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Rosh Hashanah First Day 5777: Responsibility and love

It’s always moving and overwhelming to see our Shul so full, so many faces, such a feeling of peoplehood, of community. We are all here today because we believe that this day is special, it makes a difference. Some of you, regulars, are here today as you are always here every Shabbat or most Shabbatot. Today is Yom Tov so you come to Shul as you come every Shabbat. Others, would not come usually in a regular Shabbat, but often come for festivals, some of you to the children friendly ones like Purim or Simchat Torah, and others make a point to be here to say Yizkor every time it is said, four times a year, today being not one of those times. And there are still others here that make a point to be here in Rosh Hashanah and/or Yom Kippur as a touchstone, as a last contact with the world of synagogue and prayer and you might or might not have other ways to express and live your Jewish identity. I truly hope you do and of course would invite you to consider giving Shul another chance beyond once or twice a year and if you have ideas or how it could be more attractive to you, then we will be happy to listen. Today, when all of you are present, when we are all together to stand in trial before God and before ourselves, about our choices this year; when we stand together in order to celebrate the birthday of humanity, on the day tradition says man and woman were created. On this day, I want to speak to you about the two concepts that I believe are central to Judaism, to live a truly and deep Jewish life: responsibility and love. If the guy standing on one foot would ask me to teach him all the Torah in that short period of time that would be my answer: be responsible of yourself and others, and love yourself and others. That’s the whole Torah, now go and study. The Jewish people are highly attuned to the idea of being responsible to society and the world. Jews give tzedakah, mistranslated as charity, in far greater proportion than others. For example, in the US, the United Jewish Appeal, the main coordinated charity in the Jewish Community, raises $750 million annually, making it the third largest charity in the country, after the Red Cross and the United Way. Doesn’t sound so impressive? Keep in mind that Jews constitute about 2% of the total population of the United States. When you see a human being in distress, you have an obligation to help him. Judaism mandates positive and active behavior, which is a unique innovation in law. In other legal systems, it’s not a crime to be a bystander, even today. In Judaism, however, social consciousness is a legal obligation, as the Torah states: “Do not stand by your neighbor’s blood” (Leviticus 19:16). “I’m a good person, I don’t hurt anyone” is not the Jewish understanding of a “good person.” Being a good person requires us to take action, not just avoid evil. You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution; there is neutrality for a Jew. Judaism is God’s call to responsibility. He does not want us to rely on miracles. He does not want us to be dependent on others. He wants us to become His partners, recognizing that what we have, we have from Him, but what we make of what we have is up to us, our choices and our effort. The Jewish view of the human condition is that everything we achieve is due to our own efforts, but equally and essentially the result of God’s blessing. However, Judaism is not only about responsibility for the World, but also for our family, for our partner, for our children. The Talmud says that a father is obligated to circumcise his son, to redeem him if he is the firstborn, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. Talmudic scholars added that a father must also teach his son to swim. These directives are all intended to help a child grow into a successful and independent adult, one who will be part of the Jewish community, establish a household and find meaningful work. While teaching a child to swim may seem less important than other items on this list, the sages interpreted this as an essential survival skill. Today, we think of these instructions as incumbent upon both fathers and mothers and applicable to both sons and daughters, as appropriate. Most modern Jews also no longer feel obligated to help find a spouse for their children, though parental meddling is a tradition that seems to endure. Seriously… I do want to stop a minute in the responsibility to teach our children Torah and I see this in the widest sense as teaching your children Judaism or helping them build a Jewish identity. I had many conversation with parents that seem to believe that their lack of Jewish knowledge is an exemption on this matter that enables them to outsource this obligation either to a Shul or to a Jewish school. I will pay somebody else to make my child Jewish. Dear friends, it doesn’t work like that. Nobody! Nobody can replace you as the main example and inspiration for your child. Even when they are teenagers and they seem to hate you and do the opposite of what you say or do, they are still observing you. If you don’t show that Judaism is important for you, then it will never be important for your children. If you express that coming to Shul is a burden then it will always be a burden for your son. If you express that having a Pesach Seder is boring and too long, then it will be boring and long for your daughter. If you don’t show your children a living interest in Judaism, an excitement to be a Jew, then don’t be surprised that they grow up and marry out. And anyway, why are you so upset about that if you never showed that being Jewish is important. Judaism is not genetics and it is not a social club, it is a way of life and if you don’t live a deep Jewish life, then why do you expect your children to do so. Doesn’t matter what the rabbi do, what the teacher says, if the dissonance with home is too wide, then it is your personal example as a parent what will always be the final word. But you really want to be a good example for your children, but you don’t know how, you weren’t educated to see Judaism as something exciting and applicable to your life. There is where your Shul or your children’s school can help. Do you want to learn how to have a proper Shabbat dinner? Do you want to include elements of Kashrut in your house? Do you want ideas to include more Jewish content in your daily routine? We will be happy to help and we know you don’t have time, that your professional life takes too much of your time and the little time you have left you want, you should, dedicate it to your family. Let’s think together of new and original ways to do this, using modern technology we might find a way to bring more Torah to your home without compromising too much your free time. And we said the second principle is love. In Judaism we are commanded to love our God, as it says in the Shemah Israel. We are told “Love your neighbour as yourself”, meaning that we are commanded to love the other AND ourselves. And we are commanded to love the stranger, because we were strangers in Egypt and in so many other places, we know the heart of the stranger and therefore we must be empathic to their plight and cry. Love is the secret ingredient, is what makes magic happen in our lives, what makes a real difference: Intelligence without love makes us evil. Justice without love makes us relentless. Diplomacy without love makes us hypocrites. Success without love makes us arrogant. Wealth without love makes us avaricious. Poverty without love makes us proud. Beauty without love makes us ridiculous. Truth without love makes us hurtful. Authority without love makes us tyrants. Work without love makes us slaves. Law without love makes us dictators. Politics without love makes us egotistical. Faith without love makes us fanatics. Life without love has no meaning or sense. May God give us the possibility to be responsible and to take responsibility in our lives in this new year. May we be responsible for each other, active in society, compassionate towards others. May we be good role models for our young ones, may they see in us the enjoyment and deep meaning of Jewish life. May we be able to love God, to love each other, to love ourselves and the stranger. Responsibility and love, may these two values makes us better Jews this coming year.

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