Should I Upgrade? © - Rosh Hashanah Sermon, Day 2

Should I Upgrade? ©
Rosh Hashanah Sermon, Day 2, 5774/2013
By Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh

I want to begin by telling you all a story that I’m sure you can empathize with. I had to stay home with my youngest son one day, but I also had some important meetings that I had to take part in, and because of the wonders of technology, I could do both, or at least I thought I could.

I was on a Skype meeting and my son was acting up, he wanted my attention. So I did what anyone else would do – I gave him my phone to play with so he would leave me alone!

I continued on in my important meeting and I hear a familiar sound that filled my heart with dread – PLUNK! And I knew immediately what happened, he dropped my phone in the toilet. I did what I probably should have done before – I ended my Skype call and immediately started Googling, how to fix an I-phone after it’s fallen in the toilet? There I am, standing with my phone in a bag of rice as my 18-month-old son is laughing at me.

If you learn anything from this sermon, now you know how to fix a waterlogged Iphone – put it in a bag of rice!

Unfortunately, the damage was done – the I-phone could not be saved, so I went with my son to the phone store, and I explained the situation to the salesmen. He looked up my records and said, “Mr. Baum, you’ve been eligible for an upgrade for almost a year now. Why would you stick with this old phone, why didn’t you UPGRADE?

Upgrade is a new term that has crept into our daily lives. With technology changing so fast, we are constantly told to UPGRADE to the newest and latest product! The salesman showed me phones that talk to you; phones that make eye contact with you, phones that answer your questions, and more. 

Why wouldn’t I UPGRADE?!? Was I missing the boat? And then, I realized why I don’t rush to upgrade – because constantly UPGRADING can change who we are.

As the salesman was speaking, I couldn’t help but look at my son, still a bit angry over him throwing my phone in the toilet, laughing at me and clapping with joy:

Could I ever UPGRADE my son?!?  

Clearly, the answer is no, but do we think about this regarding all our relationships? It get’s you thinking, doesn’t it?

I’ll tell you why all this talk of UPGRADING bothers me – we live in a disposable world. Every gadget we get becomes obsolete 5 minutes after we buy it. Remember the days when televisions were tubes that were so heavy you needed two people to lift them? Now they are flat screens that keep getting flatter, and now you can watch them in 3-D!

We are always upgrading, and my fear is that this is seeping into other parts of our lives. If we are always upgrading our phones, are we also falling into the trap of upgrading the people in our lives?

I have seen a disturbing trend nowadays, and I don’t like it. I know of a number of people who have worked at a place for over 10 years, and they come in one day, and poof, their job is gone. And whenever I tell someone about it the say the same thing: “there’s no loyalty anymore.”

We used to get married and have children, now we have children and still remain boyfriend and girlfriend because we fear being tied down
We used to marry and stay married, but now, 50% of the time, we get divorced.
We used to stay at the same company for 40 years, now; we change careers every two years.
We used to stay in the same city we were born in, now, we move across the country at a whim.
We used to stay at the same shul our grandparents built, now we don’t join any synagogue.
We have come a long way in a short time, we have righted some wrongs, and become better, but we also have to work on something else – our loyalty.

In this New Year, I would like you to add something very Jewish to your life and to your relationships: loyalty, but its not just loyalty, it’s about shared memory and faith in each other. 

Loyalty in modern Hebrew is translated as – Ne’emanut – Ne’eman means trust, but the room of this word is something that you have all said numerous times today and have said your whole life– Amen which I translate as - I believe.

During the musaf service, we will be reading three sections called the Malchuyot or “kingship”, Zichronot or “memory”, and the Shofarot “Shofar”. All three of these sections have different texts that highlight these different ideas. Malchuyot represents our relationship to God as king and we as his servants, forever loyal to our father.  Zichronot is about memory, that God remembers us and we remember God – we have a history together, and we think about this every time we interact, and the Shofarot service is the future and the belief that one day we will be redeemed.

Each one is vital and none can stand alone, like a tri-pod.

All three of these ideas are vital to our relationship with God and our relationships with our loved ones.

I want to begin by telling you how I have directly benefited from loyalty and continue to do until this very moment.

Who here likes buying gifts? I’m not a big fan because I could only disappoint. This summer was my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary. 40 years together is a great accomplishment, so what should we get them? Alissa, my brother and my sister-in-law, my sister and I got together and we were perplexed – what to get them? So we decided to buy them something that they don’t have, an original piece of art. Luckily, we have a congregant who is an accomplished Jewish artist, so I went to her home, and saw all these amazing pieces. We settled on a choice between two:

1.     Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s is mine
2.     For Everything There Is A Season, a Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven

Tell me, show of hands, who would pick number 1? Number 2? We went with number 2. Here was my logic – Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li is great for a new couple, but that initial feeling changes. Sure, you are mine and I am yours works when it’s nice and sunny on your wedding day, but what happens in the cold of winter, or during a storm?

As you move on in your journey together, you go through difficult times, different seasons, you realize that your life is a journey – it’s a marathon, not a race; and the award goes to who can stay on the path together through the good seasons and the difficult seasons.

Truthfully, some couples are just not meant to be, there are some pairs that shouldn’t work. It’s interesting; there is an example of divorce in the Bible, but no wedding ceremony! And there are times when separation really is the best option. 

If you had to make that difficult decision, I understand, and I support you. 

But these two were meant to be together. How did they get to 40 years of staying together?

For those pairs who can make it work, there are great benefits. As parents who have been together for 40 years, I grew up in a stable home, but it wasn’t always easy – there were real fights, infertility at the beginning, and probably some financial problems.

And then I thought about the partners in the Bible, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel – they all had conflict in their lives, and there were times when there seemed to be insurmountable obstacles in their way –

All of them had fertility problems
All of them had financial problems
All of them had BIG problems with raising their children
Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Rachel and Leah had problems with romance

They all had difficulties, but there was one forefather and foremother that I think fared the best out of all of them, and yet, they don’t get the credit that they deserve; a couple that loved each other and remained loyal throughout their whole lives: Isaac and Rebecca.

I feel bad for Isaac, I really do. He is gently called the ‘transition’ father of the Big 3 by our rabbis.  Isaac is best known for the Akedah, the section of Torah that we read today, and during that transformative moment, when he lays on the altar about to be sacrificed by his father, and he only utters one brief sentence. 

But there is so much more to Isaac that we can learn from, perhaps even more so than his father Abraham, or his son, Jacob.

Isaac was loyal to others, Isaac remembered others, Isaac believed in others.  Isaac taught us how to truly love. 

Isaac and his wife Rebecca was the first example of love between couples and the Torah actually says that Isaac married Rebecca and then “he loved her” (Genesis 24:67).  His wife Rebecca went through some serious fertility problems, much like his mother Sarah, but Isaac did what his father could not do:  he stuck by his wife, he didn’t find another more fertile woman, and he went further than that, he PLEADED with God, as the Torah tells us, “Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren” – Genesis 25:21.  He was loyal to her, he believed in her, and his loyalty and his belief in Rebecca paid off.  Isaac only had one spouse his entire life, the first true monogamist of our forefathers, a rare find indeed.  He not only had children, but he had a youthful and passionate relationship with Rebecca.  The Torah even tells us, “Isaac fondled his wife Rebecca.”  (Genesis 26:8).  Isaac remembered his life with Rebecca, their good times, and that probably helped him get through the difficult times.  The time when his son Jacob fooled Isaac into blessing him rather than Esau, a plot set up by his own wife! 

The text never tells us if he finds out, but I like to imagine that he does, and because they have such a great history together, and he realizes that she was right, and continues to love her. 

Or, maybe he made himself forget! 
It’s not just about having a GOOD memory, but a KIND memory! 
When we fight, my wife doesn’t get hysterical, she get’s historical.  When we get lost finding some place, she brings up, remember when you made us take the wrong bus in Jerusalem and we got lost for 3 hours!  And of course, I do the same thing; we all do the same thing! 

Isaac also taught us that we can love other things in our lives – like land. 

Isaac taught us how to truly love a land – by being loyal to it, by remembering it, by believing in it.  Isaac is the only forefather never to leave the land of Canaan.  He loved the land so much that he became the first Jewish farmer.  Have you ever grown anything?  There is nothing more humbling than farming! 
It takes time, loyalty, and belief!  Our family used to have an herb and vegetable garden, and one day, after we planted the seeds, my son looked at me and said, “Abbah, where’s the vegetables?  Make them grow!”  I told him, “son, we have to wait, if we water it, and take care of it, I believe that it will grow, but we have to keep at it.”  Isaac became a model to the early settlers of the modern state of Israel.  Settling the land wasn’t easy.  The land was almost uninhabitable, but the Halutzim built kibbutzim, developed new technologies for agriculture, drained swamps, and made the desert bloom. 

It teaches us all that loyalty, memory, and belief in Israel is something we must do in order to say that we truly love Israel. 

Sometimes, it becomes difficult to be head over heals in love with Israel like when we see the controversies regarding pluralism, but whenever I hear this news; I pick up this little coin that is priceless to me but worthless to almost everyone else in the world. 

It’s a gift I received from the counsel general for Florida and PR.  It’s a coin with Hebrew writing dating back to the time of Alexander Yannai, which shows our presence on the land thousands of years ago.  We have history there!  Our commitment to Israel is about the past, it’s about loyalty because there is only one Jewish state, and it’s about belief in her future. 

That’s why it bothers me when Jews are overly critical of Israel, those who say we must boycott Israeli good, divest from Israel, and sanction Israel in order to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but it’s like they have amnesia.  It’s almost like they forgot that Israel was once a struggling democracy, and they also choose not to see that Israel is still surrounded on almost all sides by hostile neighbors. 

When I was in a meeting with Michael Oren and a group of rabbis, he begged us; we welcome your criticisms, but please criticize us like your mothers, not your mothers in law.  But even before you open your mouth, you have to believe that Israel knows what she is doing, that you can trust her. 

Belief in the future is so important. 

Tesuvah, the ability to change your ways, is interesting.  Our rabbis teach us that we must forgive people if they do tesuvah, and yet, there is a common saying, “past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior.”  Judaism says something different, Judaism tells us to believe in the fact that we can change for the future.  Trust someone, be loyal to someone, believe in someone.

I mentioned earlier that another word for loyalty is Ne’emnut, which contains the word Amen, or I believe. 

We say Amen in prayer a lot, but do we say it to each other.

Why can’t we turn to each other and say this more often – you are having a tough time, and I may not like the way you are acting now, but I believe you can change, because I believe in you, and I want you to believe in me – AMEN!

Can I get an Amen from you all!

Can I get an Amen for the person sitting next to you – say it to your neighbor, Amen!

Can I get an Amen for your partner! 

Can I get an Amen for your community!

Can I get an Amen for the Jewish people!

Can I get an Amen for the state of Israel! 

In the coming year, I want you to believe in your partner, in your community, in your people, in the only Jewish state, even if they do something that upsets you.  If they wrong you, and do tesuvah, don’t hold the sin over their heads, in that case, make sure that you have a KIND memory, not a GOOD memory.  And when you go through a difficult time, with anyone or anything you love, remember why you fell in love in the first place. 

When your relationship seems broken, don’t go to the store to UPGRADE right away, try and fix it first, and try hard because there are some things that shouldn’t be thrown away so easily – try and stay loyal for as long as you can. 

Love like Isaac did, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.

For Everything There Is A Season, a Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven.  Let us pray that 5774 is the season of love, loyalty, memory and belief, and that you strive toward that purpose with all of your heart. 


Popular posts from this blog

The ‘Glasses’ of Blessing© - Parashat Re’eh and a Response to #Charlottesville

The Dove and the Raven© - Shabbat Noach 5778/2017

How Is Your Family? Speaking About Our Challenging Children©