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Rabbi Steven Bob - Rosh Hashanah Day 1 - 2016/5777

 

Rabbi Steven Bob - Rosh Hashanah Day 1 - 5777

 

(This sermon is provided in audio format only. A transcript follows below)

D’var Zeh Taloui Bi

On Rosh Hashanah, we examine our sins. We reflect on our lives. We think about our small sins and our larger sins. We recall what we have done and how to respond

In preparing for this Rosh Hashanah, I was thinking about the sins of the Jewish people. I asked myself, what are the greatest sins in Jewish history? Not the greatest sins committed by individual Jews. My question is, what is the greatest sin committed by the Jewish people as a group? In my opinion it is the Golden Calf.

The generation that God took out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an out stretched arm. That generation of our people which witnessed the ten plagues, that generation crossed through the divided sea, that generation collected manna every morning. But then while Moses was on the top of Mount Sinai receiving the Torah, that very same generation built a Golden Calf to replace God.

The Torah describes God responding to seeing the people worshiping the Golden calf with anger and frustration. God tells Moses, I am going to destroy this entire people.

In the Talmudic interpretation of this story, Rabbi Eliezar taught that God said to Moses, “Now that Israel has sinned, what are you to me?” All at once Moses became weak and had no strength to answer.

He felt he had failed as the leader of the people and no reason to go on. But when Moses heard God say, “Let me alone that I may destroy them,”Moses said to himself, “D’var zeh Taloui Bi, This thing depends on me, D’var zeh Taloui Bi.”

At once Moses regained his strength. He stood up and sought mercy for the people of Israel. Moses understood that only he could act to save the people. The continued existence of the people of Israel rested on his shoulders. That thing depended on him and Moses convinced God to spare the people.

Today we can each ask ourselves, what depends on me? About what should I say, “D’var zeh Taloui Bi, This thing depends on me?”

Some people feel that everything depends on them. In our families or at work, we may feel this way. We may live or work with people who feel this way. It is no way to work or live. We should not feel that everything depends on us.

But it is important to know that some specific “thing” depends on you. There can be joy in being able to select, to choose, to identify that thing. To say this is me. This is happening because of me. People need to feel purposeful.

Movies are filled with stories of individuals who felt themselves to have no purpose, finding their purpose, discovering there place and time to shine. We could list countless sports movies in which the once rejected athlete emerges as the star and takes the last shot in the key game against the dreaded foe.

In action movies the key good guy always ends up in one on one combat with the key bad guy. It could be the sword fight on the stairs between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in the Adventures of Robin Hood. Or it could be Obi Wan Kenobe and Darth Vader dueling with light sabers in Star Wars.

Our lives are generally not so dramatic. We are not called upon to take the game winning shot or duel the villain with a light saber. But in the real world individuals do face key moments.

We can ask, “What depends on me? About what can I say, “D’var zeh Taloui Bi, This thing depends on me?” We can ask this question about our families, our work, among our friends, and the synagogue.

What aspect of family life depends on you, in your small family or in your larger family? Circumstances change. We change. The needs of those around us change. Times change. Where I was once needed, I am no longer needed. We can ask where am I needed now?

For 35 years I served as senior Rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim. In June I retired. I am now the Rabbi Emeritus. The congregation no longer depends on me. This change did not come as a surprise. I knew about it years in advance.

I developed new areas of expertise in the Medieval Commentaries to Jonah. I translated and explained the commentaries of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Kimchi, Abarbanel and Malbim. I have published two books on these commentaries. On this thin slice of the layer cake of Jewish knowledge I have become a leading expert.

Most people think of Frank Carpa’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a Christmas movie. I understand that it is really a Rosh Hashanah movie. It tells the story of George Bailey, who grows weak when he sees his life as a failure. He grows weak like Moses did after learning of the Golden Calf. George, like Moses, no longer has any strength to go on.

George wants to die. He declares that the world would be better off

if he had never been born. Because it is a Frank Capra movie, George’s guardian angel intervenes. George gets to see what the world in truth would be like if he had not been born. He would not have been there to save his brother from drowning. He would not been there to prevent a pharmacist from sending the poison to a customer. He would not have been there to marry his wife. He would not have been there to provide loans to help families purchase their first homes. George awakens from this vision of this alternative reality with a renewed understanding of the importance of his life. He recognizes how much does indeed depend on him.

We touch people in big dramatics ways and in small modest ways

I grew up in Minnesota. Harmon Killebrew was the star of the Minnesota Twins of my youth. He hit homeruns in huge numbers, a total of 573. And he hit long homeruns. On June 3, 1967, Harmon Killebrew hit a 520-foot home run, the longest measured home run ever hit at Old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. It landed far into the upper deck of the left field seats. The Twins painted the seat red to commemorate the event.

Metropolitan Stadium is no more. The Mall of America now stands where Metropolitan stadium once stood. In the atrium of the Mall high on the wall one can see the red seat from the old Metropolitan Stadium bolted to the wall approximately where it was located in the stadium as a lasting reminder of Harmon’s power.

I am sure that Harmon Killebrew, was proud of his homeruns

But I know that also prided himself on his beautiful and clear signature.

When Harmon appeared at baseball card shows the line to get his autograph moved slowly because Harmon signed carefully. I am told that Harmon was so concerned about fans, he practiced signing his autograph, making sure every letter was legible. Killebrew coached young players to improve their signatures.

Killebrew believed that the fan who waits for a player’s autograph, and then treasures it, should be able to read it. Thousands of baseball fans, including me, hold precious items with that clear Harmon Killebrew signature.

We sign our name every day, literally and figuratively.

We sign our names with a pen. But we also sign our name with our words and our deeds. We sign our name with what we do and what we neglect to do. We sign our name with what we say and with what we neglect to say.

While on vacation one summer, we stopped at the Dinosaur Foot Print Museum in St. George, Utah. This is not a famous tourist destination. It was a stop along the route to our actual destination.

We saw 200 million years old footprints. How could a 200 million year old footprint be preserved?

I learned that these footprints were made by dinosaurs congregating on the shores of a lake. The lake, with large fish, and its shore ringed with edible plants, attracted these dinosaurs.

During times when the water levels dropped on the shallow lake shores, the dinosaurs walked in the mud along the shore, leaving footprints that then filled in with silt and sand, all of which later hardened into stone. Thus, many of the tracks are preserved as bumps.

The dinosaurs stopped for lunch and a drink and left a lasting impression in the mud. Making footprints was not their goal. It was something they did on their journey. But these footprints made a lasting impression.

Our lives are brief. What do we leave behind? What of our lives is worth a stop along the road?

In my home I now have a cast of a 200 million year old dinosaur footprint and a Harmon Killebrew autograph. One was formed by a random step, the other made with care. They both count as a legacy. What do we want our legacy to be? What do we leave behind?Where have we left our footprints?

How have we signed our name?

These 10 days leading from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur give us the chance to reflect. We do not have to be who we have always been. During these ten days let us ask ourselves: Where do want to leave our footprints in this new year?

How do we want to sign our names in coming months? What will be the lasting reminder of our lives?

In the Midrash, Moses rises from his weakness when he realizes how much depends on him. God does not say to Moses, “This depends on you.” Moses says, “This depends on me.”Moses does not wait for God to assign him a task.

Moses takes the initiative.

We cannot wait for other to invite us to act. We have to take the initiative to act.

We must take charge of our own lives. As the New Year begins we should each ask ourselves, What depends on me? About what will I say, “D’var zeh Taloui Bi, This thing depends on me?”

Wed, October 23 2019 24 Tishrei 5780