Fasting and praying are important ingredients of Yom Kippur and are signs of repentance for our transgressions against God. But, as is well known, Yom Kippur does not provide atonement for sins committed against human beings. Rabbinic tradition has it that a person can expect to be judged by God with the same standard of judgment that a person applies to others. If a person is mean-spirited and unfair in treatment of fellow human beings, these same qualities will be applied by the Heavenly court.
Angel for Shabbat
(This is the first sermon I delivered from the pulpit of Congregation Shearith Israel, Simhat Torah 1969. Many years have passed since that first sermon, and yet the ideas within it continue to ring true.)
...though we may never enter the Promised Land, we will be able to stand on a summit and see our dreams realized in the future through our children. We may never walk into the land, but we will have led an entire generation to the point where they can enter.
“And the Lord God fashioned Adam from the dust of the earth” (Bereishith 2:7).
Rashi quotes two opinions, drawn from Midrashic teachings, as to the nature of this dust that was used to create Adam i.e. humanity.One opinion suggests that God gathered dust from the four corners of the earth in order to fashion Adam. The other opinion has it that God took the dust from one spot, the site of the future holy Temple in Jerusalem.
We have the power to direct our inner thoughts in the direction of happiness. We have the capacity to overcome feelings of distress, by channeling our emotions in constructive ways.
“…for you will keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways.” (Devarim 28:9)
The Torah presents us with a remarkable challenge: to walk in God’s ways. But how does one do this? How are we to become Godly people?
In his essay, “The Messianic Idea in Judaism,” Professor Gershom Scholem points to three tendencies within the spiritual life of the Jewish people.
The “conservative” element stresses the need to maintain things as they’ve always been. It is manifested in a deep commitment to Jewish law and custom; it focuses on detail and ritual. This tendency wants to ensure stability and continuity. It worries that any change in the system can lead to the unraveling of the entire structure.
When I was a boy, I and so many others of my generation were avid fans of Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees. We admired him because he was so amazingly natural and graceful. All really great players are spontaneous and natural. Lesser players seem to try too hard. This is true not only of baseball but also in all areas of human endeavor...including religion.
The root of deepest human sadness is embodied in the word "separation." We feel this sadness especially at moments of transition: when we say goodbye to a child who is leaving for college or moving out of town; when we say goodbye to a loved one whom we won't be seeing for a long time. Parents cry at the weddings of their children. Their tears, to be sure, are tears of happiness; yet, they are also tears of pathos, of separation.
Professor Gershom Scholem wrote: “The Jewish mystic lives and acts in perpetual rebellion against a world with which he strives with all his zeal to be at peace” (Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 34). I think this statement is true not only of mystics, but of all truly religious individuals.
I recently met with a friend who is a very successful entrepreneur who deals with top people at leading high-tech companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon. He told me that when these companies look to hire new employees, they especially value applicants with entrepreneurial experience—even if these applicants had run their own businesses and failed