Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon - 5779/2018
The Longest Con
Every Friday, The Hustle, one of my favorite technology news emails, ends with 5 witty sayings they’ve gleaned from the internet. Some of my favorites are:
Telephone poles are just trees with jobs.
Bean bags are just boneless sofas
Our planet is slowly rotating and tilting back and forth near a heat source, just like a rotisserie chicken.
When tough, street hardened rappers are rapping they are just reading us their poetry about their lives, their pain, fears and dreams.
One of the most powerful phrases to me the other week read:
Children are the most expensive thing you get for free.
Such a large truth in a small sentence. We give everything for our children, more than they can possible comprehend until they have their own children. Sometimes I think children are the biggest historical long con still running. We get married, we have big dreams and hopes and all of our parents told us what?
“Wait until you have children, it is amazing being a parent…having children is so wonderful…it is incredible watching your own children grow up. It will be the best experience of your lives.” The Greatest Con Ever! Con artists all of them! And then they all sit back laughing and watch us go through the same struggles they all suffered through. They hand back every grandchild with a smelly diaper and always hop them up on sugar and scary movies before returning them to us.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my children most of the time and I love most if not all of your children. But the parental/grandparental truths are shrouded in tiny little lies of omission that fail to warn us about the terrible twos, diaper blowouts, unending tantrums, emotional outbreaks with no seeming cause in sight, adolescence, teenaged rebellion etc. My Sam as a new born cried every minute he was in the car for almost the first year. We sold our house and moved thirty minutes closer to work in three months flat.
Even our best friends get in on the con.
“Oh my God, our son just sleeps through the night already.”
Or “You will love being parents, our daughter is so amazing, she took to feeding like a champ and almost started walking before she could roll over.”
Only your closest friends warn you about the sleep deprivation, the never ending crying sessions with no explanation, the difficulty of breast feeding and feeding in general. Everyone else, they are all in on the long con.
Let’s face it. Our parents just wanted to be upgraded to grandparents. It is their revenge and their joy. They get to see us struggle the way they struggled with us and get to spoil their grandchildren in order to make us experience challenge levels like a horribly escalating video game that gets harder and harder as each year passes. How many times have we heard “But Grandma lets me have ice cream for breakfast!” Exactly.
Our friends just want us to be like them, exhausted, overwhelmed and someone else to talk with about the hardships of parenting. And the worst part, not a single one of us or our children ever came into this world with a user’s manual.
How many new parents have been heard yelling “Sweetie, where is the chapter to shut off the baby or at least to turn down the volume? Hold child close…did that…bounce a little…did that…sing a little song…check…Honey!!! It’s not working!!! I’ve read the manual and done everything it says and I still can’t get the volume control on this thing to regulate. How do you reset? How do you reset?”
Sure, you can buy a lifetime of baby books, toddler books, communicating with your teen books, how to translate millennials manuals, but they will only provide certain non-child specific advice that may or may not apply to your specific child. Most of the technical guides are too technical and don’t really teach us how to respond in the moment to our actual kids.
“In case of emergency, make sure to lock yourself in your room when you feel a murderous rage over take you at the absurd logic of your seven year-old at dinner, bedtime, breakfast, when leaving the house, at times when said child is just breathing…
…Apply facial lotion or muscle cream when your jaw clamps from too much fake smiling when trying not to comment on the outfit your (insert random age) child just walked out of the house in.
Make sure to stock adequate quantities of your favorite beverage, candy, ice cream, donuts or cookies when trying to compensate for the insane feeling of being overwhelmed and underprepared when handling your specific child or children.”
As Jews the Torah exists as our original operator’s manual. The book of Leviticus lists so many rules and procedures that we can’t even hope to follow them all. This overload of rules and procedures causes so many of us to believe we have to be perfect in a system where the rules are constantly changing and our life situations shift like sand in the desert in every given moment. What are our measurements of successful parenting when we feel like we are always hanging on for dear life and that our strength will give away any moment?
Our Biblical grandparents were all far from perfect. In the Torah they failed miserably time and time again. Tomorrow we will read about a parent who God told to sacrifice his son, and Abraham says “Yep, no problem, sacrifice son on random mountain God indicates. Got it. On the to do list. Sacrifice my own son. I’m sure it will be a great day for hiking and being outdoors.”
Now many of us understand on certain days it is not difficult to consider a request from God to sacrifice one of our children. And yet none of us can truly fathom the idea of sacrificing any of our children. We might nibble on one once in a while when we ponder eating them, but not out and out Biblical Sacrifice on a mountain.
What God of ours would ever ask this of a parent who faced years of infertility with his wife to bring this beloved child into the world?
You also have Noah, who after a night of blackout level drinking after surviving the flood, banishes one of his sons because of his drunken behavior. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, raises sons who sell their brother Joseph into slavery and let their father think Joseph is dead for almost twenty years. Against those scores I think we are all doing a pretty good job.
Biblical Parents are horrible models while at the same time exemplifying fortitude, determination and perseverance. We send our kids to summer camp. Our ancestors invented camping as a lifestyle. Our Biblical ancestors dealt with so many of the situations that we and our children continue to deal with, addiction, self-esteem, anxiety, acceptance, technology, bullying, fear of the unknown. They did their best and still, as so often happens, they would say go left and their children would go right.
If we skim through Noah and don’t pause so many of us miss his alcoholism. Too often we think of the Noah of cartoons, surrounded by happy to be alive animals, we don’t think of someone who can’t control his drinking, his emotions, his shame or perhaps even his post-traumatic stress from the ordeal of the flood and the depression accompanying being surrounded by the devastation afterwards.
As an operator’s manual the Torah doesn’t look deeper into the despair or help us when our lives, our families, our children overwhelm us. The Torah doesn’t dwell on Noah’s alcoholism, Jacob’s depression and grieving for Joseph’s death. Moses feelings of being overwhelmed and inadequate to the task set before him by God. In our lives, we isolate ourselves and hide when we become overwhelmed by our own imperfections, hiding if we or a family member has been overcome by , anxiety, depression or any of the too numerous to count addictions that affect so many of our lives. We often circle the wagons in shame unable to seek comfort and help from all those around us who love us.
I’ve listened time and again to friends slowly putting their lives back together after alcoholism or addiction brought them to their knees. I’ve become practiced at listening knowing that all the advice in the world won’t help until my friends begin to listen to their inner voices leading them towards healing. Thankfully many have found the right professional help, modern medication and found the strength towards living sober lives. We all know some who have not been so lucky.
We’ve been told all our lives by the Torah that we are imperfect and should never strive for perfection because it is impossible to achieve. And yet when we look at our children as babies, as they grow, as they learn we see perfection in motion. Not the unrealistic, unattainable perfection of books, movies, television and magazines, but the realistic one of watching our young become their individual selves while doing the best they can.
Throughout our own lives we’ve strived to be our best selves, our successful selves, the person we would love to be. Some days we succeed. Some days we don’t. The difference in each of us is how much of ourselves do we accept unconditionally while trying to live up to all the external expectations we put upon ourselves?
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about accepting ourselves as perfectly imperfect. It is about letting go of last year and so many yesterdays in order to live today and reach tomorrow. It is about asking for help when we need it and knowing how to accept the love and support of those there to catch us when we fall.
We are the creators of our own best operator’s manual. WE must learn to write the rules and agreements that allow us to be our best selves and create a meaningful life surrounded by our blessings and unconditional love.
I stand here today to tell you that you are not alone. I stand here today as someone who has failed at parenting as much as I’ve succeeded, to tell you that you are not alone. I stand here today to tell you that God and the Torah fail us as much as they lift us up and help us understand more of life. The secret is in finding the beauty in our imperfections and learning from our mistakes towards raising our families. The secret is in accepting that we each create our own operator’s manual for raising our family and living our lives, and it will just need to be good enough.
Our Torah is filled with lessons and insight to remind us all that struggle is in integral part of our human condition. Suffering is part of life, the great teacher that illuminates our blessings when we suffer great loss or recover from great trials. God is the strength we need when trying to live our lives the best we can while imparting any wisdom we have to the generations we’ve brought into the world. If we can’t tell at this point that God has no idea how to parent us as much as we often feel we have no idea how to be parents or children then we aren’t paying attention.
Humanity is the ultimate proof that God struggles with parenting as much as the rest of us. If most of humanity fails to listen to the beauty of creation and take care of each other, how can we expect to do better than God? And yet God is the beauty of your child asking the most precious questions. God is in a bedtime request for five more butterfly kisses. God is the wonder of watching your children grown and learn. God is in the moments where we just may have gotten it right for once.
God is in recovering after a long day of struggle and doubts. God is in the hugs you hope will never end, after life moments that turned out all right, sometimes changing our lives forever. God is potential. God is beauty. God is creation. God is the love we try to fill our lives with as we work so hard to do better than the tragedies that fill our world.
My hope for you all this year is that you breathe more, be kinder to yourself and in your peace be kinder to those you love in your life. Find understanding that we are all doing our best each day, including our children, who push and pull and stretch us to the limits of our understanding and patience. We are all children of someone and we are all children of God. We constantly push back at our lives in regret, frustration, misunderstanding, anger, pain, sadness. We forget how loved we are and thus forget that in the infinite nature of love we can love unconditionally without fear of running out.
The beauty in the universe is God’s unconditional love for us. Listen to your heart. Listen to your spirit and accept that only you can create an operator’s manual that works for you and your family. The Torah is just a guide book, an instruction manual of human strife filled with successes and failures that we might learn from. Fill this year with love and light for self and family so that the whole world may be filled with the light we carry deep within each of us. May you be written for a sweet and healthy new year.
Cayn yehi Ratzon – May this be God’s will - L’shanah tovah!
Rosh Hashanah - 5779 09/10/2018
Loving Ourselves Unconditionally
On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the creation of the world. Whether science, God or both, we cannot deny the existence of the world and the universe that we live in. Creation is wonderous. I love when people deny any possible existence of a creator. I don’t need to change minds, but I ask them, where did the first seed come? Then I watch for that look of certainty slip from their face? They struggle to explain the unexplainable. It is a Chicken or the Egg type question.
If there is no Creator, where did the first seed come from and why are there so many species of plants? There needed to be millions of first seeds for us to live on this incredible planet and thrive as we’ve had for millions of years. This experiment we call planet earth could not have possible started with a single seed.
If you try to tell me the seeds were in the big bang or flying through space I call bull, because if you’re telling me they survived whatever the Big Bang was with all the heat and cold and the vacuum of space to get here it still doesn’t explain where they came from. We live in this paradox of existing in the middle of creation without any real understanding of how it all came to be. Some argue their belief of total universal randomness. Others argue about a Universal Creator that had all of existence in mind creating everything we experience. Many of us just accept a belief in both possibilities coexisting simultaneously.
The first words of our Torah describe how there was nothing. There was darkness and Chaos, God brought order to the chaos and somehow billions of years later we are sitting here celebrating creation and all the wonders we experience every day. My belief is that God created the universe out of love. Pure love, unconditional love, a love we try to understand in everything we do. We all try to understand our existence in our every breath, in our work outs, on our jogs, in our cars, on our boats, when traveling, when resting, we want to know what any of it means, if it means anything at all. We strive to understand meaning in our daily existence.
Our planet is perfectly placed to afford us our world and our lives. Only love can explain how all this came to be in the middle of a solar system that has no other planet even close to Earth in any of its characteristics. There may seem to be great randomness in the universe, but we all know there is great order and purpose in much of creation as well. While the universe can be pretty rough and dangerous it is also filled with great beauty and amazement.
Following the creation of the world, and all that fills it, God creates Adam and Eve. They have two children. That’s where all the trouble starts! We’ve been struggling ever since. Cain and Abel, the first sons, the first story of self-doubt, low self-worth and eventually fratricide. Cain does everything in his powers to be noticed and appreciated by God and it isn’t enough.
Genesis chapter 4 verses 2-8 read: "Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.
This is where the problems begin. When we feel, somehow, we have fallen out of favor, or feel that the sun shines only on our siblings or everyone else around us.
So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him."
Nothing God said helped. None of those words changed how Cain felt about himself, his brother, how he perceived God perceived him. This moment described the first feelings of inadequacy caused by the perception of God’s love being conditional. No matter what Cain did he didn’t feel it would ever be enough to please God. Cain feels jealousy, resentment and animosity towards his brother Abel. Cain felt God’s love was conditional and finite. There was never enough for him.
Too often we feel like Cain. We feel like the love in our lives is conditional, we feel ongoing resentments, we feel as if we will never be enough. When we don’t believe in God we don’t allow ourselves to believe there is a lifeforce greater than our own that brought all this into existence for a reason. We either question everything, question nothing, sometimes doubting our own purpose for being here, wondering what does it all mean.
If we do believe in God, but believe that God’s love is conditional, the words of Torah too often cause us to feel as if we will never be enough, that we are constantly failing, and can never measure up. This can be compounded by feelings and emotions we still carry from growing up where we struggled, felt alone, disconnected.
So many of us experience moments in life where none of it seems to make sense.
Cain became despondent and takes his inner turmoil to the most extreme outcome. He kills his brother, Abel. If the first son, of the first family, suffers like the rest of us and struggles with feelings of inadequacy and never living up to God’s expectations how are the rest of us expected to feel? If it isn’t bad enough when we feel we are inadequate to the task during the rest of the year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur add extra emphasis towards our feelings of inadequacy. We gather together knowing our personal failings and trials while the words of the service and the stories of the Torah make it seem as if none of us will ever be good enough for God.
This premise, of God’s love being conditional, is broken. God offers only unconditional love. Unconditional love if we fail or if we succeed, unconditional love on our best days and on our worst. Unconditional love no matter what. Life and existence are challenging enough without believing we fail to live up to God’s expectations. Rosh Hashanah emphasizes how if we return to God, and do our best, God returns to us as much as we return to God. In reality however, it is more that we awaken to remember that God’s unconditional love never abandons us.
Too much of the Torah emphasizes how we will never live up to God’s expectations. This is no way to live. I believe this is where the Torah fails us. We all understand that there are days, weeks, months and years where we do everything right and nothing seems to work. Some of us know other times when everything seems to go our way and all skies are blue.
We do our best at work, we get let go in a down economy. We exercise and diet and still suffer illnesses and injuries. We take the right vitamins, read the right books, listen to the right motivational podcasts and still success and failure, health and illness, happiness and sadness ebb and flow throughout our daily lives.
Like Cain, how many of us still deal with our own anxieties, self-esteem issues, body issues, feelings of failure, feelings of wanting to be accepted for our true selves?
At what point do we silence our inner monologue of abuse, stop being our own worst enemy, stop bullying ourselves, stop demeaning ourselves with our own internal voice and remember that we are our own greatest champion, the one true person we should be able to expect unconditional love from? At what point do we remember that the voice of God is the loving one that makes us feel good about ourselves, helps us feel hopeful? At what point do we remember that to silence the voice of the judge, that inner critical voice, we only have to yell stop within our own minds?
I’ve always used music to change my mood and change my life. Since my earliest memories, music has always given me the ability to fly in my own soul and within the very essence of my being. Sure, we all know songs that make us sad, lonely or remind us of moments lost, full of regret. TURN THOSE OFF. We ALL broke up with someone when we were sixteen. Let it go! You control your own play list!
When I feel an absence of God’s love, which is really an absence of my own unconditional love for myself, I turn to my soundtrack of rock anthems, pounding drums and guitar heroes who have always helped me remember who I am, what I’m capable of, filling me with an energy that allows me to climb the greatest heights.
I recently listened to an audiobook biography about Led Zeppelin. I learned that their drummer, John Bonham, considered the greatest drummer in the history of rock music, suffered from depression and anxiety. His own excessive drinking lead to the tragic circumstances that caused his death at only 32 years of age. In 38 years since his death, no one has surpassed Bonham’s skills as a drummer. In just the 12 years between December 1968 and September 1980 John Bonham played his passion into the hearts of the world and into the Rock music history books without ever dealing with his depression or his anxiety. The best of all times at what he did, and yet couldn’t repair himself, refused to use his success to count all his blessings and save his own life.
Bonham wasn’t the nicest musician in history. On tour he was known to be a mean drunk. Yet, at home, he was a completely different person surrounded by his family. On tour he drowned his anxiety and depression from being away from his family with too much alcohol and drugs. At home he found peace and thrilled at being with family and lifelong friends. At 31 he could have walked away from music forever, never playing another song and he would have remained in the history books, having changed rock music forever. Instead his own depression and anxieties caused him to feel as if none of it would ever be enough. John Bonham didn’t love himself enough to protect his own life, to insure he could see his children grow up and thrive.
For decades we’ve watched some of our most talented and cherished artists self-destruct because their personal demons get the better of them, Elvis, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimmie Hendrix, Townes Van Zandt, Prince, John Belushi, John Candy Chris Farrley, and recently Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.
When we watch our heroes fall, how do we make sure we have the tools to prevent our own crash? We all fail at some point during the day, week, month or year. None of us are perfect. But even through our human frailty we must strive to remember the unconditional love surrounding us, holding us in its safety net.
Our only job in life is to learn to love ourselves as much as God loves us in order to bring our best into the world. This allows us to love our parents, siblings, children and friends unconditionally which allows all of us to thrive and bring more love into the world which opens up the possibility of bringing a lasting peace into the world. Feeling loved and accepted for who we are is the greatest feeling in the world. It allows us to feel weightless and free. It allows our spirits to soar and our minds to grasp that we can accomplish anything we set our minds and our hearts to.
This year I want you to practice unconditional love for yourself. Be less self-critical. Be more supportive and loving of yourself. Live in the moment, not in the past or in the future. Be present to your needs. Appreciate your successes and learn from your failures. Don’t beat yourself up. Embrace who you are like you’ve never done before in order to love all you’ve become in all your years of trying, growing, learning, teaching and being. The world needs more love now more than anything else. It needs more tolerance, more understanding, more kindness, more cooperation, more peace.
The V’ahavtah reads You shall Love Adonai Your God, will all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. God is truly within all of us, thus you are commanded to Love yourself with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. If we all accept ourselves as enough, then together we can be enough to bring enough peace and love into the world to change all the things we see wrong in it.
God, our creator, embodiment of love in the universe, please give us the strength to understand our own value in this world and to hold our own souls with unconditional love so that we may be our truest selves and bring our brightness and full love into the world to make it a better place. May you all be written for a healthy and sweet new year.
Cayn yehi ratzon – May this be God’s Will – L’Shanah Tovah
Erev Yom Kippur Sermon - 5779/2018
Ask for Help, Do it yourself or Leave it Alone...
In a few weeks, after being a rabbi for over 13 years, I will officiate my 150th wedding. I do my best to teach my couples a few pointers I’ve picked up over the years from working with so many different individuals and from personal experience.
Now, let me be clear before I continue, my wife is very understanding, beyond supportive and I love her dearly, but in every couple’s lifetime there are moments that defy explanation.
On occasion, I have hurt my wife’s feelings without even knowing I did anything wrong. To begin with, I used to think I was funny. I’ve been a student of comedy all my life, and I had picked up a few bad habits from my favorite comedians. For example, I love Steve Martin. I used to think it was funny when my wife asked me to do something to answer like Steve Martin in a resounding “Nooooooooo,” and then I would nicely get up and do whatever request my wife had made. It took her years to work up the courage and finally break it to me that she didn’t think I was funny at all when I did that.
Being a little wise, and a bit of a wise guy, I simply say “yes dear” and act out my Steve Martin routine in my head, reinforcing my belief that I am in fact funny, and completing her task in a polite, timely manner. Win-Win, right?
Once, I got in trouble for not drinking a protein shake that I didn’t know existed. You heard me correctly, I upset my wife by not drinking a drink I never knew existed. Now in my defense, which we all know is indefensible, I was running late for Torah study, I was focused only on getting out the door and getting to work on time and never even entered the kitchen to see my wife’s beautiful and nutritious, homemade concoction sitting there so lovingly on the counter.
Don’t even think about questioning whether my wife gave me proper notice said drink had been prepared in my honor. If she has the power of omniscience, she assumes that I should know all things at all moments as well.
So, you can imagine my lack of understanding upon returning home from work when she was quite upset that I had simply left the drink I didn’t know about on the kitchen counter untouched. That’s right, I’m an ungrateful, rabbinic swine of a husband. Please tell her you agree with her, it is safer for all of us if you never agree with my logic or rationale.
Now I happen to be a bit of a fanatic when it comes to language and efficiency of speech. Why use ten words when five will do? Ask a direct question and you will get a direct answer. I also hate stupid questions that aren’t the real question. One question that bothers me is when my wife asks me
“Whose cup is this in the sink?”
Now in my mind our kitchenware belongs to the collective we, the royal “We,” but for sanity’s sake, let’s assume the cup formerly belonged to me in an earlier breakfast setting only moments earlier. To me the question is dumb. My wife doesn’t care about the ownership of the cup. She cares that I didn’t put it directly into the dishwasher, which once again with my omniscient skills equal to hers, I should have known was dirty and was waiting for me to deposit said dirty cup.
Here is where I keep all my jolly retorts to myself, gently get up from the table and happily place my dirty cup into the dishwasher because as an adult my love for my wife is greater than my childish need to say something too smart for my well being. I don’t need to start a fight or need anyone to clean up after me and am very happy that I am loved, appreciated and still married to my remarkable wife. God knows she doesn’t tolerate fools, but seems to be fond of keeping me around with all these foolish notions I keep in my head.
I take these marital learning moments and try to teach my wedding couples how to communicate with the utmost confidence and efficiency.
I teach them: Don’t ask stupid questions if you don’t want a stupid answer…ask only smart questions.
I also teach that there are three ways to handle domestic chores in a home.
Ask for help.
Do it yourself.
or leave it alone.
I try to teach my couples that if they can eliminate a single repeating argument for a lifetime they might do away with as many as 100-1000 small arguments about cleaning the house and helping each other. If they learn to ask the right questions and be direct they will potentially eliminate the constant buildup of resentment and partner frustration.
Ask for Help - If you need help ask for it. If you want your partner to do something for you ask for help. If your partner forgot to do something you needed done, tell them nicely and ask for help. Don’t add your emotions to the task when the task is neutral and inoffensive to begin with. Most partners love being asked for help because it makes us feel needed. If it is our task that needs our attention we appreciate the gentle reminder that you need us to clean up after ourselves so that you don’t feel burdened and responsible for everything.
Do it yourself - If you know something wasn’t left out or put in the wrong place on purpose then do it yourself. Move it or clean it yourself because at the moment it is only bothering you. Do it as part of the team and don’t keep score and build up unnecessary resentment. Don’t expect applause just because you did something that needed to be done. If you want it done right then you have to do it yourself. But if you believe it is someone else’s responsibility then choose the third option.
Leave it alone - Sometimes the house needs to be left alone until the whole team can address the issue, or you must leave it alone knowing you will do your best to get to it later. This is the option of least resistance, but it adds a lot of mental strain because we often carry with us what we didn’t get done at home and stress about it all day. We need to be able to let things go and know that later will have to be good enough. Often, if you utilize your resources, in this modern age you might, call, text or email your family and ask for help and have it taken care of before you return home.
What happens if we don’t use these rules is that many of us end up keeping score. That’s not my plate, I didn’t make the mess, who the hell tracked mud into the house? None of us should ever go around our house keeping score of what chores we will deign to do and what chores we wouldn’t be caught dead doing. That is a sure way to achieve an early death at the hands of a resentful partner. If we all view menial tasks as neutral then it is easy to accomplish a task if we are closest to the chore. If we all learn to communicate our immediate or future needs then our family should understand our expectations.
If the sink is full and I am the one home the most during a day I don’t put name tags on the dishes and touch only the items I used. I don’t text everyone or send pictures of said sink to find out proper ownership of each item so that I can write down in some imaginary book which culprit left me a full sink. Half the time I don’t eat breakfast so I already know one cup is mine and the rest is not. My years of learning have taught me that the sink is mine and the dishes are mine because they are sitting patiently in my home for my attention. The situation is neutral unless I fill it with resentment. The dishes belong to my household, my clan, my pack and they need me to make the time to empty the sink and fill the dishwasher in order to have enough place settings ready for the dinner crowd.
Our partnerships, and home lives, are fraught with miscommunication and misunderstandings. Our spaces get cluttered, our sinks always seem to be full, our laundry always has several loads needing to go in and several more needing to be folded. Domestic responsibilities are a never-ending cycle necessary to maintain our domestic lives and none of them are gender specific. Our only true goal is peace, understanding, love and cooperation. What we wish for and work towards in our homes is what we wish for and hope for in the world.
As Jews we have been communicating and dealing with domestic issues since the book of Genesis. Most of the arguments and disagreements were about tending to the flock, cleaning out the tent, and why do we have to have goat stew for the three hundredth night in a row?! To which we often heard back…If you don’t like it cook dinner yourself!!
Our Torah is one of the greatest advice columns ever passed down through history. It contains lessons, history, moral codes, chronology and the beginnings of our genealogy. What does this have to do with wedding couples, partnerships and marriage? As Jews we only exist because of our historical ability to communicate our beliefs, and pass down our rituals. Our ancestors worked together to transmit our history, our culture, our beliefs and teach us the ability to communicate the idea of a peace filled world throughout history.
It is filled with practical advice:
Don’t trust talking snakes.
Playing hide and seek with God is futile, especially if God is angry with you for taking God’s food from the fridge.
Don’t tell the king your wife is your sister and then be surprised when said king wants to marry your sister.
Listen to your dad when he tells you not to tell the king that your wife is your sister.
Listen to your wife.
Clean up your own mess.
Always check under the veil to make sure you marry the right sister.
If you don’t check under your bride’s veil don’t be surprised when you wake up with the wrong sister. The first plague should always be enough when deciding whether to listen to God or God’s messenger.
The rest of history and our current world crises teach us what a failure to communicate leads to. We all know relationships that work and we all know relationships that don’t. We all know highly successful marriages and we all know of incredible relationship failures that end in bitter divorces. We’ve watched the Israelis and Palestinians fail to communicate for over 70 years, watched parts of the Muslim world fail to come to terms that Israel is here to stay unless they want a tremendous war that solves nothing.
The world we live in, the national and international relationships we watch thrive and crumble are all hinged on the balance of communication. A successful marriage is based on mutual respect, mutual trust and the ability to honestly communicate one’s needs, wants and desires. Our global leaders, especially those in Israel and Palestine have lost the ability to see themselves as life partners, have forgotten how to align their goals and desires.
There is a severe problem in the world where most of the international disputes are between male leaders who believe global politics is a zero-sum game. Humanity and the survival of the human race is a global issue. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a symptom of, not the cause of global unrest. Israel is the eternal scapegoat for the world not wanting to deal with its racist, nationalist, anti-Semitic, anti-zionist beliefs and isolationist tendencies.
It is easy to blame Israel and the Jewish people for refusing to change who we are and what we believe. We have always been threatened with death and annihilation for holding on to our heritage and culture. Those threatening us never look inward and question whether their beliefs are the actual basis of most global problems.
What marriage survives if partners berate each other every time they disagree? What marriage survives, lies, intrigue, spying, character assassination, abuse, violence, self-sabotage, self-destructive behavior? And yet in global politics and national politics we think that somehow, we will run things smoothly if we berate each other, treat our adversaries like enemies and malign the intelligence of everyone who disagrees with us? Just using the word adversary or enemy for a political opponent who holds different beliefs sets up a toxic relationship that is meant to be a necessary partnership and not constant ideological combat. We are too evolved as a species to believe we need to fight over every single opposing idea.
The change begins with us. How we use words and how we use language to communicate with each other. In our homes we need to be gentler with our words and with how we express our needs and wants. I try to train all my brides and grooms to a modern standard where nothing is worth fighting about if it isn’t some giant betrayal of the bedrock of their relationship. Sure, we all get hangry, angry when hungry, or short tempered when we are tired or dehydrated. But if we can control our bickering, the tone with which we address each other, we will be able to bring more peace into our homes and teach more about peace to our children.
If every citizen of earth could truly focus on the peace in their home, then I believe we can focus on bringing peace to our cities and to our nations in order to make sure our leaders understand what true partnership is all about: communication, sharing, honesty, commitment to common goals, cooperation, respect and mutual support.
What’s my secret beyond the three rules I believe in? I also do my best not to allow my feelings to be hurt over every little small thing. I don’t get overly sensitive or believe that my wife would ever want to hurt my feelings or make me feel small. It has taken years to learn this self-control. I control my emotions, my reactions and my belief system in hopes of being a better partner and better communicator.
In my heart, for the world, peace is a moment away. It is the single moment when every human accepts that killing and hatred is not the way. Only respectful communication will get us anywhere. Our self-proclaimed enemies must put down their hatred and come to peace talks with an open heart. In order to truly achieve the peace they want for their families and nations they must give up their desire for destroying Israel or America or the modern world in order to assure their survival and that of all they love.
Peaceful and respectful communication is the only way to negotiate an unbreakable peace. We must put down all hatred and intolerance in order to communicate in the language of global love, understanding and acceptance. The Jewish people are skeptical optimists. We know our history well. We see both potentialities for the world at the same time. We see the potential for full scale, global holy war over nothing we can prove and we see the possibility of a peace where all religions preach tolerance in the same instance. Communicating in the language of love and respect is the only answer to mend the world.
May we find forgiveness in our hearts and give forgiveness as the greatest gift we can give. May we all be written for a sweet and healthy new year. And may my wife someday forgive me for lacking the ability to read her mind and know things before she tells me what I need to know.
Cayne yehi ratzon – May this be God’s Will - L'Shanah Tovah Metukah
Yom Kippur Sermon - 5779/2018- Some Days I Hate Being Nice
I know that Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe are a time for self-reflection and atoning for our wrongs we put out into the world. But I have to say, some days I’m tired of being nice to the world, some days I wish we were back in the days of a vengeful God, a God who removed our enemies from the world with an outstretched arm.
I love being nice, I love loving the people who surround me in my life, all of you and your families, my family, the families of the Jewish community of Chicago, my community built up of Jews and non-Jews, diverse, vibrant, tolerant and thriving. But I’m so tired of being nice to the rest of the world who just don’t seem to get it.
I’m tired of being nice to the Muslim fundamentalists who just don’t seem to get what it means to coexist with the rest of the world. I’m tired of the fundamentalist Jews who think we don’t know that they disdain the rest of us Jews, see us as non-Jews and heretics. I’m tired of the fundamentalist Christians who think their way is the only way and the rest of us will spend our eternity in hell because we didn’t join their self-righteous club on earth. Now don’t get me wrong, I love like-minded, fill the world with love, Christians, Muslims and Jews who believe in tolerance, acceptance, peaceful co-existence, and understanding.
I hate the haters. I hate those who ruin our world and bring death and destruction into the world over ideologies they kill for and most often die trying to defend. I’m tired of the tolerance of hatred and so tired of the fear of the holy war to be waged by all those who hate against those who love peace, those trying to force us to finally fight the great fight to wipe out baseless hatred once and for all.
A few days ago, 45 year-old, Israeli activist Ari Fuld, father of four, was stabbed to death by a 17 year old Palestinian terrorist while waiting outside of his local shopping mall. After being stabbed in the back Fuld, chased his assailant, drew his weapon, shot and wounded the attacker before being rushed to the hospital where he died from his wounds. Even near death, Fuld sought to prevent his assailant from being able to cause harm to anyone else.
The terrorist was taken to Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus in moderate condition where he was treated for multiple gunshot wounds. Even in the face of such an attack, Israeli doctors did their job even if it meant saving a murderer. The Palestinian Authority awarded Fuld’s murderer’s family 1400 New Israeli Shekels a month for three years to reward them for their murderer’s actions. The Palestinian Authority has 1.2 Billion New Israeli Shekels, over $300 million dollars, budgeted for 2018 to reward families of “martyrs.”
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman stated that, “Our Arab neighbors have a choice to make – either you live with us here and behave like human beings or you choose the path of terror and evil, knowing that you will pay the full price.”
I’m tired of being nice. As the Children of Israel, we’ve tried being nice for the last 2000 years and you know what, it has rarely worked out for us. And yet I don’t want to be like them. I don’t want to live angry, hateful, vengeful, always on the warpath, always seeking ways to avenge 2000-year-old wrongs.
The only reason the world has to be nice to the Jews is because the world was forced to defeat Germany in a war America didn’t even want to be part of. During those times the United State Government’s immigration policies kept thousands of Jews off our shores of freedom because they didn’t want a Jewish refugee problem and quotas still existed in the American College system making sure too many Jews didn’t gain admission.
The world had to be nice after the war and voted to allow us to reestablish the State of Israel, but they didn’t really want us to win. They just wanted to be seen as being fair after sitting idly by while over six-million Jews perished in the Holocaust. The Nazi death camps revealed the worst of humanity. But it was the global indifference that truly allowed the Nazis to accomplish what they did. The world only cared because they were forced look at and own the true human cost of their complacency.
It seems upside down when Israel is constantly blamed for causing so much unrest in the Middle East. It seems upside down that only in Germany is it illegal to deny the Holocaust and you can be arrested for making any kind of Nazi gesture in public. It seems upside down that in Russia right now a Russian social network is hosting a Miss Hitler contest. In America it is completely legal for people to walk the streets of our communities chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and anyone can deny the Holocaust without peril of losing their job. Hatred and intolerance is a protected and unalienable right in America, safeguarded by the United States Constitution. Germany never wants a return to the ways that led to World War II. America has never eliminated the hatreds that led to the civil war.
It isn’t that I have enemies, it is that people continue to exist who want me dead simply for being me, for us being us, for us being Jews, for Israel existing. I am their enemy. I don’t want to have enemies, but I am not foolish enough to think we can do nothing while a strong percentage of individuals plot daily for the destruction of Israel and the destruction of the Jews simply because we are Jews.
The Palestinians have never taken any ownership that their plight after the Oslo Accords is their own fault. They have chosen to remain victims over the last 70 years and chosen to blame everyone except themselves for the last 27 years because they refuse to accept reality. If they somehow win the war they will lose. If somehow, they accomplish wiping Israel off the map, they will simply have caused the deaths of millions of their own people as the Middle East goes up in flames by their hands. This cost is ok to them when our enemies have a victory at any cost mentality.
Israel is not perfect, but Israel refuses to commit a genocide after experiencing what that feels like. We don’t want to remove the Palestinian people from existence, we want rational partners for peace so that all our children may grow and flourish.
For the first time in 70 years the American Government has acknowledged that Israel’s capital is in Jerusalem and moved their embassy their accordingly. For the first time in the last thirty years the American Government has cut off all aid to the Palestinian people and $300 million in funding from the United Nations agency for Palestinian Refugees saying it only perpetuates their status as refugees. Over half their population depends on this aid, but after 70 years there shouldn’t be that many refugees left because this fund was supposed to only support those refugees born during or immediately after the 1948 war of Independence.
According to Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis “United Nations aid work for Palestinian refugees is a stumbling block to peace in the Middle East, hindering the integration of Palestinians who have lived in Jordan and Lebanon for years.”
The United Nations has become a force that condemns Israel more than any other country in the world due to like-minded countries being able to gang up on votes against Israel and pass their blatant anti-Israel agenda time and time again.
In the world, Israel has been losing the propaganda war for years and many countries blame Israel for the rise in Muslim fundamentalist terrorism. This has created a greater expression of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment being aired more openly than in recent years and more widespread with the new tools social media provides. Even certain Jewish institutions have begun influencing Jewish college students, convincing many of them that Israel is to blame for the living conditions of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. When propaganda educates young Jewish minds to believe that Palestinian terrorism is a justified response to the Israeli Government’s policies without holding the Muslim world and the Palestinian people responsible for their own actions and plight we will begin to lose more than the war of words.
Peace comes at a cost. No two sides ever get everything they want. You don’t need to be best friends after making peace, but for peace to hold their must be respect, some understanding, tolerance, a complete cessation of violence and an agreement to deal civilly with each other. We make peace with our enemies, but in order to make peace our enemies must want a lasting peace as much if not more than we do.
I am not a Jewish refugee, a European refugee or a Russian refugee. I am an American Jew who was born and raised in this country almost fifty years ago. My mother never considered herself a Russian refugee for over seventy years after the Russian government drove her parents and thousands of Jews out of the country with threats of violence and death. None of your parents or grandparents raised you as refugees from their countries of origin. The Persian Jewish community maintains their bonds of experience and culture, but despite being driven from their homes in Iraq and Iran, they have not demanded the right of return to nations with governments which drove them from their homes and appropriated all their property. The United Nations has never contacted any of us to support our refugee status and provide us with resources due to our ancestors being forced to flee hostile nations and our countries of origin.
As Jews we have all forced our way through history and struggled to create a world where we feel safe and accepted most of the time. We stopped thinking of ourselves as refugees a long time ago. We stopped thinking that the world was responsible for our wellbeing. We did our best to roll up our sleeves and make our own way in a cruel and often inhumane world. We’ve managed to make it safe for our children to grow up proud of being Jewish and proud of being citizens from whatever country took us in and allowed us to live safely as Jews.
The successful destruction of Israel isn’t a realistic future outcome. The destruction of the Palestinian people is not anyone’s goal. The majority of the world actually wants peace, fair trade, cooperation, meaningful negotiations, friendly diplomatic relations, and safe coexistence. I want to be able to be nice, think nice thoughts and live in a world where everyone is nice to each other no matter our differences.
I am nice because I love my enemies for their differences and believe that their differences make the world a more interesting place. I love the heritage and culture of all the different nations and religions because it adds so many fascinating details to the human narrative. Our differences are what make this world vibrant and unique. The one value we need everyone to embrace now, at this time is acceptance. We need a world filled with unconditional acceptance towards maintaining the sanctity of life and putting down our petty differences.
Noah lived in times where the world was completely corrupt. He was deemed righteous in his generation, not perfect, but righteous. God flooded the world to wipe out all the corruption. God commanded Noah to build the ark and to save all the animals he specified so that Noah could start over. After the flood God makes a covenant with Noah never to flood the world again. The sign of this covenant for all times is the rainbow we see in the sky after a rainfall. The rainbow has remained a sign of peace, a sign of God’s contract with Noah never to destroy the entire world by flood again ever since.
We need to understand what every rainbow represents. We need to embrace the idea that it is ok to argue with words, but we might want to consider what we are arguing about. If we are only arguing about I hate you and you hate me we will get nowhere. If we discuss the fact that violence is never the answer, then we might be able to discuss the basic needs of shelter, water and food so we can move on to community needs and local structures that need to be put in place. For over 2000 years Jews have only ever wanted peace. We want to bring it into the world for everyone to enjoy, to end old hatreds to ensure that no children grow up with the constant threat of war.
May the rainbows in the heavens someday remind all of humanity of the Covenant of Noah, of the peace that is possible so that we can live in a world where our children grow up side by side, in loving friendship, in countries where borders no longer matter, where governments protect the rights of all citizens, where all citizens believe in the rights of each other to coexist.
May Ari Fuld’s memory always be a blessing to those who knew and loved him...
...and may all those who celebrate his murder find a way to fill their hearts with love and not hate so that we can all learn to love each other and be nice every day.
May you be written for a sweet and healthy new year and may your fast be easy.
Cayn yehi ratzon – May this be God’s will. L’shanah Tovah