Monday, August 26, 2013

Lessons from Renewing My License Before the Days of Awe

There is a custom that all us drivers know all too well:  license renewal.  I hadn't had to go through the 'process' of actually going into the office since 9/11 and I realized that proving 'who I am' (i.e. my identity) became a lot more complicated!   As a result of my birthday being in August, I also realized that license renewal almost always occurs during the month of Elul, a time of deep introspection and preparation for the Yamim Noraim (the Days of Awe/the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).  With this kavanah in mind, I wanted to give some observations and some guiding questions that you may help you prepare for these 'tests'.
Observation 1:  
It's not easy to prove who you are!  Take a look at all the documents you need to bring with you to get a new license -CLICK HERE TO BE TAKEN THE DMV'S SITE
Primary Identification, Proof of Social Security Number, 2 Proofs of Residential Address

It might not seem like much, but try finding all these documents in your home!  It wasn't easy, but I was more taken aback by having to prove who you are to others.

1.  Do you truly know yourself?  2.  Do you know who YOU are?  If not, how can you better find who YOU are?
3.  If you feel confident that you know who YOU are, how do you think others see you?  Does your perception of who you are match with their perception?  Why, or why not?  If not, do you want to change this?  If you do want to change it, what will you do to make this happen in the New Year?  
Also, it took a lot of time to get all these documents together; I had to prepare.  I had to find the safe place where I store these documents and I had to take them out to use them. On Yom Kippur, the high priest goes into the Holy of Holies, the holiest place on earth for our people which held the ark of the covenant.  Only one day a year, the high priest, and only the high priest, was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. 
1.  Do you have a Holy of Holies?  How often do you 'visit' it? 

Observation 2:
Getting a new license is the great equalizer, and so are the High Holidays.  
It doesn't matter if you are male, female, rich, poor, white, black, asian, hispanic, etc.; when you get a new license, you are equal in the eyes of our government.  On the high holidays, all of us, no matter who we are or what we do in life, stand before God, as Mishnah Rosh Hashanah (1:2) tells us: 
 בראש השנהכל באי עולם עוברין לפניו כבני מרוןשנאמר "היוצר יחדליבםהמביןאל כל מעשיהםתהילים לג,טו.
On Rosh Hashnah, the whole world passes before God like sheep, as it says,
"He that fashions the hearts of them all, that considers all their actions." (Psalms 33:15)

All of us stand together before God to answer for our actions for the year and how we will become better in the next year.  Even if we think we are lions, during these holidays, we are all sheep.  
Not everyone agrees that everyone should be equal before God or before the law!  There is a story of the famous hockey player, Sidney Crosby getting bumped to the front of the line due to his fame and the fear that he would cause a stir at the DMV - CLICK HERE TO READ MORE.

1.  Should one receive special treatment when standing before God?  If so, do you think you are deserving of this?   
2.  Do we think only about ourselves when it comes to trying times or do we think about others as well?  
3.  Who would you let skip in front of you in line?  Why?  
Observation 3:
To get a new license, you have to check your vision.
How do you see the world this year?  Is it different than how you saw things last year?
Observation 4
Sometimes you can mail it in, but sometimes, you can't. 
In the state of Florida, you can renew your license by mail, but to renew after that, you have to go to a location, take a new picture, and go through the process.  

Not all years are equal.  On sone years, we mail it in, but other years, we are compelled to make the effort and show up.  If its your year to show up, I hope you join our community.  For information about uplifting our High Holiday service, PLEASE CLICK HERE!  

Observation 5 - 

When you renew or get a new license, and on the High Holidays, we embrace our mortality.  

On RH we embrace the fragility of life when we say the famous prayer, the Unetaneh Tokef which contain the famous words:  But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severity of the decree.

When I was renewing my license, I was asked the question, do you want to be an organ donor?  At that moment, I was forced to think about my mortality!  Driving is an awesome responsibility!  We hold our lives and the lives of our fellow travelers in our hands every time we get behind the wheel, and at any moment, our lives can change in unthinkable ways.  Is this so different in the normal activities that we perform on a daily basis?


1.  Have I fully embraced the fragility of life?
2.  Have I taken the famous line from Avot D'Rabbi Natan, 'repent a day before your death' seriously?  
3.  Am I an organ donor?  If not, why not?  It is now a main stream belief that Judaism supports organ donation which is concurrent with the value of Pikuach Nefesh/Saving a life.  For more information about Judaism and organ donation, PLEASE CLICK HERE.  
4.  Are you scared to embrace your mortality even if it means saving someone else's life?
5.  Organ donation can be a metaphorical also:  Are you ready to share your heart with someone else this year that you have grown distant from?  How about your ears - are you ready to listen to someone who you have been ignoring?  

Whether you are a new or life long driver, whether on the road or in life, all of us take these tests on a daily basis, but before and during the High Holidays, these tests are highlighted.  I wish you all good luck on your LIFE RENEWAL PROCESS in the new year of 5774!  

Shanah Tovah, U'Metukah, and may all of you be inscribed in the Book of Life!  

Rabbi David Baum

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Is Anonymous Really The Best Way To Go? Please watch this to prepare for our Text study this Shabbat on Ki Tavo

DISCLAIMER - Language may not suitable for young people, there are a couple instances of cursing:  
4:50 - 4:53

Friday, August 16, 2013

Clips for tonight's dvar torah - August 16th, 2013

Some clips I would like for you to watch before coming to our Friday night service tonight at Congregation Shaarei Kodesh.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What are your BIG Questions for 5774?

One can see a relic of the past in many synagogue libraries, and many homes: encyclopedias. These valuable books that hold all the knowledge that we would need about various subjects, A - Z (or Alef to Taf) can be found on anyone’s computer or smart phone through the internet. All the answers are out there, for free, and anyone can access them. The information revolution might be the most significant revolution in mankind's  history; a true game changer. But with all this information at our fingertips, why does it feel like something is still missing? Why do we still seem to be without all the answers that we need?

There is a famous scene that I shared with you from the movie A Few Good Men staring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. The famous line, “I want answers!” resonates with us because answers are what we seek, especially during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But you cannot get to answers without BIG questions. One of the names for Rosh Hashanah is Yom Harat HaOlam, the anniversary of the creation of the world. I went back to the book of Genesis to see the first question that God asks humanity. It’s a BIG question, but it is only one word, “אַיֶּכָּה” “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). How could God not know where Adam and Eve were in the garden? It seems like a preposterous question! But Rashi explains it further, “God knew where he was, but he asked the question in order to enter into conversation with him.” Adam and Eve had just disobeyed God’s instructions, but God did not want to scare them off, rather, God wanted to engage them in conversation. 

The word Elul is an acronym for the term, Ani L’Dodi, V’Dodi Li, I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s is mine. In this month, we are God’s spouse, and God is our spouse. Now is the time to answer God’s questions, and come up with our own BIG questions to ask ourselves. We cannot parachute into the Days of Awe; we must be prepared. With this intention in mind, I ask you all to ask your own BIG questions for the year 5774 and share them with me. You can do this anonymously or with your name, but I want you to come up with some BIG questions. A BIG question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, rather, it has to help us think of deep answers. 

I hope that you take part in this holy endeavor during this month of Elul. We hope that we can use these questions in the coming year for our adult, teen, and family education endeavors, and to engage in them as a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community. Remember, Rosh Hashanah is not the's just the beginning.