Friday, September 13, 2013

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. 

Journeying Together On A Path To Holiness© - Rosh Hashanah Sermon, Day 1, 5774/2013

Journeying Together On A Path To Holiness©
Rosh Hashanah Sermon, Day 1, 5774/2013
Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh

There was something that happened a couple of week’s ago that changed my view of how I see the world. 
Our congregation’s board held it’s first ever retreat, and part of the board retreat involved creating a new vision statement for our congregation.  Let me begin by saying how talented our board is.  They came up with some great adjectives to describe our community, and finally, we had our statement – Congregation Shaarei Kodesh – Journeying together…they loved it, all smiles and nods, on a path…still loving it, smiles all around…to holiness. 
And the room fell silent – blank stares, and some frowns.  And a couple board members, and let me say, I love them dearly, they are such amazing people, said something that really got me thinking: 
“I don’t know rabbi, I feel uncomfortable with that word.”  
What word?  Journey, path? 
You know, the H- word, Holy
Let me get a show of hands, who else in here feels ‘uncomfortable’ with the H- word? 
So what should a rabbi say? 
I said, “Folks, we have a serious problem, because the word holy in Hebrew is Kodesh, and it’s in our name, Shaarei Kodesh, Gates of Holiness.  So we would have to change all our letterhead – can you imagine the costs?  And we’ll have to change our signs, that will cost another couple thousand, and have to re-brand ourselves, and of course, we’d have to come up with a different name!  That would take countless hours, but you know what, if we REALLY wanted to, we could do it. 
But, I continued, we have an even bigger problem.  Being holy is a big part of the Torah.  In fact, it’s the Jewish people’s vision statement, found in Leviticus 19:2
Kedoshim Tihu Ki Kadosh Ani Adonai Eloheichem! 
You all SHALL be HOLY for I the Lord Your God am HOLY.
And that we can’t change, not for any amount of money or time. 
It’s who we are, it’s like telling a human being, do you really have to breathe?  
So why do we feel this way?  Quite frankly, I think we have a holiness problem; we feel so uncomfortable with the idea of being holy. 
What does it mean to be holy? 
Being Kadosh means to go beyond the letter of the law, to follow laws, but also to be ethical
Being Kadosh means to raise up
I want us to be raised up, I want us to be holy, but the truth is, we weren’t born that way, and just because we are Jews doesn’t meant that we are necessarily holy all the time.   Maybe that’s why we don’t like the H-word – because, most of the time, we don’t feel feel holy.   
The truth is, I mistranslated Kedoshim Tihu, in fact, most translations have it wrong.  It isn’t you SHALL be HOLY, it’s you MUST be HOLY. 
God is reaching out to us, demanding us, begging us to BECOME HOLY! 
So how can you become holy this year?  Well, holiness is a journey; it’s something we strive toward. 
As humans, we have the potential to BE holy, but we must look for holy moments – moments that seem to call out to us to raise ourselves up to another level. 
Getting back to the H word, why do we feel uncomfortable with it?
When we say that word, we think of meditating monks in a monastery.  We think of priests who live a life of celibacy, or we think of great rabbis with long beards who sit and study all day,
In other words, you don’t see you.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone! 
I want to tell you one of the most meaningful stories I’ve ever heard about a great Jewish scholar who got holiness wrong and his name was Martin Buber. 
Martin Buber, a famous German Jewish scholar who lived in Germany before and after World War I, was in his room meditating and praying, and he was in the zone, having what he thought was a Kadosh moment, and then, there was a knock on his front door. Just like that, he lost this spiritual moment, so you could probably imagine that he wasn’t too happy.  Who was at his door?  A was a young man who had been a student and a friend, who had to speak with Buber.  Martin Buber was popular among young men of the ‘Lost Generation’, young veterans of World War I who were emotionally and spiritually scarred by the conflict.  These young men would read his books, write to him often, and some would visit him looking for answers. 
Buber was polite with the young man, even friendly, but was also hoping to soon get back to his meditations. The two spoke for a short time and then the young man leaves. Buber never saw him again and he later learned from a mutual friend that the young man had taken his own life. 
Buber learned from this friend that the man had come to him that day with a need to understand his life, but Buber had not recognized the young man's need at the time because he had been concerned to get back upstairs to his prayers and meditation – because that is what he thought God wanted of him – to be holy. He had been polite and friendly, but had not been fully present in the way that one person can be present with another, in such a way that you sense the questions and concerns of the other even before they themselves are aware of what their questions are.  It was from this interaction that Martin Buber was inspired to write one of the most influential books of the 20th century – Ich unt Du – or as we know it today I and Thou. 
Buber said, "Ever since then, I have given up the sacred. Or rather it has given me up. I know now no fullness but each mortal hour's fullness of presence and mystery.”
The Mystery, he says, was no longer "out there" for him, but was instead to be found in the present moment with the present person, in the present world.
Buber was mostly correct – the mystery of the divine was not to be found in books, or meditating alone on a mountain top, but in God’s image, his fellow man, like the young soldier who came into his room that day. 
The sacred, or the holy, didn’t give up on Buber – the holy came into his office and he couldn’t see it!
We’ve all had those moments – when someone approaches us and we just aren’t fully there.  I had this moment the other day.  My best friend just got married in Australia, but our family could not attend, and it was difficult for me to get a hold of him.  So he called me, and I asked him to tell me about the Chuppah, but to tell you the truth, I wasn’t there with my full heart because I was thinking about other things, mainly, this sermon, and you know what, he deserved more.  I called him to apologize and I realized something:
Holiness isn’t allowing people into your life; holiness is entering into their lives. 
That’s what Buber taught me – it’s about approaching others because they deserve it.  You may think that what you are doing is more important, but giving someone your attention might be more important, and it will help you become HOLY. 
Have you ever heard the term, Betzelem Elohim – I know, we rabbis throw it around a lot, it’s from the book of Genesis – all humans were created in God’s image. 
Becoming Kodesh, Becoming holy is seeing the divine presence in another and yourself. 
Will you do something courageous for me right now?  Turn to the person to your next to you and look into their eyes.
Ok, what’s the first thing you did?  You smiled, that’s where the staring game from – we smile because we get nervous – it’s not easy to look God in the face.  Looking into someone’s eyes, anyone’s eyes, is an AWESOME experience.  It’s as close to looking at God as we humans can get to see the divine image. 
Remember when I told you that each person is made in God’s image?  It’s nice to say, but sometimes, it’s hard to act upon.
There is a condition that we have grown accustomed to:  loneliness. 
Maimonides wrote what I think is one of the saddest laws in rabbinic literature:  if you are at a Passover Seder alone, then you have to ask the four questions to yourself.  Can you think of anything sadder than being at a Seder alone?  It just doesn’t seem Jewish to me!   As God said to Adam, 2:18“It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.”  That’s why God created Eve, another human, so Adam didn’t have to live life alone. 

How can we become KADOSH?  We have to keep our eyes and ears open for those special Kadosh moments, and we have to seize them!   
Tomorrow, we are going to read about the greatest test that a human go through when Abraham was tested in the Akedah; but you want a real test of how to act holy?  Fly on an airplane, especially with children and do it with a smile on your face and without a negative thought in your head about those crying kids. 
Airplanes can show the best, and the worst of us. 
The yelling, the screaming, we are in a rush, we don’t want to miss our flight, we have to sit in little seats with no leg room, and everything costs extra! 
The best time is when, after that long process of getting on the plane, you are about to take off.  There is no reason why anyone in their right mind would want to go back to the gate, it’s our biggest fear (well, of course, there is another fear, which I’m sure all of you can guess) and yet, there was a story of when the whole airplane agreed to do just that, to put all of their lives on hold, to miss important meetings, to have their loved ones wait for them at the gate with flowers, all for one reason.  The reason?  It wasn’t for money, or prizes, it was for a little girl who was made in God’s image. 
As we think about being lonely, airplanes can be very lonely places even though so many people surround you.  Let’s be honest, we try and get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible, with very little speaking to other passengers.  Never have I been more tempted to be meaner than at an airport, and in an airplane, everyone’s cramped in and not happy.  At airplanes and airports, we usually feel like we are on our own. 
But that wasn’t the case with El Al flight 007 from Tel Aviv to New York.  On this flight, there were 30 kids, cancer patients, who were going to spend a summer at a medical treatment camp called Camp Simcha.  The trip was organized by an organization called Chai Lifelines.  At the last minute, the organizer of the trip noticed only 29 passports, there was one missing the passport of Inbar Chomsky.    She made it onto the plane, but the airline made Inbar get off the plane.  As they were literally about to take off, the children in tears, one of the counselors finally found Inbar's passport in another little girls bag. 
So what would you think if heard they were turning around?  Is there an engine failure, is there a terrorist threat?  How many passengers had loved ones waiting for them, how many would miss important business meetings if they had to turn around? 
But the whole plane, the passengers, the pilot and staff, the El Al organization all agreed:  we are going to turn around and bring Inbar back on the flight.
The flight was delayed for hours, and I’m sure some passengers lost some business, and many were inconvenienced, and El Al might have perpetuated its nickname, Every Landing Always Late,– but they took hold of that Kadosh moment for one little girl.  And when she boarded the plane, everyone erupted in applause and tears. 
When they thought about that little girl, they didn’t seen an inconvenience, they saw the divine image, and then, they looked at each other, and they did something truly divine, truly holy, something that really didn’t logically make sense! 
By going back for this girl, the whole plane said:  we are with you, you are not alone!  Rather than lift themselves up, they lifted that little girl up, and together they all became holier! 
And how do you think it all happened?  One or two people had to make that decision to do something to raise everyone else up, and it started a chain reaction.  They became holy…together, just like God told us, Kedoshim Tihu – You all MUST BE HOLY. 
So, as we stand here today, on the first day of the New Year, I want you to do a couple of things.
I want you to take the mitzvah of Bikkur Holim, visiting the sick or helping them, seriously.  Of course, I want you to visit your friends and family who are sick, but not all sicknesses are as transparent.  Sometimes, we are stricken with the illness of loneliness.  Simone Weil (Vay), a French philosopher once wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

1.   Learn from Martin Buber’s mistake:  when someone approaches you, and they are lonely, listen to them, don’t just let them into your heart, enter into their heart.  Disconnect yourself from distraction, and if need be, turn off your phone!  When you speak with them, let them know that for that moment, they are the most important person in the world.  When you speak to others, be more aware of the divine spark within them. 
a.    In this way, you keep your eyes and ears open for Kadosh moments.
2.   Raise others up – learn from the people on that plane – if you sacrifice just a little, you can raise someone up. 
a.    Have you ever had a moment where you think of someone going through a tough time and say to yourself, I’ll call them later, and then forget?  In this New Year, when you have that thought, drop what you are doing and give them a call, and don’t text, call. 
b.   If you are used to texting, maybe you should hand write a note telling them that you support them  - it can make all the difference, and taking them out for coffee can change someone’s life.   
c.    Go to a shiva home this year, but don’t just do it to check it off your mitzvah list without any kavanah.  Even if you don’t know the person, sit with the mourner, and don’t talk, just listen.  Enter into their lives even if it is painful for those moments, because by the simple act of listening, you can raise them up from their despair. 
d.   You might be sacrificing your time, but you’ll be getting paid back in holy moments that cannot be measured. 
3.   Finally, don’t give up on being holy, embrace it.  Embrace being present with those who reach out to you, talk to them more, laugh with them more, cry with them more.  You won't only help them raise up, you will raise yourself up to heights you could never have imagined. 
We live in a time when being holy may not be the coolest things, and it's not the easiest thing, but it's something that we all MUST do. 
My prayer for you in this New Year: 
When you see someone’s heart open, don’t run away from it, but run to it with a full heart.   
My prayer for all of you to be like that plane load of people – when we can come together and agree that we need to help the powerless because they can help lift us up to higher levels! 
I pray for Kodesh moments, together, moments when that divine spark shines so bright, in ourselves and those around us, when we can proudly look ourselves in the mirror and see the image of God staring back at us, with a big content smile as if to say, thank you for becoming who you were always meant to be. 
To our board, today I thank you for embracing holiness, because this congregation truly is journeying TOGETHER on a path to holiness, because holiness isn’t for rabbis and philosophers alone, it’s for all of us, remember those words:  Kedoshim Tihu – You all MUST be holy. 
Embrace each other, embrace God, embrace the moments, and in that way, you will embrace the Holy in this new year.