Catch Your Breath And Appreciate The First Light

We have begun reading the Torah all over again, starting with the creation of the world. On the first day of creation, God said “light” and there was light. However, the sun, moon and stars were not yet created. We are left wondering where this first light came from, what was its source? And does it still exist today?

The Torah tells us that the first light was “good”. We also know that it was the antithesis of the darkness that the Torah describes as filling the earth prior to creation – a darkness associated with chaos and emptiness. Therefore, we can believe that the first light was an energy or force associated with peace and wholeness. And this would explain why it was “good”.

So where is this light today? As we light Shabbat candles tonight, we have the ability to see this light. We are not supposed to use the light of Shabbat candles to read, cook or simply fill the darkness. The light of Shabbat candles is supposed to remind us that our day of peace, joy and rest has begun. Our Shabbat candles are supposed to remind us that it is “good”: life is good. As we rush through our week and get stressed out by daily challenges, we easily forget that life is good. The light of the candles brings us back to the light of creation – the good light.

Prior to creating the first light, the Torah tells us that the breath of G-d swept across the surface of the earth: before the light appeared, G-d breathed. As you light your candles tonight and start Shabbat, catch your breath. Breathe. Light your candles. Cover your eyes. Stand in the darkness for a moment. Open your eyes and see the light of creation: the epitome of goodness. Live in that goodness for a day – enjoying the peace of Shabbat.

RAMAT SHALOM MARKS GILAD SHALIT’S RETURN TO ISRAEL

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact:
            Rabbi Andrew Jacobs

Ramat Shalom Synagogue

11301 West Broward Blvd.

Plantation, FL 33325

p. 954.472.3600/f. 954.472.3622

rabbijacobs@bellsouth.net

www.ramatshalom.org

 

Ramat Shalom Synagogue to Mark Gilad Shalit’s Return to Israel with Community Gathering on October 18th at 6:30PM

Plantation, Florida – 16 October 2011

 

For more than five years, Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, has been held captive by Hamas militants.  During this time period, his whereabouts have been unknown.  He has received no medical care and was denied any contact with the International Committee for the Red Cross.  His family was denied any contact with him.  His captivity was a blatant violation of international law.  Shalit is supposed to be freed and returned to Israel on Tuesday, October 18th.  If all goes as planned and Shalit returns home on Tuesday, Ramat Shalom will mark his freedom with a community gathering in our parking lot at 11301 West Broward Blvd. in Plantation, FL at 6:30PM.  Rabbi Andrew Jacobs and Cantor Natalie Young will lead the community in prayer and song and blue and white, biodegradable balloons will be released.

 

Given that Shalit’s freedom has required the release of more than 1,000 terrorists from Israeli prisons, Ramat Shalom asks that you bring a small donation to the gathering for One Family Fund (onefamilyfund.org), an organization that helps Israeli victims of terror and their families rebuild their lives.

 

Ramat Shalom is a modern, progressive synagogue in the heart of Plantation, FL.  Founded in 1976 as a Reconstructionist synagogue, Ramat Shalom is a vibrant, growing Jewish community that embraces Jewish tradition and welcomes modern, Jewish creativity.

 

For additional information please contact Rabbi Andrew Jacobs at 954-472-3600 or rabbijacobs@bellsouth.net

 

# # #

 

Erev Rosh HaShanah Story: The Search by Shalom Aleichem

On Erev Rosh HaShanah, I shared The Search, a powerful story by Sholem Aleichem, the famous Eastern European, Jewish author.  The story teaches us a very important lesson about appearances, assumptions and accusations.  Between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we are supposed to reflect upon how we treat other people.  If you missed hearing Sholem Aleichem’s story the other night, I encourage you to read it and think about what the experiences of the Lithuanian, Reb Yosefel, Laizer Yosl and the narrator have to teach us.  Let their experiences inspire you to change and grow this year.  If you don’t get to read the story before Yom Kippur, remember that “Gates of Repentance” do not close until the end of Sukkot!  You’ve got time.

 

THE SEARCH

 

“Now, listen to me,” said a man who had been sitting in a corner by the window, smoking and taking in stories of thefts, holdups, and expropriations. “I’ll tell you a good one, also about a theft, which happened in my town, in the synagogue of all places, and on Yom Kippur too! You’ll like it.

Our Kasrilevke—that’s where I come from—is a small town and a poor one. We have no thieves and no stealing, for there is nobody to steal from and nothing to steal. And aside from all that, a Jew just isn’t a thief. I mean to say, even if a Jew is a thief, he is not the kind of thief who sneaks in through a window or goes at you with a knife. He may twist you and turn you, outtalk you and outsmart you—granted; but he won’t crawl into your pockets, he won’t be caught red-handed and led down the street in disgrace. That may happen to a thieving Ivan but not to a Jew. Imagine, then, someone stealing in Kasrilevke, and quite a bit of money too—eighteen hundred rubles at one stroke!

One day a stranger arrived in our town, a Jew, some sort of contractor from Lithuania. He appeared on the evening of Yom Kippur, just before the time for prayer. He left his bundle at the inn and hurried out to look for a place to pray and found the old synagogue. He arrived in time to attend the evening prayer and ran into the trustees with their collection box.

“Sholom aleichem!”

“Aleichem sholom!”

“Where are you from?”

“From Lithuania.”

“And what’s your name?”

“What difference does that make to your grandmother?”

“Well, after all, you’ve come to our synagogue!”

“Where else do you want me to go?”

“You surely want to pray here?”

“Have I any choice?”

“Then put something in the box.”

“Of course. Did you think I was going to pray for nothing?”

Our stranger took three silver rubles out of his pocket and put them in the box. Then he put a ruble in the cantor’s plate, gave a ruble for the rabbi, another for the school, and threw half a ruble into the poor box; in addition, he handed out coins to the beggars standing at the door—we have so many poor people in our town, God bless them, that if you really went at it you could distribute Rothschild’s fortune among them.

When we saw the kind of stranger he was we gave him a place right at the eastern wall of the synagogue, the holiest spot. You will ask how one could be found for him when all the places were occupied. Some question! Where does one find a place at a celebration—a wedding, say, or a circumcision feast—after all the guests have been seated at the table and suddenly there is a commotion—the rich guest has arrived! Well, all the others squeeze together until a place is made for the rich man. Jews have a habit of squeezing—when no one else squeezes us, we squeeze one another.

In short, the stranger occupied a place of honor. He asked for a prayer stand and, donning his cloak and prayer shawl, began to pray. Bending over his stand, he prayed and prayed, always on his feet, never sitting down, let alone lying down. He did not leave his stand for a minute, that Litvak, except when the Eighteen Blessings were recited and everyone had to face the ark, and during the kneeling periods. To stand on one’s feet on a day of fasting without ever sitting down—only a Litvak can do that.

After the shofar was blown for the last time, marking the end of services, we suddenly heard a cry, “Help, help, help!” We looked around and saw the stranger lying on the floor in a faint. We poured water on him to bring him to, but he fainted again.

What had happened? A fine thing! He had on him—the Litvak, that is—eighteen hundred rubles; and he had been afraid, so he said, to leave his money at the inn. You think it’s a trifle, eighteen hundred rubles? To whom could he entrust such a sum in a strange town? Nor did it seem right to keep it in his pocket on Yom Kippur as money is forbidden on the holiest day. So, after thinking the matter over, he decided quietly to slip the money into his prayer stand.  Now do you understand why he did not leave his stand for a minute? Someone had apparently snatched his money during the Eighteen Blessings or one of the kneeling periods.

He screamed, he wept, he lamented—what would he do now without the money? It was, he said, someone else’s money, not his.  He was only an employee in some office, a poor man, burdened with many children. All he could do now, he said, was to jump into the river or hang himself right here in the synagogue in front of everybody.

On hearing such talk the whole congregation stood paralyzed, forgetting that they had been fasting for twenty—four hours and were about to go home to eat. It was a disgrace before a stranger, a shameful thing to witness. Eighteen hundred rubles stolen, and where? In a place of worship, in the old synagogue of Kasrilevke! And when? On Yom Kippur! Such a thing was unheard of.

Lock the door!” our rabbi ordered. We have our rabbi—his name is Reb Yosefel—a true and pious Jew, not oversubtle but a kindly soul, a man without gall, and sometimes he has brilliant ideas, such as wouldn’t occur even to a man with eighteen heads! When the door was locked the rabbi addressed the congregation. His face was white as the wall, his hands were trembling and his eyes burning.

“Listen carefully, my friends,” he said. “This is an ugly business, an outrage, unheard of since the creation of the world, that in our town, in Kasrilevke, there should be such an offender, such a renegade from Israel, who would have the impudence to take from a stranger, from a poor man, a supporter of a family, such a large sum of money. And when? On a holy day, on Yom Kippur, and perhaps even during the closing prayer! Such a thing has been truly unheard of since the creation of the world! I can’t believe such a thing is possible, it just can’t be! Nevertheless—who can tell?  Some wretched man was perhaps tempted by this money, particularly since it amounted to such a fortune. The temptation, God have mercy on us, was great enough. So if it was decreed that one of us succumb to the temptation—if one of us has had the misfortune to commit such a sin on a day like this—we must investigate the matter, get to the bottom of it. Heaven and earth have sworn that truth must come to the top like oil on water, so we must search each other, go through each other’s garments, shake out the pockets of everyone here—from the most respectable member of the congregation to the community leaders, sparing no one. Begin with me: here, my friends, go through my pockets!”

Thus spoke our rabbi, Reb Yosefel, and he was the first to open his bag and turn all his pockets inside out. After him, all the members of the congregation loosened their girdles and turned out their pockets, and each of them in turn was searched, and felt all over, and shaken out. But when they came to Laizer Yosl he turned all colors and began to argue. The stranger, he said, was a swindler; the whole thing was a Litvak’s trick, no one had stolen any money from him. “Can’t you see,” he said, “that the whole thing is a lie, a fraud?”

The congregation broke out in loud protests. “What do you mean?” they said. “Respectable citizens have submitted to a search—why should you be excepted?” The whole crowd clamored, “Search him, search him!”

Laizer Yosl saw that things were going badly for him, and he began to plead with tears in his eyes, begging that he be spared. He swore by every oath: may he be as pure of all evil as he was innocent of stealing. And on what grounds was he to be spared? He couldn’t bear the disgrace of being searched, he said, and implored the others to have pity on his youth, not to subject him to such an indignity. Do anything you want, he said, but do not go through my pockets. How do you like such a scoundrel? Do you think anyone listened to him?

But wait a minute, I have forgotten to tell you who this Laizer Yosl was. He was not a native of Kasrilevke; he came from the devil knows where to marry a Kasrilevke girl. Her father, the rich man of our town, had unearthed him somewhere and bragged that he had found a rare gem, a real genius, for his daughter, a man who knew by rote a thousand pages of the Talmud, who was an expert in Scriptures, a Hebraist, and a mathematician who could handle fractions and algebra, and who wielded the pen like nobody’s business—in short, a man with all seventeen talents. When his father—in—law brought him, everyone went to look at this gem, to see what kind of rare bargain the rich man had acquired. Well, if you just looked at him he was nothing special, a young man like many others, fairly good—looking, only the nose a little too long, and a pair of eyes like two glowing coals, and a mouth with a sharp tongue in it. He was examined; they made him explain a page of the Talmud, a chapter from the Bible, a passage from Rambam, this and that, and he passed the test with flying colors—the dog was at home everywhere, he knew all the answers! Reb Yosefel himself said that he could be a rabbi in any Jewish community—not to mention his vast knowledge of worldly things. Just to give you an idea, there is in our town a subtle scholar, Zeidel Reb Shaye’s son, a crazy fellow, and he doesn’t even compare with Laizer Yosl. Moreover no one in the world could equal him as a chess player. Talk about cleverness!

Needless to say, the whole town envied the rich man such a genius, although people said that the gem was not without its flaws. To begin with, he was criticized for being too clever (and what there’s too much of isn’t good), and too modest, too familiar with everyone, mingling too easily with the smallest among the smallest, whether it be a boy or a girl or even a married woman. Then he was disliked because of the way he walked around, always absorbed in thought. He would come to the synagogue after everyone else, put on his prayer shawl, his skullcap on askew—never saying a word of prayer. No one ever saw him doing anything wrong; nevertheless it was whispered that he was not a pious man—after all, no one can have all the virtues!

And so when his turn came to be searched his refusal was at once interpreted as a sign that he had the money on him. “Make me swear an oath on the Bible,” he said. “Cut me, chop me to pieces, roast me, burn me alive, anything, but don’t go through my pockets!”

At this point even our Rabbi Yosefel, though the gentlest of men, lost his temper and began to scold. “You so-and-so,” he cried, “you deserve I don’t know what! What do you think you are? You see what all these men have gone through—all of them have accepted the indignity of a search, and you want to be an exception! One of the two—either confess and give back the money, or show your pockets! Are you playing games with an entire Jewish community? I don’t know what we’ll do to you!”

In short, they took Laizer Yosl, laid him on the floor by sheer force, and began to feel him all over and shake out his pockets. And then they shook out—guess what?  Chicken bones and a dozen plum pits; everything was still fresh, the bones had recently been gnawed, and the pits were moist.  Can you imagine what a pretty sight it was, all this treasure shaken out of our genius’s pockets at the end of our fast day? You can picture for yourselves the look on their faces, he and his father—in—law, the rich man, and our poor rabbi too. Our Reb Yosefel turned away in shame; he could look no one in the face. And later, when the worshipers were on their way home, to eat after the fast, they did not stop talking about the treasure they had discovered in the young man’s pockets, and they shook with laughter. Only Reb Yosefel walked alone, with bowed head, unable to look anyone in the eyes, as though the remains of food had been shaken out of his own pockets.

The man stopped telling the story.  It was over.

“And what about the money?” we all asked in one voice.

“What money?” the man said with an uncomprehending look.

“What do you mean, what money? The eighteen hundred—”

“O—o—o—oh,” he drawled. “The eighteen hundred? Vanished without a trace.”

“Vanished?”

“Without a t—r—a—c—e.”

Yom Kippur Sermon: Pursuing Justice for Israel

As some of you know, I tried really hard to get myself arrested in New York City two weeks ago.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I tried really hard to get myself arrested in New York City two weeks ago.  I have never been arrested.  Have never been in trouble with the law – except for a few minor traffic tickets.  But I was determined to get arrested on September 20th.

Unfortunately, despite juggling my schedule, getting Cheryl’s permission, finding flights – I didn’t get arrested.  Our dear friend, Amy Segal, Cheryl’s best friend and the mother of Abigail’s dear friend, Sabrina, passed away and was buried on September 19th.  Instead of spending time in a jail cell on September 20th, I was here in South Florida, in mourning, comforting my wife and daughter.  That is the only reason I was not arrested on September 20th.  Trust me, I would have much rather have been in jail.

September 20th was the day that the Palestinian Authority was set to ask the United Nations for Statehood.  Under the direction of Rabbi Avi Weiss and the organization Amcha, a group of Zionists, lovers of Israel, planned and actually did take part in organized, non-violent, civil disobedience – in the spirit of great leaders like Martin Luther King, Ghandi and Rosa Parks.  They blocked traffic in front of the United Nations, in turn, blocking an entrance to the UN in an attempt to symbolically stop the absurdity of the Palestinian bid for statehood going on inside the international institution.  Some were arrested for their actions.

Coming before the UN, attempting to get themselves declared a sovereign state based upon the infamous pre-1967 borders was a blatant attempt by the Palestinian Authority to undermine the need to talk to and negotiate with Israel.  The statehood bid destroys any attempt to revitalize the peace process.  It flies in the face of UN resolutions that call upon both Israelis and Palestinians to work together to create lasting, secure, peaceful and meaningful borders.  All of this, plus the fact that the UN has demonstrated over and over again just how anti-Israel it is, acts only to delegitimize Israel.  And let’s not forget that the Palestinian Authority, while demanding that the UN recognize her as a sovereign nation, refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and continues to support terrorism against Israel. And of course, we must not fail to mention Gilad Shalit, our Israeli soldier who has been held captive for more that five years by Hamas with whom the Palestinian Authority has signed a unity agreement.  As Gilad’s father stated in early September: “The Palestinian Authority cannot seek recognition or UN membership as long as they continue this international crime and hold Gilad without allowing him visits by a doctor or a Red Cross representative.”  But, the Palestinian Authority has done just this and Gilad is still held against his will with no visit from a doctor, no communication with the International Red Cross or his family.

As the organizers of the civil disobedience set for September 20th reminded me, there are times when standing safely on the sidewalk is just not okay.  When the safety, security and very future of Israel is on the line, when Israeli children live in fear of missile attacks from Gaza, when Israeli families are murdered in their homes and cars simply because they are Jews, when Israeli soldiers are held against international law – it is time for those of us, Jews and non-Jews, lovers and supporters of Israel, people of conscience to step into the street even if the police tell us not to.  Even if it is illegal.  We must do so peacefully, respectfully and with great pride.  As Martin Luther King Jr. taught us as he relied upon civil disobedience to fight for freedom and equality, “we should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.”” Sometimes we need to break the rules in order to bring awareness to something so very wrong and broken.  And the actions of the Palestinian Authority are very wrong and the UN is very broken.

I know some of you feel that my views and opinions on Israel are rather “hawkish” and right of center and, in many cases, I agree with you.  On the issue of Palestinian Statehood, however, I beg to differ with you.  My views on this issue are shared by virtually every major, mainstream Jewish organization – including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and the American Israel Political Action Committee, of which I am a proud member of the Washington Club.  Even more left leaning organizations, organizations that I don’t often see eye to eye with are opposed to the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN.  Our own government is opposed to it and has promised to veto any resolution pertaining to Palestinian Statehood that comes before the UN Security Council.  Tzipi Livni – the chief rival of Prime Minister Netanyahu – is also opposed to the statehood bid.

We Jews, we are a passionate people with many opinions.  You get 5 of us in a room, you will hear 10 opinions.  When it comes to Israel and how we will achieve peace there, I am used to healthy, lively, colorful debate with my Jewish brothers and sisters.  But, on the issue of Palestinian statehood at the UN, there seems to be a lot – not complete – but a lot of agreement within the Jewish community.

When I began to share with family and friends my intention to fly to New York on September 20th to take part in the civil disobedience before the UN, I was touched by the number of people – Jews and non-Jews – who told me that they too were opposed to the statehood bid and horrified by the way the UN treats Israel.  At the same time, however, I was disillusioned by the numerous requests I got from people not to “cause trouble in New York”.  People – many of you – some of you products of the 60’s, people who did or would have marched with Martin Luther King, people who admire the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the Bielski brothers whose story was told in the film Defiance, people who believe that we need to stick our neck out there for things we believe in – you called me, texted me, emailed me, visited with me  – urged me to be careful, not to get thrown in jail.  You were worried that I wouldn’t be tough enough.  You were worried that I would get hurt.  Scared.  Upset.  You were afraid things might get out of control and I might get caught up in something bigger than I expected.  You supported my cause.  But, you didn’t think I should get out there and take a stand.  You wanted me to stay in my nice little Ramat Shalom bubble.

Seth – one of our members here today – he bought a plane ticket and he went to NY.  He didn’t get arrested, but he represented us.  Cory  – another one of our members – offered to go with me and serve as my “bodyguard”.  A few of you offered to post bail for me.  But everyone else – mostly diehard, progressive, stand up for a cause, Israel supporting, proud Jewish, speak up when you see injustice kind of people – you were totally opposed to me taking part in any type of civil disobedience.  Some of you even admitted that you got arrested for standing up years ago against racism or Vietnam.  But you didn’t want me to get arrested for standing up for Israel.  And this truly broke my heart.

Today, I really don’t want to talk about Israeli politics and how to bring peace to the Middle East.  Today, I want to talk about what we are willing to do for us.  What are we, South Florida Jews, who despite economic challenges, live in a pretty good place, what are we willing to do – if anything – for the larger, global Jewish community?  I am not talking about money.  I am talking about giving of ourselves to help the Jewish world.  What do we do for our fellow Jews who are not safe?  What do we do for the countless Israeli children who live in fear of a terrorist attack?  What do we do for Israel when the world denies her justice – when the UN treats her differently from every other nation?  What do we do to secure Gilad’s freedom?  Do we go to a lecture on the issue, maybe sign a petition and go on our way?  Or are we required to stand up and do something?

I talked last night about Unetaneh Tokef, the prayer that reminds us that today, the Book of Life is sealed.  There are three things, according to Unetaneh Tokef, that we can do to insure that we make it into the book: tefillah (prayer), teshuvah (repentance) and TZEDAKAH (pursuing justice).  Can it be any more obvious that our tradition, our Judaism is screaming out to us: If you want to live – really live a meaningful life and be inscribed in the Book of Life this year – you have an obligation to stand up for what is right and speak out against what is wrong.  You have an obligation to put yourself on the line and insure that the scales of justice are balanced.  After all, this is what it means to pursue tzedakah.  We are led to believe that tzedakah means to put money money in a pushke. That is not tzedakah.  By doing tzedakah you do what you can to insure that goodness and righteousness and fairness and justice are upheld.  Yes, it is hard work.  But, it is what we Jews are expected to do if you want to live a meaningful, powerful life.  This is one of the lessons of Yom Kippur.

The past several months, I have watched from afar and envied the commitment and passion involved with the Arab Spring.  Young Arabs, many of whom would want nothing to do with your or me, or Judaism or Israel, have taken to the streets to protest their standard of living and demand a change.  And, in many cases, they have been successful (in ways that jeopardize Israel’s security – but that is another discussion).  As I have watched these Arab protests change the make up of the Middle East, I have wondered where the Jewish Spring has been!?  How about the Jewish Autumn?  Where is the outrage at the continued attacks on our people – the anti-semitic diatribes, the terrorist strikes, the murder of innocent Jews in Israel?  Where are the overwhelming Jewish calls for justice and reform within the halls of the United Nations?  Where are the thousands of Jews protesting the arrival of Ahmadinejad in our own country?  Where are the hundreds of Jewish parents demanding that Gilad is set free? Where were you when Seth protested in front of the UN on September 20th?  Where are we guys?

When we were in Israel this summer, we traveled to a kibbutz on the Lebanese border.  One of our goals while visiting the kibbutz was to have our two bar mitzvah boys, Aaron Lettman and Trevor Wilpon, plant two kiwi trees on the border.

As we prepared to plant the trees, our kibbutz host, Aitan, told us about the violence that has taken place recently along the Lebanese border.  He showed us the remains of a Ketusha rocket that was fired by terrorists into his neighborhood.  He handed us a kafiyah – a Muslim headscarf tied in a knot and filled with stones – it was used as a weapon against Israeli soldiers who were guarding the border this Spring as hundreds of Arabs, caught up in the fury of the Arab Spring, tried to force their way illegally into Israel in an attempt to undermine Israeli sovereignty.  No one had to ask where our soldiers were.  They were there – at the border.  They protected Israel.  Kept it secure.  That’s what they are always doing – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  That’s what they are doing right now.

Aitan showed us blood-stained foam lying in the fields by the border – foam left over from military stretchers that carried wounded Israeli soldiers back into Israel from Lebanon during the 2006 Lebanon War – a conflict in which Israeli tried to rid the region of the terrorist group Hezbollah.  One of the wounded Israeli soldiers brought back from Lebanon on one of those stretchers was Major Roi Klein who was actively rescuing some of his men in Lebanon when he saw a grenade being launched at them.  Without thought, without hesitation, Roi jumped in front of the grenade – saving his men – at the expense of his own life.  No one had to ask Roi to do what he did.  He was there – taking care of his men – or, his boys, as those of us who were in Israeli came to know them.

As we learned about Roi, we walked closer and closer to the border fence.  Aaron and Trevor holding the kiwi trees.  Aitan told us to look up the mountain that lay on the other side of the fence in Lebanon.  We did so and saw a fortress at the top.  “Wave to the Hezbollah terrorists” Aitan said.

And he wasn’t joking.

Everyone hesitated.  It was as if you could feel the group collectively saying to themselves “Oh my God – terrorists, what the heck do we do now…”

“Go on,” Aitan prodded, “wave!  Let’s sing Jewish songs.” And he started to lead us in Am Yisrael Chai – Israel lives, Israel is strong.

“Sing!” said Aitan.  “And wave,” he said.  We started to wave and sing quietly – still uncertain what exactly was going on…..

We got to the site where we were planting the trees.  “Keep singing, keep waving.”  Aitan said.  And we did so – except those doing the planting.   As we stuck the trees in the ground, he explained to us that we were doing exactly what Hezbollah doesn’t want us to do: “we are showing them that we are not afraid,” he said; “we are showing them that we are proud, we are showing them that they cannot stop us from growing our land, from living our lives, from being Jews.”

After we heard that, Aitan no longer had to ask us to wave or sing.  We got it.  We were there standing with, digging in, singing about Israel.

On this day of personal introspection – on this day when we commit ourselves to teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah (pursuing justice) – I am not asking you to become an Israeli solidier and put your life on the line like Roi Klein of blessed memory.  I am not asking you to get arrested with me in front of the UN.

I am, however, asking you to seriously evaluate how you, as a Jew, do meaningful tzedakah, for other Jews.  I am asking you to step off the sidewalk and into the street.  I am asking you: where are you now that Israel needs support?  I am asking you: what are you doing to insure that Israel is treated justly by the world?  How are you standing up to the anti-Israel bias in the UN?  How are you countering the hateful spewings of monsters like Ahmadinejad?  How are you proudly telling the world that Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish people live and will continue to live? These are questions we Jews must ask ourselves as we enter 5772.

Referring to the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King taught that “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

If we Jews don’t speak up and take a stand, the lies and distortions told on behalf of those out to delegitimize Israel and the missiles and bombs that come from Israel’s enemies will not be the greatest tragedy of this period of Jewish history.  Rather the greatest tragedy will be the appalling silence and lack of action by the Jews.

I end today with the words of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav – who teaches us: kol ha’olam kulo
, gesher tsar me’od, veha’ikar – lo lefached klal – the entire world is a very narrow bridge, the essential thing is to have no fear at all.

When it comes to Israel, we are living through very trying times right now.  We have a rough road ahead of us – a very narrow bridge.  But there is no time for fear.  Fear silences us.  Fear keeps us on the sidewalk.  Fear keeps us from acting.  The essential thing is to have no fear at all!  We must unite, hand in hand, arm in arm – just like they did on the streets of Selma and slowly, very slowly, cross the bridge.  With hands held and arms locked, we will make it to the other side.  And the nation of Israel will live.

Am Yisrael Chai!

 

Kol Nidre Sermon: The Butterfly Effect

We all know that 10 years ago, on September 11th, 2001, the world stood in horror as the United States was attacked by Al Qaeda.  What you might now know is that our emotions on that dark day and the days that followed were picked up by scientists who were monitoring “random number generators” that usually produce completely unpredictable sequences of zeroes and ones.

These scientists were part of The Global Consciousness Project, an international collaboration of experts who collect data from a worldwide network of 70 random number generators and look for patterns that should not be present in random number sequences.  When patterns are discovered, the scientists associated with the project assert that they reflect the presence and activity of a global consciousness – a collective, unified emotional force that has the ability to create change in this world.

On September 11th and in the days that followed, the random number generators across the globe began to significantly deviate from normal random number sequences and generate numerical patterns.  While many other significant events have caused the random number generators to spit out patterns, the patterns of September 11th were particularly extraordinary.  Scientists report that the probability is less than one in a billion that the patterns were due to chance and, thus, the scientists argue that their data proves the palpable power of our emotions – especially when these emotions are unified by a common event.

But, what happens when our emotions are simply our own?  When we feel something because of a mood or event that we think only affects us?  The Global Consciousness Project documents many major events, showing how the random number generators registered the world’s emotional response to these events.  But, our own private meltdowns, depressions, grumpy episodes and bad hair days are not documented by the Global Consciousness Project.  Does this mean that when we experience emotions apart from others, our emotions, while powerful to us as individuals, have no real power?  Are our emotions simply feelings we experience, feelings that have no effect on the people we share our lives with?

________

Tonight, we are taught that G-d is working diligently on the dreaded list – the list of those who will be inscribed in the Book of Life.  This list will be completed and sealed, we are taught, as the sun sets tomorrow evening and, at that moment, our fate, too, will be sealed.

Unetaneh Tokef, the haunting prayer that mentions all the horrific things that might happen to us if we are not sealed in the Book of Life, stresses that while preparing the list of names for the Book of Life, G-d takes into consideration every single detail of our lives – every one of our actions, every one our words, every one of our gestures, every aspect of our behavior from the past year.  God remembers everything – even the stuff we have forgotten.  It all defines who we are and determines if we make it onto the list.

Perhaps some of us have worked hard since Rosh HaShanah and sought forgiveness from others directly, worked to repair relationships that have gone awry this past year and fulfill commitments we have let slide.  This type of work, we are taught, helps to insure that we get inscribed in the Book of Life.

But, Unetaneh Tokef tells us that God remembers the bad stuff we forgot about.  What do we do about this stuff – or worse, what about the bad stuff we did this past year that we were totally oblivious to!?    How do we fix this stuff?

And, while we are asking questions, why not ask why we don’t we get a “pass” on some things?  I mean, no one is perfect – that is a fundamental principal of Judaism. How can we be expected to behave perfectly for an entire year!?  And how can we be expected to repent successfully if we can’t even remember some of the bad things we have done!?

And why does G-d care about every single thing we do?  Isn’t this overkill?

It is if you think the stuff we don’t remember or are unaware of is trivial.

On Yom Kippur, we are forced to acknowledge that every single one of our actions (even those we forget about or are oblivious to) define who we are.  They are all very important.  Nothing is trivial.  On the contrary, every one of our actions affects the world we live in.

______

Tom Shadyac is an award-winning Hollywood writer/director of popular movies such as Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, Liar, Liar, and Bruce Almighty. Following a bicycle accident in 2007, he suffered from post-concussion syndrome, a condition said to be untreatable and incurable. After months of isolation and virtually no communication from the outside world, his symptoms began to recede and he decided to use his filmmaking skills in a different way – in a serious, insightful way – to share with the world his thoughts on the meaning and the power of life.  The result: his documentary film entitled, I Am, which was released earlier this year.

In the film, Shadyac takes part in “The Yogurt Experiment” under the direction of Dr. Rollin McCraty, an expert on how our emotional wellbeing affects our lives.  Yogurt is a living system and, as such, will register a baseline reading when hooked up to a magnetometer. In the experiment, Shadyac is seated in front of a Petri dish of yogurt that is hooked up to a magnetometer and asked to recall various emotional experiences pertaining to his lawyer, his agent, his ex-wife.  As Shadyac’s emotions change, the magnetometer, which is connected only to the yogurt, changes – suggesting that Shadyac sends out emotional energy that affects the yogurt causing the needle on the magnetometer to move.

Shadyac’s interaction with the yogurt suggests that something as simple as a bad thought can affect those we share our lives with.   Now, you know this to be true!  You have been around someone who is in a bad place and they sap you of your good energy.  They drag you down and you, in turn, wind up dragging others down as a result…and a chain reaction of negativity takes place….Our negative thoughts and emotions have the potential to do the opposite of tikun olam – healing the world.  Our negative thoughts and emotions can hurt the world, by hurting one person at a time.

I hear some of you, “Oh come on, you are going to tell me that you are going to use some ex-Hollywood guy’s crazy experiment with yogurt to prove your point this Yom Kippur….”

Okay, I hear you…

So, let’s turn our attention to quantum physics – a topic that I am far from an expert on.  But, I have done some research on the “Entanglement Theory” – which, in a nutshell, teaches us that when two electrons are created together – and one is moved to the other side of the world – when something affects one electron causing it to react – the other one reacts as well.  Space, according to the “Entanglement Theory”, is an illusion.  The electrons are still very much connected.  Given that according to both religion and science we all come from the same source and, thus, so do the particles that define us, many suggest that the “Entanglement Theory” applies to us.  When we feel something, it affects others.  We are all entangled.  No event in our life only affects us.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Principal Investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of North Carolina, is a leading scholar within social psychology, affective science, and positive psychology. Her research centers on positive emotions and human flourishing and is supported by grants from the National Institute of Health.

Dr. Fredrickson has discovered that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads people to become more resilient to adversity and effortlessly achieve what they once could only imagine. Fredrickson’s research shows us that surrounding ourselves with positive emotions, and, thus, people who exude positive emotions, affects us!  These positive emotions enable us to see new possibilities, bounce back from setbacks, connect with others, and become the best version of ourselves.  Negative emotions do just the opposite.

So low and behold, quantum physics and the research of Dr. Fredrickson and many other experts only support the basic premise of Tom Shadyac’s interaction with yogurt.  Our emotions not only affect us, but the people around us.  Scientifically proven.  But, really, we all know this to be true from our own personal interactions.

Our negative behavior does not just belong to us.  When we are in a bad mood for whatever reason, we share it, like a bad cold, with the people in our life who, in turn, pick up on it and wind up sharing it with people in their life who share it with other.  Our bad mood in the morning can affect how our kids act at school, affect how we drive and, thus, affect other drivers on the road, affect our co-workers, affect how we treat our waitress at lunch, the cashier at Publix on the way home….and all those people we affected, they will pick up some of our negativity – grumbling about us or something we did, in turn, transferring our bad mood to somebody else.  Our bad mood has the power to affect a whole heck of a lot of people.  And, in the same way, our good mood has the power to affect a whole heck of a lot of people – in positive ways.

Hard to believe that we have so much power?

Well, let’s turn to science again:

In 1961, Edward Lorenz, a scientist, was using a numerical computer model to rerun a weather prediction, when, as a shortcut on a number in the sequence, he entered the decimal .506 instead of entering the full .506127. The result was a completely different weather scenario.

In a 1963 paper for the New York Academy of Sciences, Lorenz discusses this fascinating discovery.  He states that: “one meteorologist remarked that the findings suggest that one flap of a seagull’s wings could change the course of weather forever.” Later speeches and papers by Lorenz used the more poetic “flap of a butterfly’s wings”.   And the “butterfly effect” was born.

The butterfly effect refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location.

Our moods, the emotions associated with them and the way these emotions determine our actions, words, and behavior – have the potential to be just like a butterfly’s wings – affecting the person next to us, who, in turn, interacts with others and affects them.  Thus, our individual emotions have the potential to change an entire community of people for better or for worse.

Unfortunately, most of us are oblivious to the incredible power that our emotions have – particularly our negative emotions.  Do you remember every bad mood you were in last year?  Were you even aware how your bad moods affected the people around you?  Could you list every single person you treated poorly the last time you were in a bad mood, including the guy you unknowingly cut off on Broward Blvd. as you screamed into your cell phone at the person who got you into such a bad mood in the first place?  We foolishly think that our negative emotions are ours and ours alone.  But, we are wrong.  Our emotions, as private and personal as we might think they are, can transform others.  And this is what Tom Shadyac was trying to teach his audience with the yogurt experiment.  And this is what Unetaneh Tokef is trying to teach us by stating that G-d pays attention to everything – even the stuff we forget.

We are a lot more important, a lot more powerful, a lot more influential than we have been told we are.  One negative word from our mouth, one disdainful glance, one bad hair day can be the flap of a butterfly’s wings, quietly reeking havoc by hurting one person ever so slightly and causing them to behave in a way that hurts someone else and a chain reaction begins that causes our negative action to affect who knows how many people.

__________

I admit that I wrestle with the idea that G-d is up there evaluating us and writing a list tonight.  I am more comfortable believing that when we lead a life based upon God’s teachings and values – we inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life.  This being said, the fear and dread associated with believing that G-d is up there writing a list is an extremely important part of this awesome day.  It is this fear and dread that forces us to recognize that everything we do affects the world around us.  Our emotional outbursts, our quiet rage, our unspoken jealousy, our disdain towards others, our pessimism, our negativity affect us and the people around us.  Our individual emotions and actions might not affect the random number generators scattered across the globe….but they will affect our family, friends, co-workers and just about anybody else we come in contact with.  The lesson of this Day of Judgment is that just one negative action on our part can and will hurt the world because others will be hurt by our action.

As we stand in judgment tonight and strive to become better people, I want you to imagine yourself in the year ahead living a life in which you are in control of your emotions, you watch your words and you act always out of love and compassion.  It is something to aspire to.  Not easy – but unquestionably something we can each do.  It is not impossible.  And, I believe, if each of us in this room tonight were able to live a life like this – all 700 plus of us…we would get the attention of the random number generators; they would respond, picking up on a change in positive energy in Plantation…and this energy would, like the scientific research shows us, affect others in our lives…and it would spread, slowly, one person at a time – bringing positive change to the world.

I know it is hard to imagine this – a life where the glass is always half full, a life where negative thoughts and deeds are pushed aside, a life filled with a powerful, contagious positive energy….but I do believe this life is possible.  And the prayers of Yom Kippur teach us that G-d expects us to strive for such a life and embrace this positive energy.  It is why we are told that every single one of our actions is judged tonight.  G-d expects a lot from us.  G-d knows we can be better than we are now.  G-d knows that the negativity that fills so many of our lives doesn’t have to be.  This is why we have this day – this day where we are forced to look inwards and grow and change.  Now, we simply have to believe that we can do better – that we have the ability to do better for ourselves and the people who fill our lives.

No, our individual emotions, behavior, thoughts, words and deeds won’t affect the random number generators.  But, our emotions, behavior, thoughts, words and deeds will affect each other.  They are right now.  Tonight, we have the opportunity to discover that we have the power to lift each other up and positively change each other’s lives.  I say we go for it – one set of butterfly wings at a time.  I hope that you agree.

Rosh HaShanah Day 1 Sermon: Second Chances

If you had to come up with the musical soundtrack for your life, what songs would you select?  What melodies would capture the happy and sad moments?  What tunes would capture the things you wrestle with?  Would there be a theme to your soundtrack?

One of the first songs on my soundtrack would be “Cats In the Cradle” by Harry Chapin.  It is a song I remember singing in the back of my parents’ cars as I was growing up.

 

My child arrived just the other day

He came to the world in the usual way

But there were planes to catch and bills to pay

He learned to walk while I was away

And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew

He’d say “I’m gonna be like you dad

You know I’m gonna be like you”

 

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home dad?

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son

You know we’ll have a good time then

 

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away

I called him up just the other day

I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”

He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time

You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu

But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad

It’s been sure nice talking to you”

 

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me

He’d grown up just like me

My boy was just like me

 

Whenever this song came on the radio, my father would get very emotional.  He would cry.  I used to tease him about it.  I never really understood what upset him so much about this song.  That is – until I became a father myself.

If we were to actually create a soundtrack of our life, we’d probably be amazed at how  songs we know so well have taken on new meaning as we grow and change.

I learned many important lessons from my father.  He was incredibly successful professionally.  His work ethic, commitment to his career, talents and intelligence were things I was blessed to have as part of my life growing up.  But, despite having these “things” of his in my life, I rarely had him.  He was, like many men of his generation, a self-professed work-a-holic, rarely around and when he was, he was busy working – advancing his career.  I now understand why the lyrics to Harry Chapin’s song got to him.  It is as if he knew his professional drive was interfering with his role as a father but he couldn’t change.

Today, I too get emotional when I hear Cats in the Cradle – particularly the line where the little boy says: “I’m gonna be like him…you know I’m gonna be like him.”  What little boy doesn’t want to be just like his dad?  And what grown man doesn’t find a lot of his father in him, especially when he himself becomes a father?

It is so easy to become just like your parents.  Sometimes this is a really good thing.  I like to think that I have my father’s work ethic and his professional commitment.  But, at the same time, many of us struggle not to behave like our parents did – because we lived the effects of such behavior.  I could easily be a workaholic.  But, I know the emptiness that a missing father can bring into his children’s lives.  And while I am far from perfect and in a career that can make being an involved parent a challenge, I am committed to taming my inner-workaholic so that I can be as involved in my children’s lives as possible.  I enjoy “Daddy camp” over the summer.  I take my kids to school, pick them up most afternoons.  Spend real, quality time with them.  I go biking with Abby and play ball with Jonah.  I am there for homework, class performances and just hang out time.

Harry Chapin’s lyrics get to me today because they remind me of the time I didn’t get to have with my father.  And they remind me how easily I could have become the little boy in the song and grown too busy to find time for my own kids.

 

________

We read this morning about Abraham – probably one of the most important characters in the Torah.  He is best known as the father of Judaism.  He was the first person to embrace monotheism – the belief in one G-d.  He was so committed to G-d, that he was willing to do things that make us scratch our head and say “really”!?

Abraham might be known and looked up to as the father of our faith – but as the father of his boys, Ishmael and Isaac, he was not exactly a role model.  He was more interested in pleasing G-d than he was in loving and protecting his sons.

For those of us who whine about having a father who was a work-a-holic – we had it easy compared to Ishmael and Isaac!  We read today how Abraham threw his first son, Ishmael, out of the house because Sarah, his wife, wanted Ishmael gone.  Abraham consults G-d on the matter.  G-d tells him to appease his wife.  So, Abraham, always willing to listen to G-d, evicts his child – sending him and his mother, Hagar, to wander alone in the desert.  Loyalty to G-d trumps commitment to son.

Tomorrow, we will read how Abraham destroys his relationship with his second son, Isaac.  Wanting again to listen to G-d and be G-d’s faithful servant, Abraham, without hesitation, heeds G-d’s request to sacrifice Isaac on the top of Mount Moriah.  We know how this story ends.  Isaac was not sacrificed – although it was close.  Abraham goes so far as to bind his son and lift the knife to slaughter him before G-d stops him.  Again, Abraham shows no concern for his child.  Instead, he places G-d before the life of his boy.

Isaac survives the ordeal – but, his relationship with his father does not.  The Torah teaches us that Isaac leaves Mt. Moriah, the scene of the almost-sacrifice, without his father and never speaks with him again.

Isaac might very well have grown up, married and, following in the footsteps of his own father, developed unhealthy relationships with his children.  If he did this and if they had self-help books in ancient times, Isaac would have learned that his poor parenting skills were a result of his abuse at his father’s hands.  And he could have played the “victim”, blaming his parents for his own personal flaws.

Isaac is often seen as a much weaker character than his father Abraham.  He is nowhere near as powerful and prominent as his father was.  Isaac’s relationship with G-d does not appear to be as deep as the relationship that Abraham had with G-d.  But, on the other hand, Isaac did not develop poor relationships with his sons.  He somehow learned that when it came to the parent-child relationship – as with many things in our lives – we get a second chance.  While Isaac’s relationship with this father might have been less than desirable – as a father himself, Isaac knew that he had second chance to create a good father-son relationship with his twin boys – and this is exactly what he tries to do.

Before his sons were born, G-d tells Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, that the younger twin would  mess with the logical order of things and wind up ruling over the older twin.  If Isaac was like his father, this divine prophecy would have set the stage for the way Isaac treated his boys.  Isaac might very well have kicked his older son, Esau, out of the house, just like Abraham did to his eldest son, Ishmael.  This is not what happens, however.

The Torah tells us that Isaac loved Esau and appreciated his talents and skills as a hunter and man of the fields.  Betrayal and trickery at the hands of Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, who wanted Jacob to be the more powerful son, would insure that the prophecy concerning her twins would come true.  Thanks to Rebekah’s conniving ways, Jacob, the younger twin, would receive his father’s blessing.  As a result, Jacob would “replace” Esau as the firstborn son and rule over his older brother.  But, after Isaac learned that he had been duped into giving his younger son the blessing meant for his older son and, ultimately making the prophecy a reality, Isaac acts with compassion and love by improvising a blessing for Esau.  He did not need to do this.  Remember, he could have just tossed Esau out of the house and said, “sorry, your brother got my blessing…you are out of luck kid!”  But, Isaac is not his father.  And, so, he manages to bless both sons.

G-d and Rebekah wanted Jacob to be the powerful son.  But, Isaac insures that their desires did not leave either son feeling betrayed or unloved by their father (Certainly Esau felt unloved and betrayed by his mother and brother – that is a whole different story!).  Isaac, unlike his father, was willing to stand up to the wishes of G-d and bless both of his sons.  In the end, Esau still gets the short end of the stick, but he was never thrown under the bus by his father, like Isaac was by Abraham.  As a father, Isaac goes out of his way to comfort his victimized son.  In doing so, Isaac rebuilds for himself and his sons the father-son relationship that failed to protect him as a child.  In doing so, Isaac teaches us about the power of second chances.

One of the reasons we read about Isaac on Rosh HaShanah is to teach us that this day – this new beginning – is a day for second chances.  It is not a day that allows us to step into a time machine and be transported to a previous time in our lives so that we get a “re-do”!   This is not the Jewish idea of a second chance.  In Judaism, we call a second chance – teshuvah.   Teshuvah means turn.  When we do teshuvah, we reach back into the past and turn the negative consequences of something that already took place into positive, life changing lessons.  The goal of teshuvah is to insure that the result of a previous action is better than what would have been had it not occurred.   Teshuvah is not about erasing the past but, rather allowing the past to transform our present in a meaningful way.

As a result of being the son of Abraham – a man who rejected his first son and almost killed his second son all because G-d told him to do so – Isaac knew firsthand how a father can crush the souls of his sons.  He learned from his experiences and transformed the past, insuring that he did not follow his father’s footsteps.  This is teshuvah!

The story of Isaac the father, despite the deception of Rebekah and Jacob and the animosity between the brothers, does contain an optimistic spark. Isaac reminds us that we have the ability to avail ourselves of a second chance. Our past experiences, fate, destiny, God – none of these are the final arbiter of what we do with our lives.  If we act, we can turn a bad or unfortunate situation into something good.

Today is a day for second chances.  Today is a day to commit to breaking old habits, unlearning bad lessons, dropping the victim mentality and embracing the role of survivor.  Today is a day to work on teshuvah.

_________

 

It was during a recent game of catch with Jonah that it hit me – when it comes to the parent-child relationship – I have been given a second chance.  As I tossed the ball to Jonah and he threw it back to me, I suddenly found myself feeling emotional – simultaneously happy and sad.  Sad, because I had no memories of playing ball with my father.  Happy because I was lucky enough to be creating such memories with my boy.

This mix of happiness and sadness is what teshuvah is all about.  Many people get stuck in the sadness.  Regret of what happened in the past can overtake us.  We can become all consumed with being the “victim” of some bad relationship or traumatic experience.  Some of us beat ourselves up endlessly for our failings. But, this is not the Jewish way.  Judaism tells us to acknowledge those moments and events in our lives that left us hurt.  We should “feel” the emotions associated with these moments and events.  We must learn from these emotions.  And we must ACT in a way that insures that we and the people we share our lives with don’t have to repeat history – with hard work and dedication these emotions can be a thing of the past.  When we act and grow from our past – we get a second chance and this second chance is what we Jews call teshuvah.

You can’t ignore your past.  To try to do so is foolish and unhealthy.  We all have our “issues” – bad relationships, personal struggles and failures – that have the potential to define us if we let them.   The story of Isaac “the good father” reminds us that we don’t have to become the little boy in the Harry Chapin song.  We can change.  We all have a second chance.  In order to take advantage of our second chance, we must embrace the past.  We must learn from it and grow from it.  Teshuvah reminds us that our past is something that is simply a platform on which we can build the rest of our lives.  We can choose to stop growing and live our life on that platform – or we can use our past experiences as lessons that allow us to grow in new and exciting ways – rising high, rising strong.

The sadness that I felt as I played ball with Jonah was part of my process of teshuvah – part of accepting the past – accepting the fact that I was and still am sad that my dad and I didn’t have moments like I now have with my own kids.  If I only felt the sadness of the past – that would not be good.  That would be a sign that I was stuck and unable to change. Fortunately, the overwhelming feeling I had while playing ball with Jonah was happiness.  Happy to have this time with my son.  Happy to have this time for myself – to redefine the parent-child relationship for me.  Happy to be able to give this time to my kid.  Happy to have this blessing – this second chance to create a bond between father and son.

Today, this new year, is your time to embrace your second chances.  Today is the day to ask yourself: what parts of my past leave me empty, confused, sad, frustrated, embarrassed?  What parts of my life do I wish never happened? Ah, you can’t change the past!  But you can learn from it.  What can you learn from the darker moments of your past?  Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself or feeling guilty about your personal history.  Instead, do teshuvah, embrace your second chance.  Do so by first, promising yourself not to repeat the bad times in your personal history (and get the help needed to live up to this promise).  Second, learn from your bad experiences and mistakes, discover the wisdom that they contain.  Third, live the wisdom of your past.  When you allow your past to make your present and future richer, better, brighter, you have done teshuvah.

Once you have done teshuvah, once your discover that the challenging moments in our past are often our best lessons – you discover the meaning of the lyrics of another song on my personal soundtrack, lyrics by Rascall Flatts: “This much I know is true, That God blessed the broken road, That led me straight to you.”

This year, embrace your broken road, for it contains the lessons that will help guide you to your most precious blessings.