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September 20, 2009: “If you Only Had 10 Days Left – What We Can Lean From The Jewish High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah”

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  
10 commandments,
 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  
be saved.
    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