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Yom Kippur sermon 5778/2017, ‘Maurice Sendak and living the life we are meant to.’

10/08/2017 10:38:08 PM

Oct8

Good Yontif, Shanah Tovah,

 

Ma Anu, Umeh’Chayenu

 

What are we and what is our life?

 

Last October, Rachel told me about the story of a wonderful radio interview with Maurice Sendak, author of the Children’s book, ‘Where the Wild Things’, by journalist Terry Gross on NPR.

 

It was an interview that was ostensibly about his new book but it became a long conversation about life and death. He was 83 and had a terminal disease. It was about his life and his death.

 

It was his last months and he knew it. He knew his end was coming.

 

Amidst tears and personal stories and thoughts, what he said was: “I’m ready” – “I lived the life that I was meant to live.”

 

Ma Anu Umeh’Chayenu, What are we? What is our life?

 

These are the questions we ask on Yom Kippur.

 

We go through the lists in the Vidui, the confessional.

I did this and I did that.

For the sin of this and that...

 

But I like to think of it not so much as a list of sins as an exercise in self-examination.

 

Of all of the different areas of human existence, speech, relations with spouses, loved ones, business. How am I doing at that one, how is it going?

 

How am I in my communal life? How am I contributing? To my block, to my kid’s school? To my friends? To my shul? -That’s an important one.

 

How am I inserting myself in the rich tapestry of human life? With all of the opportunities and challenges it represents for growth, for fulfillment.

 

And in my family life? Am I showing the care and love I would like to, to my loved ones? Where is my relationship with my family?

 

In my religious life –I had aspirations and ideals but I let them go. I had those deep questions that I put on the back burner. I don’t remember what they are but I know they are becoming more pressing.

 

Yom Kippur is the one day of the year we actually go within and seek the Truth. Not just based on the feeling of a moment. But real unadulterated truth.

 

Then we contemplate the Teshuvah that we need to do – how can I fix what is wrong? How can I make things right?

 

These questions are in our thoughts. And not just for ourselves but also for our loved ones. I find myself pondering the other end of the life cycle, the unfolding world of my beloved daughter Shalva who is just beginning her life journey…

 

In these last months, my beautiful one-year-old daughter is growing up. You can interact with her. Her personality is shining through ever more fully.

 

You see it happening – and you think?

 

What is her life going to be about? Where will she go? Whom will she meet? What will she see?  How can I help her work with her personality and her life circumstances to have a successful life, a good life, a meaningful life?

 

Questions that are on all of our minds!

 

But there is also deeper, more honest question that all of us ask on Yom Kippur.

 

Am I living the life that I am meant to?

 

There is a life we are meant to live. It is an amazing idea!

 

A life that was created just for us. A life that will empower us to be who we are and accomplish what we need to do.

 

A life that will feed our soul and nurture our purpose in the world.

 

There’s a teaching in the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, that when God first created the world, it was too fragile to hold the divine light and shattered into millions of shards of broken fragments and sparks of divine light. As a result, the world had to be reformed in such a manner that all of the broken pieces could be made whole again and filled with the scattered sparks of light.

 

In the teachings of the kabbalah, we are the agents of this universal repair or Tikkun. It is up to us to heal the brokenness and reveal the light.

 

We accomplish this work by living the life we are supposed to, by being the person we were meant to be – whatever that looks like – whatever it looks like - returning one broken fragment to wholeness and filling it with divine light.

 

We each have our way to live.

 

For Maurice Sendak, it was writing children’s novels that thrilled and stimulated the imaginations of millions. For others, it could be something quite different.

 

Our career can be the center of our life, but it can also be the volunteering that we do, or our intellectual pursuits, our private religious life, or taking care of our family.

 

We had a friend who never had any real career ambitions. Her desire was to be a mother and raise a family. In the end she had 15 kids and is an amazing mother to them all! Her children are extraordinary, beautiful souls. When she gets off the bus, half the bus gets off with her and follows her. Her own clan. She truly shines in her role as mother and caregiver. It is clearly the life that she was meant to live.

 

At times we do not have anything tangible to point to and say this is the living I am meant to live.

 

I have a friend who in their middle age had their whole life collapse. As the dust settled they had lost almost everything. They looked behind them and saw wasted decades. They took a year, a difficult year, of searching and transition, travelling abroad.

 

When I saw them recently, those pieces of their life had not really changed, but I felt a strong sense that they were now on the right path, the path of living the life they were meant to live. It was amazing to see!

 

Part of Yom Kippur is having the conversation, the interview with ourselves, finding the meaningful parts of our lives. It is not always obvious. The truth is that we all have meaning in our lives but we lose sight of it, amidst the struggle of our day to day existence. We take them for granted. We forget how much they bring to our life.

 

Yom Kippur gifts us the opportunity to reconnect to these places of meaning in our life, to recover the sense of gratitude for the blessings they bring to us.

 

It is a journey in introspection and thought that parallels the journey of the High Priest in Biblical Times.

 

As the sages recount, Yom Kippur was the holiest day of the year, where the holiest person of ancient Israel, the high Priest, entered the holiest place in the world, the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple in Jerusalem, to meet God.

 

It was the only day of the year that the High Priest, would enter the Holy of Holies. He would tremble as he walked inside, knowing that his life was in the balance -- if he was not pure enough, prepared enough, he would be struck down.

 

In fact, legend tell us that the priests even went so far as to tie a rope around his ankle so that they could drag his body out if he died while inside.

 

But if he was worthy, he would find that which he was looking for and accomplish the inner work that he had come to accomplish. Then, he would walk out and bless the crowds outside. The joy among the throngs in the courtyard at that moment was inexpressible. They knew that a great spiritual task had been fulfilled, a great spiritual transformation accomplished.

 

For us too, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. It is a day when we have the opportunity to behold the holiest part of ourselves, to enter into a place we never get the chance to go into during the rest of the year, and ask ourselves the question: ‘Am I living the life I am supposed to live?’

 

The High Priest’s moment of seeking profound self-knowledge was the climax of the holidays in ancient times.

 

And it is the climax of our holidays in modern times as well.

 

We begin on Rosh Hashanah with the thought:

 

‘What is my deepest wish, my wishes, for the new year? What is it that I really need to change about myself?’

 

We continue to think, and contemplate and ponder our wish and our desire to change. We do Teshuvah.

 

Finally, on Yom Kippur, we got yet deeper - to the very core of our being and ask the question: ‘Am I living the life I am supposed to?’

 

It’s not always an easy question to ask.

 

It can feel perilous. It can send many of our ideas about ourselves and our lives crashing down.

 

We may not feel that we are living the life we had hoped for at all, that we were meant to live.

 

But Yom Kippur presents us with an opportunity to try to reconnect to that life. In however great or small way we can manage from where we’re sitting.

 

We may not be able to totally reorient our life but we can pick one area where we try to move our life forward. Dealing with a problem, we have long ignored. Or finally pursuing an element of a deeper calling that has always laid dormant within. It is never too late!

 

When we put in one piece, we may be surprised how many others fall into place.

 

It can empower us to change our life direction or it can affirm that we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. It can fill us with tremendous faith and a powerful self-belief.

 

It can gift us wings to ascend to lofty heights, or to overcome mountain high obstacles that block our way.

 

It can gift us the faith and self-belief to take the next step.

 

My grandfather who passed this year had a difficult life. He had a massive stroke a few weeks after he retired after an illustrious career in business and entrepreneurship… His first wife died young. He had many internal struggles.

 

When you asked him about his life, he always said ‘life is beautiful’, ‘life is a bowl of cherries’. Even as he spent the last 1/3 of his life incapacitated, barely able to speak and communicate and enjoy the fruits of all of his labor

 

Yom Kippur was his favorite day of the year at shul. It was his secret weapon.

 

He truly believed in its power.

 

He let go of whatever was going on in his complex business world to spend the day at synagogue.

 

He did not want to ask questions of life. He believed he was living the life of his dreams. The life he was meant to live and fulfill. But going back every year gave him the faith and inspiration to keep going, to keep himself aligned with his fate and his life. To remind, yes I am doing it right!

 

Yom Kippur gave him the gift of tremendous thoughtfulness and space for contemplation. It gave him faith and gratitude.

 

This is one of the difficulties in our society today. Life and its choices are no longer clear. We are confused as to what we should do. There are so many different influences trying to push us in one direction or another. ‘Be this, do that, live here, go there.’ It is hard to know what to do.

 

On Yom Kippur, our tradition gives us the space for self-discovery. ‘You are not here in this world to follow the direction of others,’ it is telling us. ‘You are here to be yourself, to do what you came here to do. To fix yourself and help mend our broken world.’

 

One day a year, we ask the real question of life with the full attention that it deserves, but also with compassion for ourselves.

 

And we have faith, that asking the question – while painful – will also uplift, inspire and strengthen us. That as we go through the long list of self-examination and beating our chest, we will arrive at greater insight and clarity.

 

It is why Yom Kippur takes us so far from our daily lives, so that we can get some real perspective, so that we can reach into our very core.

 

‘Who am I? What am I doing in this world? What is the life that I am meant to live?’

 

It’s a path that enables us to feel we’ve lived a life worth living.

 

That we have lived a life of truth - to ourselves, true to our aspirations, a life of purpose, and a life of love.

 

What more can we ask for?

 

As Maurice Sendak said, “I am ready, I am ready. I am ready.”

 

Yom Kippur asks of us to put ourselves on the right course, to turn in the right direction, whatever way we can, even to see what is already right, to view our life from the right angle of vision so that when the great day comes, we can also say:

 

‘I am ready, I am ready, I am ready. I have lived the life I was meant to live.’

 

I end with the words of Maurice Sendak:

 

"I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more. ... What I dread is the isolation. ... There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."

 

Gmar tov!

 

Copyright © Rabbi Adir Glick

 

Mon, February 18 2019 13 Adar I 5779