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