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2018 Yom Kippur Kol Nidre Sermon

09/24/2018 12:00:00 AM

Sep24

Rabbi Adir Glick: “Shver tsu zayn a Yid – It is hard to be a Jew.”

Good Yontiv.

 

Good evening.

 

Gmar Tov – a good seal after the fast.

 

Our holiest night of the year begins as we remove all of the Sifrei Torah from our ark, in an atmosphere of solemnity and beauty.  We repeat the words of Kol Nidre three times, before the earthly tribunal and the heavenly tribunal — the yeshiva shel mata and the yeshiva shel mala —annulling our vows from last Yom Kippur to this Yom Kippur.

 

Why? Because words have power. We do not take them lightly.

 

There used to be an expression in my family, among the Yiddish speaking members:  Shver tsu zayn a Yid:  It is hard to be a Jew.

 

When my great grandparents, born in Russia, Belarus, Poland would say it they were referring to anti-Semitism – it was hard living in Eastern Europe as a Jew. There were pogroms. Harsh discrimination. There were limited opportunities and resources and you never knew when the government would turn against you.

 

When my great uncle, born in Canada, would say it, he was referring to the traditions of Judaism, the mitzvot, the commandments.

 

Keeping the traditions in the modern world is difficult.

 

It was hard – he struggled with it.

 

Judaism is a Serious Thing

 

On Kol Nidre we annul our vows because we take them seriously.  It is not a light endeavor for us.

 

We demand a lot more of our people.  It is not just about what feels good. It is not even only about community — having a space to connect to other human beings.

 

Those who came before us carried much greater burdens.

 

You realize it as a child, going to public school bringing the list of Jewish holidays.

 

Another one? The school groans.

 

Oy.

 

Being a Jew is a serious matter.

 

And it’s not just bagels and humor.  We have had to earn our bagels and good sense of humor – a lot has gone into it.

 

What does it mean to be a Jew? What was carried for us generation to generation for so many thousands of years?

 

On one hand - it means being a witness through history.

 

For injustice and justice.  Seeing injustice in all forms and being a voice to put an end to it. 

As for justice – embodying truth and fighting for it.

 

For love and hate.  Understanding what motivates human beings, love and hate, seeing people as they are, but loving them nonetheless as a rebbetzin once said.

 

For creation and destruction, in which we have seen much.

 

As Rabbi Soloveitchik, one of the Jewish leaders of the previous century, said, “Jews do not have a dogma.”

 

We have the lessons learned from our history, from observing the world and observing God.

 

We do not play at theology, intellectual games, or say this is what God is and what God isn’t.

 

We look, observe, experience – that is the basis of our belief.

 

We are Witnesses

 

And of the movements and currents of history itself – it always seems to happen to us first.

 

Why are we the ones caught, who get to see the ugliest sides of man?  To warn the others?

This is an old ugliness, an evil that is beginning to surface.

 

Do not go this way, dear friends.

 

We have seen this before – we know where this road leads.

 

The mine is about to collapse again because it was not built with care and love. Cracks are emerging. As always, we pray we will be able to escape and fly away fast enough.

 

Over the past few years, more and more cases, nationally and locally, are pointing to a reemergence in the oldest form of hatred. We are acting and must continue to act.

 

There is also the positive of being first.

 

We are among the first in connecting the globe together. We are first to adopt new technology, discover new science and new ways of thinking and of being.

 

One result of our rootlessness has been that for a long time – even as we are rooted in the ancient - we have been turned forward, looking to the future.

 

As our Jewish homeland has also felt isolated, in a less than accepting neighborhood and often hostile world, there we too have been focused toward the future, high tech, bio tech, and connectivity.

 

It is a mysterious fact of history – as I remember reading Tom Friedman pointing out in his book from Beirut to Jerusalem, we are always in the middle of it.

 

We are Witnesses to History

 

Friedman’s argument is - what do we expect?  We have such a powerful story. We were positioned in the middle of the ancient world. Even the medieval Christian maps of the world placed the Promised Land in the middle of the world, Jerusalem the middle of the middle.

 

We were strangers in Egypt, the great powerful empire of its day.  We saw how that power corrupted. We understood that fear is used to bend minds.

 

People forget the humanity of their fellow man.

 

What is the incidental message of two human beings who began the human race? We are all related. No one has superior yichus — lineage.

 

The Book of Genesis teaches us.  We are all created in the image of God.

 

We have also been witnesses to incredible acts of kindness.

 

Even as we have been chased out and maligned, we have found new homes to go to, and have been welcomed.

 

I was born in Israel but, as many of you know, I spent many years of my childhood in the Pyrenees, the mountains of Southern France, close to the Spanish border. There were not many Jews, but every now and then, someone would stop you in the street and whisper the shema or their bar mitzvah portion in your ear. The non-Jews in our village, would point out to us, the roads through the mountains where they would hide and take the Jews over to Spain, and how the authorities would get lost in the forest.

 

As witnesses of history

 

We have seen the rise of great empires and peoples, Greece, Rome, Medieval Europe, Muslim Spain.

 

We were always there.

 

In Bahgdad – when the city was the greatest city in the world, 1 million strong. The advisor to the caliph was a Jew.

 

And in Spain, where there was a – relatively – beautiful example of a culture with peace and harmony between faiths, sharing spiritual devotion and much culture – we were in the middle of it.

 

As Europe emerged from the dark ages and new idea, thoughts, consciousness and awareness, ways of understanding life arose – we were in the middle of it. Spinoza, an excommunicated Jew in Amsterdam was one of the first great voices of the Enlightenment.

 

Jews were leaders, behind many of the isms and sciences that appeared in that ferment. Psychology, socialism, capitalism, communism, economic theory.

 

When the world tore each other to pieces 70 years ago – we were also in the middle – suffering as no other/ suffering in great pain.

 

Now, there are more media covering the story and political tragedies of our homeland than any other place. There are more journalists per capita in Jerusalem than any other city. More clergy and observant charedi people of all faiths too I am sure. But journalists.

 

I remember a fellow tribe member who worked with me for a bank in my early twenties said to me: here in the new world, ones does not feel it always as much, being Jewish is normal. He had lived in Europe. In Europe being Jewish is unusual, there’s an edge to it- they see how we have witnessed history, they know.

 

We Have a Past

 

And yet to be a Jew has also meant, despite this entrenchment in the world and history, with all of its problems and enchantments, we always have claimed and have striven to be this-worldly religion.

 

We understand our religious life as a covenant, a binding contract between ourselves and God, the Absolute, Echad, Oneness.

 

Even so, our end of the contract has not being easy.

We hold on to our relationship with the Divine.

 

We have always striven for moral, ethical, spiritual high ground.

 

For 3,500 years our Torah has told us and our families the story of how the Divine appeared to a small forgotten people of slaves and attempted to shape them into a moral force, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

 

It gave us much to do:

 

To think about.

 

To live through – to push us to ever new limits.

 

Turned heavenward.

 

When we are asked about how many mitzvot – ways of connecting to God –  are there? 613 – oy.

Those are only the main categories, each one has many subsidiaries.

 

And the way the way we are asked to affirm it – our purpose, our allegiance - twice a day in the way the rabbis imagined and explained the spiritual process of saying the shema.

 

With the first paragraph, we are bringing upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven.

We are acknowledging deeply our belief in a Creator, in a singularity of purpose to this world, monotheism.

 

This World has Purpose

 

Since it has purpose, we are made partners in fulfilling it, we are called to do our part.

 

There is a plan. And it is for this world here.

 

That is a very serious matter.

 

And as we take the covenant seriously, the other side of the contract is that we permit ourselves to question and argue with the Divine:

 

Why is this world the way it is?

 

We have no problem raising our hands to the skies in disbelief, even in challenge?

 

We have not been witnesses to history to be meek? Some like to call it Holy Chutzpah.

 

It is what it means to be Yisrael – named after Jacob who wrestled with an angel, with God.

 

Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, a Hassidic leader in the Ukraine, in the tradition of Abraham and Moses, would turn to the Heavens to petition for the Jewish people, especially during the Yamim Noraim – the High Holidays.

 

Do not forget us, the world, do not forget what You promised us.

 

Sometimes, we despair and lose our faith.

 

Other times, our hearts are filled with an undying faith and love for the Creator for the beautiful part He or She has given us to play in the great play of this world and Cosmos – despite all that we have suffered as a people, despite the most horrific of circumstances we have faced.

 

And then there are times when we truly witness wonders and miracles and the relationship of Jews with the Divine.

 

It is not always easy.

 

Siz Shver tsu zayn a Yid – it is hard to be a Jew.

 

But it is also very deep – wherever it is.

 

This is what Kol Nidre is about: rediscovering our place in the cosmic dance with our Creator, and constant wrestling with the Covenant, with the Almighty, and with our trust and faith.

 

Kol Nidre is a Night of Rituals – Torahs, Tallitot at Night, Chanting and Singing

 

To be a Jew is to see ritual as one of the force that transforms and sanctifies ourselves and the world.

 

We fill our lives with rituals, life cycle events, 100 blessings a day, an ancient language, or two or three of them Hebrew Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew, morning services that last 45 minutes. Shabbat services that last hours. Yom Kippur services that last all day.

 

Shofar, Lulav and Etrog, tallit, leather straps and tefillin boxes.

 

Torah scroll. Yad.  Hand.

 

A friend, Rabbi Hillel Norry, has been teaching children and adults for 30 years that our siddur, our book of prayers, is a book of magic.

 

Candle sticks, challah bread, Kiddush cup. Havdallah set.

 

Rituals enrich our lives, they give our lives substance and distinction.

 

They are the heavy jewels we carry from morning until dusk.

 

They bring Presence into our lives, They bring spirit into our lives. Even when it is difficult to continue carrying them from generation to generation. But how great and moving is the feeling that we get when we transfer a Kiddush cup, candle sticks, and other ritual objects that were passed down to us, to those who come after us, our children, grandchildren.

 

As the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said about lighting the candles on Shabbat:

When her Shababt candles were lit and her father chanted the blessing over the wine, she felt a tangible change in the atmosphere in the home, as if peace had suddenly descended and Shabbat had begun.

 

It is all a reflection of the grand ritual in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem on this day of Yom Kippur, when the high priest would enter the holy of holies, the holiest person, at the holiest time of year, in the holiest space, to encounter God and then to bring the power of that encounter to the people.

 

The rituals, the mitzvot provide our guidelines for bridging heaven and earth.

 

But it’s not easy – if the High Priest was not prepared for this work, his dead corpse would be dragged out from the holy of holies by the rope tied around his ankle.

 

We are asked to build a temple, in our communities, in our homes, in our families, in our own hearts, where the Divine can dwell.

 

So that we can walk with the Presence beside us, one blessing at a time, whether it is a blessing for thanking God for the incredible beauty of the world around us, or to keep the czar as far away from us as possible.

 

Because when you know you can lose all the rest in an instant, you end up gravitating towards what you know you cannot lose, and you do not have to fit in your suitcase.

 

When you know you are walking around with your most precious jewel in your pocket.

You do not let it go.

 

This is where you find space to be self-transformed, where you find redemption.

 

It’s not easy being a Yid

 

Shver…. Siz Shver tsu zayn a Yid

 

 

Judaism is a Serious Thing

 

This is why we take our Torahs out, with solemnity and beauty. Repeat three times the words. Annuling our vows from last Yom Kippur to this Yom Kippur.

 

Our own words have power.

 

When you have a young child or grandchild, or sibling at home, you realize words have power.

They remember everything you say.

 

You realize quickly they hear everything and it gets stored.

 

Tonight is the time of year we reconnect to what is serious in Judaism.  Like all other important Jewish moments.

 

What is probably the most distinctive of all Jewish wedding practices?

 

Breaking the glass.

 

We break the glass because life is not frivolous.

 

A marriage is not just a nice thing – it is a partnership to bring the pieces of glass back together. The world is still not rebuilt.

 

A marriage, like our partnership with the Divine, is a partnership to rebuild all of the Jerusalems of the world.

 

So we keep a corner of ourselves in that place.

 

Life is not frivolous.

 

We keep a side of ourselves sober.

 

There is also a beauty to that sobriety.

 

As the Talmud says in Biblical times there was no holiday like Yom Kippur.

 

Lo haya Yom tov be yisrael kyom Kippurim.

There was no holiday in Israel as Yom Kippur.

 

The seriousness brings a true joy and festivity.

 

An elevation.

 

An inner inspiration. Hope.

 

Real hope.

 

Clarity.

 

A sense of Destiny about human kind.

 

A purpose to creation.

 

That life is not just all of us floating in space. Everything we do has meaning.

 

That is what it means that it is a serious thing.

 

These are Not Just Nice Customs

 

When Richard Dawkins, the noted atheist debated Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, then the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, I have never seen Rabbi Sacks so fierce. Richard Dawkins – usually the one on the attack – was on the defensive… relented, yes, he saw that all of this that religion believed, that Judaism believes, gives life more weight, pushes people to be better, to do more.

 

It is serious business, living a life of Torah. Of dedicated study to make us think.

Sharpening our mind.

 

Telling us stories how to live, how to contemplate, how to be parents and children and business people.

 

Social laws. Live in community. Have a conscience, show compassion.

 

This is why our parents, grandparents great grandparents, would walk around the shtetl and say: shver yid.

 

And continue to keep their Judaism.

 

To continue one step at a time, seeing history, good, bad, however. Wrestling with the Creator. Bringing spirit into the world, building temples in their lives, their children’s lives and within their communities.

 

It is hard to be a Jew,

But tonight we reaffirm it is the only way to live.

Repairing the world – one act of compassion at a time.

As we struggled with the deepest questions of life.

And hold purpose and meaning as our yardsticks.

Never losing hope, no matter befalls us.

This is our path and our God-given destiny.

Gmar Tov!

 

 

 

 

Thu, December 3 2020 17 Kislev 5781