Crowd Sourcing Sermon for August 28

What is the point of being in touch with our vulnerability, as Jews are pushed to do during the High Holy Day season?

Encountering the High Holy Day Prayer Book

On Rosh HaShanah it is written;

On the Fast of Yom Kippur it is sealed…

Who will live and who will die;

Who will reach the ripeness of age,

Who will be taken before their time;

Who by fire and who by water…

Who by earthquake and who by plague…

Who will rest and who will wander;

Who will be tranquil and who will be troubled…

I sat in shul for years reading these words before I realized the answer. The answer to each of these questions is “me.” Who will live and who will die? I will. Who at their end and who not at their end? Me. Like every human being, when I die it will be at the right time, and it will also be too soon. Fire, water, earthquake, plague? In my lifetime, I’ve been scorched and drowned, shaken and burdened, wandering and at rest, tranquil and troubled. That has been my life’s journey.

Of course I prefer to deflect this truth. I would much prefer to let the prayers talk about someone else, perhaps the fellow in the next row. It has taken a lifetime to reveal that defense as a lie. The prayer is not about someone else. It’s about me. It is a frightfully succinct summary of my existence. So now I read it again, but in the first person, and it makes me shiver.

I will live and I will die, at the right time and before my time,

I will wander but I might yet find rest,

I will be troubled but I may achieve tranquility.

This is the central truth of the High Holy Days. This is what makes them Yamin Nora’im, days of terror. We are vulnerable.

-Rabbi Edward Feinstein (page 206 Mishkan Hanefesh)

4 Responses to Crowd Sourcing Sermon for August 28

  1. I write this as I remember the Jahrzeit of my beloved mother, who died 50 years ago tomorrow — much too young. Her death at an early age made me feel so vulnerable, as I reached and thankfully passed each milestone of her life: 50th birthday, birth of grandchildren, etc. I believe as we examine our own vulnerabilities, it should make us more sensitive to and empathetic about the vulnerabilities of others in our family, our community and the world. Too often however, people develop attitudes that are the opposite of empathy and caring. believing that people are poor because they don’t work hard enough, or they are inferior in some way. As the New Year approaches it behooves each of us to examine our attitudes and actions towards others who are vulnerable through circumstances that are not of their own making and then committing to work harder and do more to repair ourselves and the world.

  2. John Berkowitz says:

    Without vulnerability, there is no trust, no real opportunity to connect with others. Without loss, can we really appreciate what we have? Freewill requires the opportunity for trust and loss as without these, choices have no consequences good or bad.

  3. Despite all of the planning, precautions and safeguards we build into our lives, we are existentially vulnerable to the vagaries of life. For millennia, Jews have most often been at the mercy of forces beyond our control such as the largesse and whim of monarchs who could at an instance change comfort and east to exile, poverty and despair. It was not only the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal or the Nazis of Germany, but a multitude of tyrants and maniacs who constantly threatened our best-laid plans. Each and every High Holiday season we come face to face with this reality, like it or not and by transcending our fear of our vulnerability we can rise to the opportunity to practice chesed, tiferet and tikun olan. Ultimately, the acceptance of the vagaries of our vulnerability liberate us from the spiritual straight-jacket of sloth, trepidation and paralysis.

  4. docbzf says:

    The point of increased reflection is to remind us to be GRATEFUL
    ( to God ? ; to Life ? ; to The MYSTERY ) FOR LIFE ITSELF .

    We are alive . We have won the Lottery of Life . . against all odds . None of us asked to be born . Life is truly a GIFT .

    Yesterday is history ; tomorrow is a mystery ; today is a blessing . . . the gift of life . To make this blessing an ethical reality , each of us must CHOOSE LIFE in our words and deeds .
    Judaism has been defined as ETHICAL monotheism . Ethics involves mainly how we treat other people ( also animals ; also the Earth and our environment ) .

    Our main vulnerability is our mortality . We will die :
    that is a very frightening prospect , but it is harsh reality .
    During the High Holy Days ,we force ourselves to face this fear .
    We vow to try to do better , to bring more SHALOM into our lives and into the lives of all living things we encounter .

    YOLO ( You Only Live Once ) is true . We cannot re-live the past . But it is also true that pencils have erasers because people make mistakes . In the year 5776 , may we make fewer mistakes .

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