As Weinberg says, "There is no inside,
and no outside." We are all part of the
whole. Each of us is invited to be an active,
alive participant in this whole in the coming
[Everyone is invited to read the article
by Rabbi Sheila Weinberg, available at our
front desk, that is a beautiful extended
meditation on the personal and the political.
It includes some of the quotes I am sharing
with you. Everyone is welcome to take a copy,
read it and put it back for the next person
to read. This is a text for us to share this
week. The article by Sheila Weinberg is
"Spiritual Direction: No Inside, No Outside"
in Jewish Spiritual Direction, edited by
Breitman and Addison, Jewish Lights, 2006.]