Kol Nidrei 5780 - 2019 - -Your Soul Song
Led Zeppelin members, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, released the song Stairway to Heaven in 1971. In later decades after being part of one of the greatest rock and roll bands in the world, Robert Plant launched his solo career and was very reticent about singing his former band’s most evocative and famous song. For him it was something from his past, something from his youth, not something he wanted to sing over and over again despite how much his fans loved him and the song.
Also in 1971, Don McLean released American Pie, his most famous song on the album of the same name. The song speaks of a time gone by and how the world changes around us. It is said that McLean dreads singing the song after decades of singing it to adoring fans. When I saw him in the 90s on a nostalgia tour, he sang it well, but I already knew from articles how he only sang the song because it was a crowd favorite and it paid the bills.
The members of the Eagles can’t even stand to ride on the same tour bus together these days. They barely speak to one another and after every reunion concert they get into their separate tour buses and drive off in solitude and bitter silence. They too seem to sing the songs we love only because it pays too much not to sing them together.
Harry Belafonte once told a story in an interview about his mother’s advice to him. Melvine Belafonte taught her son one important lesson early on. She told him don’t ever sing a song you don’t love because it will be that song that makes you famous. Then you will be stuck singing it for the rest of your life. Only sing what you love and love what you sing. And he did.
These artists gave of themselves, gifted us with songs that have changed our lives, moved our spirits and speak directly to our hearts. Many of us have danced to their sounds, fallen in love, chased dreams and followed our visions towards becoming who we are today.
It is hard for us to imagine them hating singing our favorite songs because every time we listen to these songs we remember the first time we heard the music. We remember hearing the lyrics and how they spoke to us. We remember who we were with, and how we felt. We can’t imagine the artists growing away from the music, falling out of love with songs that have inspired us all of our lives.
I always wish them all as much peace and happiness as they have added to my life with their music, but alas not everyone can get along for a lifetime even if their earliest friendships helped make them who they are today. Only we can create our own happiness and peace.
Now for some of you, these weren’t your songs or your artists, but we all have within us favorite songs, songs that changed our lives, the song we played for the first dance at our wedding or that reminds us of moments where the whole world seemed to stand still. We all have music in our soul. Each of us know the music that inspires our lives. We each have a song in our hearts.
Kol Nidrei is about remembering the music in our soul. The haunting melody flows from the cello and from Cantor Dresher to fill our space, to fill our bodies, surrounding each of us in its history, in our present, in our past and in our future. It is about letting go of the past and praying for a better tomorrow. It is about asking for forgiveness for future promises we may not keep in the next year. It is about accepting ourselves in our truth, in our own unique self.
Harry Belafonte’s mother spoke to her son about loving what he did and what he put out in the world. Her words allowed him to do what he did best and to change the world with song so that he could put his success to good use and do so much work to mend the world with his music, with his love for humanity and with his vision for the world.
What is your song? What is your passion? What does Kol Nidrei remind you to do in order to be your best self? During this time of year, on this night especially, we all feel the pain of the world, our growth over the last year, our successes, our failures, the questions of this day, and the wonder of what tomorrow, and the year of tomorrows, might bring. We feel the journey as an Israelite through the deserts of old to the modern deserts of today, social media, fear of missing out, keeping up with the Steins, wondering about our own Jewish identity, our personal identity, the identity of our kids, our role in our family, our lives, our Jewish community or the lack thereof.
We wonder how to pass on our human values, our Jewish values, and how we instill them within our children while they are bombarded with so many vacuous belief systems from our modern technology. Our technology constantly tells them and us that we aren’t good enough, we aren’t doing enough, we aren’t cool enough, we aren't doing anything hip or meaningful, that we are failing at entertaining those who would give us likes, hearts, kudos, applause, and wows.
As Jews, don’t even get me started on everything the world says about us.
Our rabbis teach us that we are always in the wilderness trying to find our way to the promised land, and yet when Jacob dreamed of the ladder reaching to the heavens with angels ascending and descending, he awoke to remind us all that God is in this place, we just need to remember the sacredness of wherever we stand. We need to remember to be in our place in our present. We need to be where we stand and to feel that God is always there with us, within us, surrounding us in the holiness of our very existence.
Israeli Historian, Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and author, Yuval Noah Harari, writes:“The glass ceiling of happiness is held in place by two stout pillars, one psychological, the other biological. On the psychological level, happiness depends on expectations rather than objective conditions. We don’t become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon. Dramatic improvements in conditions, as humankind has experienced in recent decades, translate into greater expectations rather than greater contentment. If we don’t do something about this, our future achievements too might leave us as dissatisfied as ever. ”
― Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
We create our own human condition. Yet at times we feel powerless to change our own self imposed conditions. I know I spent years waiting to feel like an adult, to be treated like an adult. And yet, no matter how hard I worked, how much I studied or learned someone always treated me like a child or made me feel like a child. They made me feel as if my efforts would never be enough.
It took over a decade for me to study, read and learn that only I can control how a feel and how I respond to those surrounding me. I determine my now, my tomorrow, how I respond to the past and the message and energy I put out into the world every day.
I do my best to create my peace and contentment within and share it with everyone who moves near me in my world. I try to create weekly messages of peace and healing to make all of our lives a little better. I try to take what I’ve read and learned and share it with all of you so that we may see that we have the tools to create our own contentment in our lives and with each other.
The Rabbis teach us about the existence of the 36 righteous ones, the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim in Hebrew. It is said that God maintains the world for the sake of 36 righteous souls who in their righteousness maintain the world’s existence for the rest of us no matter how low humanity sinks. The 36 may not even know they are one of the 36 but for those of us who know the myth we know we still exist because of what they bring into the world. We should all treat each other as if we might just be one of the Lamed-Vav tzadikim and as if everyone we meet just might be one too.
With Yom Kippur upon us it isn’t that God expects us to be one of the 36 as much as God wishes we would own the satisfaction of being our best self. At our best we breathe easier. All the answers seem to be at our fingertips. We feel less stress. We smile more. We feel ourselves at ease. It is when we hold the weight of the world, worry about the future, question ourselves, question whether what we do will be enough that we feel our doubts ruin our days and corrupt all the good we do.
We all know when we do our best. We all know when we fail to bring our best into the world. A lot of our stress is from all the past Yom Kippurs where we didn’t truly forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made. Each year God hopes we will truly forgive ourselves towards starting tomorrow and the next day self-forgiven so that we can feel all the unconditional love God holds for each of us. God forgives us but for the asking. God waits for us to love ourselves enough to be more forgiving.
Brene Brown teaches in her book Dare to Lead about "Painting what done" looks like when it comes to projects or tasks. On this Yom Kippur, as the Gates of Repentance are opened, I ask you to sing your soul song and to Paint what Done looks like for your life of contentment.
You’ve forgiven yourself.
You're feeling good.
You’ve asked God for forgiveness and received it.
You’ve asked those you’ve hurt to forgive you and been forgiven.
Your whole life is before you.
You are connected deeply to those you love most in the world.
Paint what Done looks like to enjoy the contentment you’ve created.
Do you jump out of bed daily with energy and excitement towards your plan for the day?
Do you love caring for yourself towards living the healthiest life possible in order to stretch out the days you are given to spend with those you love?
Do you fill your life with joy, color and sounds of celebration?
Do you create adventures that fill your soul with the memories you’ve always dreamed of creating?
Paint what Done looks like so that when you look back years from now, feeling good about the painting you created with everyone you love most, not a single part of your canvas is left without the colors of your dreams.
May you create the contentment you seek. May you find joy painting what Done looks like. May your fast be lite and meaningful. May this Yom Kippur be the one where you let go of all the past towards creating the best moments now. And may you all be written for a sweet and healthy new year. L’Shanah Tovah u’metukah