Yom Kippur Day, October 12, 2016
Temple Emanu-El of Westfield,
Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff
A colleague in Dallas, Rabbi Debbie Robbins, has shared with her rabbinic colleagues an experience she had in her yoga class. Here’s the exercise at yoga which I’d like now to share with you:
“We imagine holding a basketball in our hands. With minds focused on the present, feet planted, and hearts lifted. With our hands we trace the shape, push against the edges, even toss it into the air and catch it. We can feel the ball, even though we can’t see it. We interact with it, even though it is not there.
“The same is true of the souls of our loved ones after they have died. Like the basketball at the rabbi’s yoga class…
we cannot see them nor feel them, but…
we can hold them in our minds,
we can echo them in our words,
we can reflect them in our actions,
we can take them into our souls.
We can learn from them.
Yes, our relationship with them does continue even after they are gone.
I invite you now to join me in a similar exercise. It will take a bit of concentration and mindfulness. But we all do it.
I invite you to bring to the forefront of your mind one person – no longer living — whom you would like to connect with on this holiest day of the Jewish year. Perhaps a parent or grandparent. Or a spouse, a child or a cousin. Possibly a teacher or a close friend,
Now let’s close our eyes. Let’s picture that person, recall their touch,
their tone of voice,
their smile or, in some cases, their embrace. As I pause, take them into your soul.
And now let’s recall a blessing or two that they have given you. It might be something they said that you remember fondly to this day. It might be a look on their face. Or a kind deed that they performed. Perhaps it’s their courage, their love, or their wisdom that you want to hold on to. Maybe it’s a value or an ideal or – simply – their hard work.
OK. Enough of my suggestions. I’ll pause once more to let you recall and embrace those blessings.
On Rosh Hashanah morning, I found myself contemplating the words the Cantor chanted.
V’tizkor kol hanish-kachot,
V’tiftach et sefer hazichronot.
U-mayaylav yikarey –
V’chotem yad kol adam bo.
The amazing translation in our new Holyday machzor resonated with me:
You, God, remember all that we have forgotten.
And when You open the Book of Memories
It speaks for itself –
for every human hand leaves its mark,
an imprint like no other.
On these sacred days, what we have forgotten comes back to mind. It speaks for itself. We feel the imprint of human hands that have held us, embraced us, and supported us.
We hear the words they spoke, the love they expressed.
We feel the impact of human souls that have taught us, inspired us, and guided us.
I imagine that most of us connected with relatives or friends. Persons who may not have been known far and wide – but whose impact upon us was like no other.
But it may also be a well known person who has left her or his imprint on us. We also learn from public figures how better to live our lives.
Since Shimon Peres died last month, I have found myself thinking about this man who was eulogized by world leaders and who occupied Israel’s highest offices. Shimon Peres was a man who -– with all of the recognition he achieved -– was a bundle of contradictions, a man who experienced a plethora of success and of failure. He served as prime minister of Israel three times, but never won an outright election for that post. The Knesset elected him President, but only after he lost his first attempt to reach that office. Most Israelis viewed him as an unrealistic outlier. By all rights he should have disappeared from Israel’s political stage decades ago.
But there was another quality to Peres. It’s a quality that Michael Kaplow, an astute observer of Middle East affairs, has written about, a quality that has left its imprint on me.
What I found particularly instructive was that Peres never gave in to failure. “He understood that failure was something that you overcome rather than something that defines you. He took whatever situation he was in and elevated it to something sublime and heretofore unimaginable.
As Koplow observed,“Peres was able to dream big because he was willing to stand on the rubble of his own prevous failures of imagination.” He kept pushing against the limits of what appeared to be possible.
Peres not only rebounded from failures. He learned from them. He did not allow them to prevent him from going forward.
Yes, he was a man of many contradictions. He was the father of Israel’s nuclear program, but spent his last 20 years working for peace. He authorized the first Jewish settlements on the West Bank, but became Israel’s most prominent advocate for partial withdrawal and for the two-state solution.
When he was wrong or when something did not work, he was able to pivot and embrace something else.
He authorized many of the early West Bank settlements, but he was able to see how that policy would lead to Israel’s destruction and came to advocate for a Palestinian state.
The imprint he leaves on me is how he was able to transform himself again and again and again. How he was able to pick himself up, dust off his dreams, and invent new projects to make the world a better place.
This brings us back full circle to our own lives.
Each of us has set forth goals which we hoped to accomplish in our lives: whether it be
family or career,
personal relationships or a life of rich culture.
We have physical or financial markers,
and – most important —
we aspire to live a life of value, of intrinsic worth, or of faith.
No one achieves it all. We have all been disappointed We have all fallen short. We have not always lived up to the standards we set for ourselves. We have sometimes struggled with family or career more than we would have liked.
But we can learn from those who came before us. As we take them into our souls, we see that they navigated challenges and taught us lessons for the ages.
We can learn from Shimon Peres, who did not look back, but ahead. At age 93, he was still pushing against the limits of what seemed possible.
Like special loved ones and friends,
we too can stand on the rubble of disappointment and find new ways to live,
better ways to interact with those closest to us,
new ways to learn from those who have left this world,
new ways to contribute to a better world,
new ways to light a candle,
new ways to add a measure of peace in our small corner of this troubled world.
In our future – yours and mine — are new ways
to dream, to grow, to love.