A visitor came to Israel and saw the Western Wall. Not being too
versed in religious aspects, he inquired of another tourist about the
significance of the wall. The other tourist explained, "This is a
sacred wall. If you pray to it, God may hear you."
The visitor walked close to the wall and started to pray. "Dear
Lord," he said, "bring sunshine and warmth to this beautiful land." A
commanding voice answered, "I will, my son."
The visitor said, "Bring prosperity to this land." "I will, my son."
"Let Jews and Arabs live together in peace, dear Lord."
The voice answered, "You're talking to a wall."
We are in the midst of the Jewish high holy days that began with Rosh
Hash Shahnah, the Jewish New Year of 5770 . That brings us to what
I think is an interesting question. What year is it really? How does
one measure time? In the West we use a calendar that says it is
September 20, 2009 A.D. Anno Domini, Latin for In the Year of Our
Lord, which means Jesus Christ. That is 2009 years since Jesus was
born and before then is B.C. or Before Christ. The new academic
designations are CE or Common Era and BCE Before Common Era, same
time, and same measurement principle, but we don?t use the name of
Christ. Moslems use still another measurement, of course and the
Chinese another, so on ie left wondering what we are measuring time
from, since it is difficult to actually measure it f rom the beginning!
So back to the Jewish New YEar of 5770, and Rosh Hashanah and the 10
days which will end with the Holiest day of the Jewish YEar, Yom
Kippur, the day o Atonement also called H Judgment day, a day of
fasting and day long synagogue service. These high holy days are not
tied to either historic events or nature festivals as are most
religious observances. These are very different.
?The main purpose of the Jewish Religion,? says one source(From a
paper called ?The High Holy Days?: author unknown),? is to keep one
on the path of righteous conduct and moral living. But owing to our
human failings and our tendency to yield to unworthy desires. we are
often diverted from the right course that religion worked out for us.
Judaism has, therefore, developed a unique institution known as the
?Ten Days of Repentance? whose object is to help us return to that
path of right living and to bring ourselves in harmony with what God
wants us to do and be. These days, known as the High Holy Days, begin
with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and reach a climax on Yom
Kippur, the day of Atonement. These are the holiest days in the Jewish
Notice that the main purpose is not proper belief or doctrine but
?righteous conduct and moral living..? There is a potential for a kind
of Universal religious possibility here that I think we could all
learn from, because it gives us an opportunity to examine our own
behavior as well. Indeed, sometimes the problem with us religious
liberals is that we seem to have no concept of sin any more yet still
find ourselves feeling plenty guilty because we know we haven?t always
behaved the way we should have. let?s say, in word or deed towards -
you name it- our partner, our friends, our neighbors, our world,
maybe even ourselves.
Rosh Hash Hashanah is the Birthday of the world in Jewish though, the
new Year, the beginning of the 10 days of Awe the 10 days of
repentance until the day of Judgment Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah, it
is believed, God opens the book of life upon which our names and deeds
are inscribed and we have 10 days to repent to ask and get forgiveness
to get those sins taken off the book, so to speak before the it is
closed on the Judgment day. And there are 2 kinds of sin- one kind is
between us humans and can only be forgiven by each other, not God, so
we must go to our sisters and brothers in those 10 days and seek
forgiveness. There is strong emphasis on family relationships and how
we have treated our family over the past year- this of course, made
more difficult these days in times when we are so far flung in
distance if not in relationship, but how valuable if we all had a
yearly time when we religiously examined our family relationships!
No, I didn't say it would be easy or fun! But perhaps we could find
a way to understand OUR part of it all, at least, remembering that we
can?t change other?s behaviors, feelings, or reactions; indeed, we can
barely change our own! In the profound universal psycho-spiritual
wisdom of the 12 step program confessing one?s sins to one you have
wronged , if you will and asking forgiveness is the important element
not the actual granting or getting of forgiveness, nor is the step
the asking of God?s forgiveness, but of a human being? Why do you
suppose that is? Perhaps because it is concrete and practical and when
we use the word, God, we may mean a variety of different meanings.
That?s also whim I titled the sermon, ?Imagine If You Had 10 days
Left?, because that?s the idea. If you knew you were dying, how would
you look back at your life? What regrets would you have? Who would you
want to contact? Apologize to? Tell then you loved them? Who would you
want to be with and who would you not want to waste your time with?
Would you continue at your job? In other words, these 10 days of
repentance are also called 10 days of reflection, of self
examination, of how we are and have been interconnected to the world,
the holy, each other.
Michael Lerner, RAbbi, social activist, author, founder and editor of
Tikkun Magazine, a bimonthly Jewish Critique of politics, culture and
society. He holds Ph.D.?s in philosophy and clinical psychology, The
Politics of Meaning., in his book, Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing
and Transformation,, has this message on the dedication page from his
teacher and mentor, Abraham Joshua Herschel, ?God?s dream is to be
not alone, but to have humanity as a partner in the drama of
continuous creation. By whatever we do, by every act we carry out, we
either advance or obstruct the drama of redemption.? His latest book
is The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious
Almost whenever he writes ?Judaism,? I found that I could use
universal religion or even Unitarian Universalism drawing upon the
tradition of Judaism and translating it for our use. Lerner is careful
to point out that he is writing this from his perspective, not that
all Jews must agree with him. We are free to translate religious terms
into our own religious language, taking into account our own tendency
toward religious egotism.
?The historical project of the Jewish people, ?Lerner says,? is to be
witness to the possibility of healing, repair, and transformation of
the world, and the rejection of all forms of cynicism and pessimism
that lead people to reconcile themselves with systems of oppression.
Many people who think of themselves as atheists or agnostics may
nevertheless find themselves comfortable with the God of Israel: the
Force in the world that makes possible the transformation of that
which is to that which ought to be. Though historically some Jews
have envisioned God as a father or as a powerful heavenly being, and
though these and other pictures have entered into Jewish theology or
prayer(which often mimics current trends in the larger society of the
historical period in which prayer is constructed or the theology
developed,) Judaism?s second commandment, which prohibits the creation
of all images, should give pause to those agnostics and atheists who
think that they know exactly who the Jewish God is, namely the
patriarchal authority who rules in heaven and in whom they don?t
believe! Many religious Jews are leaving behind these antiquated
notions of God and returning their attention to God as the Forces that
makes possible healing and transformation...?
Like Buddhism's Noble Eight fold Path, which might be liked to the
1. Right View
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration, which are to help us walk in the ways of
Wisdom, Ethical Conduct, and proper Mental Development, but are not
mythically handed down by a divinity from on high, but an enlightened
human sage. Yet the Jewish so the commandments more than the 10 are
also more than old fashion laws.
.?The commandments of Torah are about social relations,? Lerner says,
?Jewish spirituality is not just about finding some private truth,
but about creating a public world that reflects and embodies the
spiritual truths we have learned. While individual healing on the
psychological and spiritual is an indispensable part of the process,
the real ?care of the soul? cannot be accomplished by the lone
individual. The health of the soul requires involvement in a community
that is itself deeply committed to healing and transforming the social
and political world even as it provides ways for people to heal one
another and develop a deeper inner life...A community that integrates
this kind of deep self-exploration with an equally serious focus on
communal or societal change generates a tremendous spiritual energy.?
This is about community and at-one-ment, harmony, and a time to
reflect on how we have done over the past year. The ways Jews do that
is by following the commandments.
"Six hundred and thirteen commandments were given to Moses," says the
Talmud, " 365 negative, corresponding to the days of the year, and
248 positive, corresponding to the number of joints in the body. "
(Talmud: Makkoth 23b)
The Talmud is a compilation of the living interpretation of learned
and loving rabbis of Jewish Scripture sometimes called Torah, or the
Bible, or the first 5 books of Moses. The Torah, often called the Law
(always with a capital L), can be also be interpreted as "showing or
pointing the Way" the way Jews should live to be truly religious, to
be judged on Yom Kippur. Since the Christians claimed to be a new
covenant, or new testament from God, they called the Jewish
scriptures-the Law, the Prophets, and Wisdom literature as the 'old"
covenant or testament, implying that the new covenant supersedes the
old. Since Jews continue to believe that they are still covenanted
with God, they object to calling their Bible old, as in outdated or no
longer valid. Many of still suffer a kind of anti -semitic vision of
the commandments and the Torah being antiquated or fundamentalist
because we were raised in a Christianity that believed superseded
Judaism ?and did away with? the old-fashioned LAW, and therefore see
no value in it
The commandments ?given by God? to Moses, we might surmise, were
developed over generations to be important moral character builders to
strengthen a group of people into a community that could become a true
people, a country, and eventually could be in covenant with God to be
the chosen people of God, and that also. of course, could be
interpreted in many different ways. these commandments. these laws,
these ways to live in harmony, the ways of at-one-ment with world,
have origins shrouded in the mists of antiquity and mystery that are
shared, I will argue by all religions, not that all religions are
alike, but that all humanity through history has lived through some
kind of religion as if religion were an integral part of being human
still today as billions practice their various faiths in this time of
technology when we have sent rockets and cameras to explore the
heavens and still have seen no God or Gods or Goddesses yet have not
created a ripple of doubt among the faithful.
The Jewish New year of Rosh Hashanah is 5770; that?s almost 6
millennia and after 2000 years the Jews again are back in Israel and
have just celebrated 50 years of their return. Imagine the history!
There is a profound depth that created those ways of living that we
can interpret in so many ways and call by different names, but the
name God, Yahweh or the Force for Good with a capital G,a Good that
is also profound, may also be a common bond among humanity, an
altruism that allows, not survival of the fittest or the strongest or
the most violent, but maybe eventually survival for people who can
learn to live together and these days of reflection can help the the
two peoples of the Israel and Palestine learn to live together as well
as other in the middle East.
Imagine if this country had an annual 10 day reflection period with
the religious intensity of The Jewish High Holy Days and Congress and
the President and each state examined themselves over the last year
and how they had behaved, how they had treated the poor, kept the
peace, treated the sick, housed the homeless, in other words, been in
harmony with the world. Imagine if being partisan and prejudiced was
such a grievous sin that during this time we would all ask forgiveness
and come together and share the wealth and bring peace and feed the
hungry throughout the world while realizing the environment also must
With all the recent discussion about the health care bills, one
wonders what the religious dimension of it is? What would the Torah
say about it? What would Jesus say?
Put in religious context, I can?t help but wonder why all religious
groups aren?t in favor of universal healthcare because it seems so
biblical, that all people should b helped for the greater good of all.
HAving so recently been through the experience of hospital care and
the corresponding experience of hospital bills and insurance red tape,
I know first hand the profound need for the system to change!
Imagine if we examined racism and sexism and homophobia and the many
other prejudices that many of us harbor during these 10 days of
repentance and we actually repented and changed. I think that there is
a tremendous backlash of racism that has grown up because of the
healthcare issue and the landslide election of a charismatic,
intelligent, African American president, and I think former President
Jimmy Carter was exactly right. I hope that the religious
institutions start to address these issues and what better time than
these days of repentance, except that it isn?t among the JEws that the
problem seems most prevalent.
So, of course, we need to do this for ourselves, a spiritual as well
as a behavioral
self examination, because, especially for we UU?s, it?s not a matter
of not following the 10 commandments as much as how we?ve behaved
toward each other and yes, toward the world.
Michael Lerner writes, ?The Hebrew word for sin is Cheyt, a word that
indicates ?missing the mark,? as though we were arrows heading toward
our deepest God-place, and each sin is really going off-course.
Repentance, then, is getting back on course, and that is precisely
what America badly need, as does each of us. We affirm the fundamental
goodness of people created in God?s image and the need for a
mid-flight tikkun, or healing and transformation, of our direction.?
He suggests asking ourselves these questions in a Rosh Hoshanah
Workbook: ?What is spiritually out of alignment in my relationships
with...Parents, Spouse/partner/children .friends?? and ?How
spiritually nourishing is your work??
Many of us struggle with religious language because we are still in
what I call ? the religious or spiritual process of discovery;? that
is, we may not fully understand what many of the traditional religious
words, Like God, or sin, even mean to us any more, and some us even
have a negative reaction to those words, while still others are
perfectly comfortable and have interpreted the for ourselves.
So the religious question of how we are relating to one another and
to the world during these 10 days of repentance or reflection is more
about introspection and desire to change them about theology. Judgment
Day is NOT about sending us to the hot place, but about our own
judgment. Is there anyone here that doubts we do not create our own
hells here as hot and miserable as any mythical Satan could conjure up?
We come here to find ways to be in that religious dimension that will
help us to become better people in harmony, in at-one-ment, repenting
for the our mistakes, and earnestly intent on living up to our
potential and loving and helping one another and our neighbors. May we
forgive ourselves and one another our shortcomings. And may the Spirit
of Love guide us, even if we only had 10 days left, let love be enough.
Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be
upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A
Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one
more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to
ministry. ?Vaya con Dios? is SPanish for Good-bye, but literally is
?Go with God,? So I adapted it to say ?Vaya Con Su Dios, ?Go with your
idea or interpretation of God.?
Peace,Love, Shalom,Salaam, Blessed Be,Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios