#LivePresent© - Kol Nidre 5777

Rabbi David Baum, Kol Nidre 5777/2016

I would like to ask you all to do one thing – it’s easy, it won’t take more than a minute, but it’s also a really difficult thing.  But, please, if you will do this one thing for me, it will make me so happy:  will you please turn off your phones?  I don’t mean put them on silent, I mean actually turn them off. 

Thank you.  Now, here’s my next request, it’s also really difficult – who in here wants to admit that they pretended to turn off their phones? 

I thought so.  Why is it so difficult for us to disconnect – maybe, it is because we are afflicted with a terrible disease - #FOMO. 

#FOMO has been a terrible condition for years now.  #FOMO is an acronym for the condition:  Fear Of Missing Out.  Here is how it strikes - you are doing something like playing with your children or grandchildren, or maybe, I don’t know, sitting in shul, and your mind starts to wander.  Suddenly, you are thinking about five different things that you could be doing right at this moment.  Maybe it’s going water skiing, or going to the beach, or a sports game, or surfing the internet; maybe its thinking, ‘I wonder what my friend is doing right now?’ 

And a fear grips you - a fear that you might be missing out on something better.  This is when the disease takes its toll - you start pulling back, disengaging.  Maybe you pick up your phone and start checking messages.  And that beautiful experience that you were having is now ruined.  You aren’t there anymore, you are someplace else.  It’s a much bigger problem than we think, because not only does it affect us, it affects the people around us.

In the social media age, we are constantly being tested to move on to the next subject, the next experience.  We are never happy just LIVING PRESENT.

And that’s what I want to talk about today - the concept of Living Present.  And I talk about this today of all days because we have just began the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur.  The Torah calls Yom Kippur Shabbat Shabbatton - the Shabbats of all Shabbats.  Shabbat, a weekly event that Jews have observed since our very beginnings, is a time to stop creating.  On this day, we are forbidden from moving on - we are forced to think about the here and now - what we are experiencing.  But it’s not just Shabbat - Judaism compels us to do this everyday - to realize that creation is a daily occurrence and to take note of it - we are constantly being created.  Yom Kippur is a time when we embrace that creation is happening all around us, and in us, and we must take note of it, we must bask in its greatness, we must cede to this moment - we must Live Present. 

As Jews, we are constantly being pulled - As a whole, we honor the past really well.  We observe holidays that bring up historical events.  On Passover, we put ourselves in our ancestors’ sandles as they left Egypt.  On Sukkot, we dwell in booths just like our ancestors did.  On Shavuot, we receive Torah once again and put ourselves in their sandles at Sinai.  As far as living for the future, we do that really well.

I will never forget walking my son into his Jewish pre-school and seeing the words written on the floor - From Zale to Yale.  It’s pre-school and I’m already thinking about Ivy League tuition!

In the Shema, we are commanded to teach our children - to constantly think about the next generation.  And we need that - we need to honor the past, we need to secure the future, but if we don’t truly Live Present, than we cannot do either of the other two successfully. 

We must live present for ourselves

We must live present for our families

You might be asking, why is today of all the days the day when we must start living present for ourselves? 

On Yom Kippur, there’s a very special ritual that we read about tomorrow during the Avodah service.  Every year, the High Priest would enter the Kodesh HaKodashim, the Holy of Holies.  In that tiny room, where only one person was allowed only once a year, his fate and the fate of his people were in his hands.  If he didn’t focus on the moment, all could be lost, he could even lose his own life.  The entire people waited with anticipation and fear as he went through the intricate rituals….

The high priest truly lived in that moment – he lived present- and he taught the whole people something - you have to find your own kodesh hakodashim, if not every day, if not every week, at least once a year, to live in that moment.  On Yom Kippur, the high priest literally confronted his death, and walked away.  On this holiday, the Shabbats of Shabbats, all of us confront our own end.  We wear a kittel, the garment we will wear when we are buried.  Today, we abstain from all earthly pleasures.

Can you imagine how the high priest must have felt everyday after that day, after Yom Kippur, after he stared death in the face and then survived? 

You don’t have to imagine how he felt though – we all experienced it this week.  The day before the storm hit, my father sent me a picture of his front door with enormous accordion shutters for his front door.  He called me and said, did you see the picture of my front door?  I said yeah, what’s the big deal?  He said, this year, we won’t have to hold the door during the storm.  And then, I remembered.  It was Hurricane Wilma, in 2005.  We had lived through hurricanes before, and we didn’t think this one was going to be a big deal.  We had been all shuttered up – except for the front door.  The winds were worse than we thought.  They were so bad that the  front door was shaking violently.  And so he and I held that door all night.  There was a lot of damage – but thankfully the doors held – we were saved.  Thankfully, Matthew didn’t do the damage that was expected – but nevertheless, we stared a massive storm in the face – and this shouldn’t be lost on us. 

Hurricanes are natural disasters that we cannot control.  They are formed in mystery, and they come to our shores.  Sometimes they come fast, sometimes slow – sometimes big, sometimes small.   Some of us have bigger homes to protect us, some are absolutely exposed; but we are all vulnerable.  Not everyone in the world experiences hurricanes like we do, but there are other hurricanes in life, the uncontrollable things that form seemingly out of nowhere and tear our lives apart. 

Talk to anyone who has survived the hurricane of cancer.  I read about it from Dr. Cheryl Greenberger, the Director of Clinical & Family Services for Chai Lifeline.  Chai Lifeline is a Jewish organization that helps seriously ill children and their families live as normal as they possibly can – bringing them joy, hope, and support.  Cheryl said the following about cancer survivors: 

“On one hand, they live with a daily fear that cancer will return or that their futures are now uncertain. On the other hand, many find that cancer has made them appreciate life in both its grand concept and everyday normality all the more.  Many survivors express their gratitude for the little things.” One survivor told me, ‘I never thought about the feel of wet hair on my neck following a shower.  However, while undergoing treatments it was one of the feelings I missed most.  Now that I have completed treatment and my hair has grown back, I try and pay attention to that feeling every time I take a shower.’

Can you imagine paying that much attention every time you take a shower?  How many times are you taking a shower but you are really somewhere else.  You might be starting the day in the morning, but you are really in the office, or at carpool, thinking about the next experience, the next task. 

Survivors often say they ‘try’ to pay attention to the feeling of the moment.  It is even difficult for survivors - they have to try to pay attention - it’s a conscious act. 

But paying attention, living present in that moment, will make you happier. 

Psychologist Matthew A. Killingsworth, a lead author of a Harvard study on living in the moment wrote: 

“Human beings have this unique ability to focus on other things that aren’t happening right now.  That allows them to reflect on the past and learn from it; it allows them to anticipate and plan for the future; and it allows them to imagine things that might never occur. At the same time, it seems that human beings often use this ability in ways that are not productive and furthermore can be destructive to our happiness.”

We are a country obsessed with finding happiness, and we are also the most highly medicated country in the world.  We think happiness can be found in a pill bottle, but studies show that happiness can be found by living present. 

My friends, I want to you to be happier this year, because a happy congregation makes a happy rabbi.  So, if you can do something for me this year, every morning, I want you to pray.  I know, you don’t have the time, and the siddur is long, and you can’t make it to minyan, I get it.  But, you can start with just saying the following, a line that is found in our morning prayers:

מָה רַבּוּ מַעֲשיךָ ה'. כֻּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשיתָ. מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ קִנְיָנֶךָ

Mah Rabu Ma’asech Adonai, Kulam B’Chochma Asitah, Mal’ah Ha’Aretz Kinyanecha

How great are your works Adonai, with wisdom You fashioned them all.  The earth abounds with Your creations. 

Living present in the world means living in radical amazement, a term coined by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.  He famously said that “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Look around.  Try and find something beautiful around you and be amazed.  Noticing small things can make even an ordinary routine day a little more beautiful and brighter.  Be thankful for these little things.  For those moments, don’t dwell on what you don’t have, what you are lacking - dwell on what you have, why you are a great creation just like everything around you. 

So some of you might be sold on the idea of today being all about living present for ourselves, but it's not just about you. 

Can you imagine if you lived in the moment, if you lived present even more for the people you love?

There’s a ritual that, thankfully, many of you in the room have not been a part of:  the Vidui at the death bed.  I used to perform this ritual alone with the person about to transition to Olam HaBah, but then I started asking families to stand with me in the room, in the moment. 

We all join hands - I ask the loved ones - talk to your loved ones - tell them why you are grateful for their lives.

The words, the stories, the heart - they all come out into the center of the circle.  I truly believe that no matter how forgone that person is, they can hear them.  But it’s not just about the Goses, the dying person, it’s about the family.  For those moments, they aren’t thinking about anything else but being there for their loved one.  They are living in the moment, they are Living Present.  But you don't have to wait until the last moments to live present with your families.

There’s something we learned from some of our good friends the Bilus.  On Friday nights, their family goes around the table and states what they are thankful for.  We do this everyday in our prayers, but it’s rare that we consciously do this as a family.  It would be great if every morning began like this, but  let’s be honest, standing in a circle before you leave to start the day and having a calm moment just isn’t in the cards for us as we are getting the kids ready for school and they are running late. 

So we do it once a week on Friday night - what are you thankful for?  And you listen.  You don’t have to think about what you are going to say, you have time, it’s shabbat dinner, there’s no where else to go, no other experience to have.  And do you know what always comes up - at least one of us says - I’m thankful...for you. 

And you don’t have to have a family to do this - all you need is someone else.  That’s what this community is here for - to help you find that someone else. 

So, can you do something for me?  Will you incorporate this act at least once on Shabbat?  Will you live present for at least 15 minutes out of the week and tell someone else what you are grateful for?  And, can you do me one favor, can you live present so you can truly listen to what they say - can you listen to hear what they are grateful for? 

On Rosh Hashanah, I asked you all to answer a question, when do you feel most alive?  Of course, it's a matter of opinion, and I heard many different answers.  But for me, the moments we feel most alive are after we survive something – a hurricane, cancer, a car accident...and also, on Yom Kippur – and it's in those moments afterward that God asks us to #LivePresent – for ourselves, for our families, but most of all, for God.  Why else would God put us here for? 


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