Sunday, September 13, 2015

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5776 - Ma Tovu: I Am My Prayer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5776 / Sunday, September 13, 2015
Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler, Congregation Am Echod in Lindenhurst
Ma Tovu: I Am My Prayer

Here we are.  On the cusp of a new year.  New congregation.  New rabbi.  In the Talmud, Rabbi Ishmael teaches, “Kol Hat’khalot Kashot”: All beginnings are difficult.

We should know; we all encounter new beginnings every day.  New school.  New job.  New relationship.   New pets at home.  New route to drive.  New place to get coffee.  New stage of life.  New transition to get used to.

But still, I think Rabbi Ishmael is only partially right.  Yes, all beginnings are difficult because they signal an end of the era that came before.

A loss.  A letting go.  A saying goodbye.  Sometimes the endings are sad even when we know they’re the right thing.  In order to start something new, we need to acknowledge the loss of what was.
But new beginnings are also exciting.   We go shopping for new clothes or supplies for that new job; we get new school supplies: crisp new notebooks, perfectly sharpened pencils, shoes without scuffs.  We meet new people and can start anew, leaving behind the traces of mistakes, embarrassing incidents with former co-workers, forgotten birthdays or deadlines or promises.

And, in our case, on Erev Rosh Hashanah we start the journey wherein we have the opportunity to start anew with God, with one another, and with ourselves.  We are given the gift of the opportunity to clean our slates: the year 5775 is now over.  The triumphs, the disappointments, the joys, the sorrows, the gains and the losses are now all in the past.

We stand poised to open to the first page of the book titled 5776.  What will be written on these pages?  Who will be the main characters this year?   Where will the action take place?  When you stand here one year from now, what will be in your heart and on your mind?  What will be the things you’ll cherish?  What will you regret?

The good news is, you’re the one with the pen in hand.

Imagine you’ve gone shopping for new supplies for the endeavor called The Year 5776.

What would you want in your briefcase or backpack so as to prepare for the year ahead?
If you were to write a Supplies Needed list, what would you be certain to get?

And, the supplies for your new year need not be things.  They need not be items you’d buy at Target or on

For example, here is my shopping list, the list of things I want to be sure I put into my virtual shopping cart:

First, I’d want to be sure to get HOPE.

Hope is what enables us to even look forward into a new year and imagine that it can and will be a good one.  I’ll need hope this year to help me to think positively, to believe that some of the most problematic challenges our world is facing might actually improve.  Hope is what protects me from despair.  Because it’s easy to look at the state of the environment, global climate change, governmental corruption, wars and violence, school children being shot and killed, natural disasters, and feel despair.  To believe that there’s nothing that can be done to improve the state of the world.  And that’s where HOPE comes in.  So I’ll be shopping for hope in abundance for this new year.  It’s the first thing I’ll need because I believe it’s the precursor for everything else.  Before I can start to make changes or rededicate myself to the things I most value, I’ll need HOPE to remind me that it’s all possible.  Things can get better.

Next, I’m going to need PATIENCE in this new year.  Because once I can see that change is possible and I look around me to find all of the many big and small things that need loving attention, it’d be easy to get overwhelmed and lose patience with the process.  After I have enough hope to believe in the potential for change, I’ll need PATIENCE because the work will be hard and the journey long.

Third, I’ll be seeking CALM.  Calm is something that’s hard for me to find, especially when faced with the grand task of improving myself, my life, and the world around me.  But CALM is necessary, even more so, when the challenges are real and difficult.  Calm is what provides perspective.  Calm lets me slow down, rest, regain energy, and refuel for the work still to be done.  And without calm, I know I’ll burn out, I’ll give up, and then I’ll find myself right back where I started.

Fourth, I’ll be sure to try to find some TIME FOR PLAY.  Play is where most big problems actually need to go.  I find that if I’m not playing, I come to take myself and everything around me too seriously and I run the risk of getting completely overwhelmed.  Play is where the problems can become abstracted, tossed about, set aside for a moment, only to come back home where they might actually find resolution.  PLAY might appear on the outside like it’s a break away from problem solving - but - the truth is - it’s where the best problem solving takes place.  PLAY gives the brain and the heart permission to get a little perspective and to re-enter the situation in a new way: perhaps allowing us to see everything differently.

In the past year and a half, I’ve learned how essential GRATITUDE is and how lost I’d be without it.  The rabbis teach that we’re to say 100 blessings every day - in an effort to pause throughout our daily routines and offer thanks for the many gifts - big and small - in our lives. In January of last year (2014), I started a daily gratitude practice called “365Grateful”.  Every day, I take a photo with the camera on my phone of something that makes me grateful, then I post it online with the # of 365Grateful.  It’s been transformative.  Sometimes I find I’m grateful for the blessing of Wireless Internet.  Sometimes (like last week), I’m grateful that my neighbor found our dog wandering in someone else;s yard and brought her home safely.  Other days I’m grateful for the changing leaves on the trees, summer rain storms, my family, my friends, a good Hot Chocolate with marshmallows.  My life is still the daily grind of work to complete by externally imposed deadlines, laundry to fold and put away, emails to return… but I find that GRATITUDE has made me different.  And so I know (I know) how much I’ll need gratitude in this new year.

Finally, when I go “school supply shopping” for my new year, I’m going to need FORGIVENESS.  Forgiveness is what I’ll need when I inevitably can’t - or don’t - (or other people can’t or don’t) measure up to my expectations.  I’ll need to forgive myself, my partner, my kids, my students, my teachers.  I’ll need to forgive God.  Because life is rarely what we want or expect all the time.

What about you?  What will you need for the journey ahead?

There’s a line in the liturgy that I’ve always loved - but I think is especially poignant in light of the idea of starting anew on the High Holidays.  It’s a line that’s otherwise buried in the fifth line of a prayer known as “Ma Tovu”.
Ma Tovu is a prayer acknowledging how good it is to be right here.  Right now.  In this sanctuary.  In this moment in history.  In this moment of our lives.  Today.  Here and Now.

And then in the fifth line of the prayer is this gem: “V’Ani T’filati”.  And I am my Prayer.  Wait.  I AM MY PRAYER?  What does that mean?

It means that I - We - Each of us - All of us - have the power to become a prayer.   To make our lives into a prayer.  We don’t have to wait around passively.  In fact, we can’t wait around passively.  We have to make the changes in our lives, in our expectations, in the way we speak, in the way we act… so that at the end of the day - at the end of the week - and at the end of the year, we can look back and see that our lives have become the prayer we were seeking.

What changes do you want to see in your life right now? 

BECOME those changes.
What do you most wish would be true in the world around you?
EMBODY them.  Dedicate your time-- your life -- to those causes, those people, those relationships, those goals you most desire.

Because You Are Your Prayer.

It’s a radical thought.  And a very Jewish one.  We believe that it’s our job to make this world better, to actively seek peace, to repair brokenness, to offer gratitude for the blessings all around us.

Tonight we are on the cusp of that reality.  We stand here at the beginning.  Let go of what was. On Erev Rosh Hashanah, there is the potential to start anew but we don't actually get a clean slate until after we've done the work of the High Holiday season. The essence of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that the clean slate is something you earn from your efforts of introspection, improving relationships with other people, self betterment, committing to trying to be a better member of society. 

Step proudly and boldly into this new opportunity.

Make the year 5776 the year you become the answers you most seek.

L’Shana Tova.  May there be much goodness for each of us in this new year.

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