Shabbat Sermon Audio Files:
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - July 7 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - June 9 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - June 2 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Elliot Dorff - May 26 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - May 12 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - May 5 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - April 20 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - April 7 Shabbat/Pesah Sermon
Rabbi Matthew Shapiro - March 3 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Joel Rembaum - February 25 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - February 18 Shabbat Sermon
Special Guest Speaker Anat Hoffman - February 4
Rabbinic Intern Matt Shapiro - January 28 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - January 21 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - January 14 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - January 7 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - December 31 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - December 17 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - December 3 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - November 26 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - November 19 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - November 12 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - October 29 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - October 22 Shabbat Sermon
Rabbinic Intern Suzanne Brody - October 15 Shabbat Sermon
High Holiday Sermon Audio Files:
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld & Rabbi Susan Leider - Rosh Hashanah 5772 Sermon
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld - Yom Kippur 5772 Kol Nidre Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - Yom Kippur 5772 Sermon
High Holiday Sermon Text
Rabbi Jacob Pressman - Rosh Hashanah 5772 Sermon
Rabbi Susan Leider - Yom Kippur 5772 Sermon
Rabbi Jacob Pressman - Rosh Hashanah 5772 Sermon
THREE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM
Will you indulge me and do the following when I ask you? Turn to the person with you tonight, if there is someone, and then turn to the person on your right, then on your left, then the row behind you and the row before you. Introduce yourself, and shake hands or kiss and say aloud,”Lshanah Tovah Tikatev. Have a good and happy, healthy year!” Thank you. That was the attention-getter. Now the introduction.
Right here in this sanctuary there are hundreds of opportunities to make the New Year a better year. I’m sure you did not come here to have me tell you how bad things were last year. I can do that with a few words: the economy, Israel and the Middle East, and rampaging Mother Nature. As I mention them, you have to be saying to yourself: “There isn’t much I can do about any of them sitting here tonight, except , perhaps, to pray God they will improve.”
And so, instead, I should like to suggest three things for all of us to do which will make this New Year a really new year, not the same old, same old., but a better one.
Number One, Patch up old family quarrels. There are some families in this wonderful congregation where some members have not spoken to other members of their family for years now; or if they do, it is to exchange hostile words. To tell you that it breaks my heart is to make an understatement. I have never been able to fathom why people who are of the same genetic makeup can harbor ongoing grudges. There is so much hate abroad in the world that we desperately need the haven of a loving family to be able to endure it and not have it darken our lives.
What are some of the reasons people give me when I timidly question why they’re not getting along together? Sadly, the primary one is money – money that some have that others feel they should have - or deals in the business world where some were given
less than familial honesty. Why? Money is such an abstract means of the transfer of property, a signature on a check, a number in a bank statement, a figure in your list of your net worth; an exchange of pieces of paper that are very fancy but have no intrinsic value, coins that have no practical use. What is it? It is mine, it is yours, it is everywhere, it is nowhere. Some people insist that money is the root of all evil, but it need not be. It all depends on the use and the manner in which we exchange it; which leads me back to the question: “Why should it be the cause of hostility, jealousy, non-communication with your own flesh and blood? There was once a great act on television, the Smothers Brothers, always beginning with the complaint of one: “Mother always liked you better.” It evoked a laugh on the sound track, but it really is no laughing matter in many families. First of all, no two people in this world are exactly alike and will not generate precisely the same quality of love in another. There is no way of measuring love in the first place.
Give parents, siblings the room to love each of us in his or her own way and love yourself and you will never be jealous or hateful to your own flesh & blood.I have never gotten over a true story I once read. When a certain rich college graduate returned home after the commencement he fully believed he would find a brand new Cadillac convertible awaiting him. Instead, his father invited him into his study and with a smile offered him a small package. The boy tore it open. It was brand new, beautiful Bible. Infuriated, he flung it to the floor, and stomped out, and never returned to his parental home.
Years later when his father died, he was called home to help settle the estate. He went to his father’s study, and saw on the floor that Bible. Curious he picked it up and opened it, and out dropped the keys to a now outdated Cadillac, with a note: “With love from your proud mom and Dad.” What a waste.
I have patiently wished and even devoutly prayed that some of the family feuds would just disappear and the only time I would hear Family Feud would be on a show on television by the same name. . We have a time to remedy all this. Before we go into Kol Nidre on Erev Yom Kippur we beg that we shall be forgiven all these wretched human activities not only of the past but of the future before we can pray for our own forgiveness by the Almighty. It was my custom as we began services Kol Nidre night to stand before the worshippers and beg forgiveness for anything I had said or done to anyone in the congregation. Only a few hands went up. Now I would deem it the greatest thing I had ever done in the Rabbinate if one family would come to me after Yom Tov and tell me that they had made peace among themselves. I could die happy. So the first thing on my list of three is an end to hostility and quarrels among people who should be loving one another.
My second plea is also very simple. Help a stranger. It came to mind while watching what you all watched – a near tragic accident when a motorcyclist was struck by a car which rolled over him and burst into flames. From all directions perfect strangers rushed over at considerable risk to themselves and began to lift this two-ton car off the stricken cyclist. With the flames just inches from them, they managed to pull him out and save his life. That was the moment for these people where in my thoughts they fulfilled the purpose for which God made them human, and that is to care for the stranger.
There are many ways offered to us, less dramatic than this rescue, in which we can save a stranger. Some of you may be old enough to remember that in 1954 I was kidnapped at gunpoint in my study here at Beth Am and robbed of several hundred dollars. He came in a Marine uniform, was sent by my secretary into my study, pulled out a gun and said, “I need $5,000. It’s my life or yours or maybe your baby daughter’s. I have been to your house on Palm Drive, and a tot opened the door and when I asked for you she said, ‘Daddy’s at the Temple.’ So get me $5,000.”
I looked at his angry face, not at his gun, and said, “I’m a rabbi. Rabbi’s don’t have $5,000.” –(that was 1954.) “But you Jews have all the money”, he said. “Go down to the office and get it out of your safe!”
I said, “All we have downstairs is pledge cards.” He said, “I saw your house. You must have lots of money in the bank.”
“No, I don’t” I said. He prodded me with his gun on my back, down the steps and into my car, a battered Dodge. He said, “If this had been a Cadillac, I would’ve shot you.” We went to my bank. He stood behind me at the teller’s cage, and I withdrew my fortune: $400. He said, “Take me to the big boulevard.”
As we drove he said, “I don’t get you. I came to you with hatred and you treated me with love.” And I said, “That’s very poetic. Don’t you forget it.”
It made all the newspapers. What didn’t make the papers was the sequel. Two days letter I received a postcard from him from a downtown hotel. I called and he was actually still in town. He said, “I paid off my gambling debts as I was mustered out of the Marines, and now I want to go home to my family in New York. Can you give me bus fare, $80?”
“You idiot!” I shouted. There is the death sentence now in California for kidnapping. How do you know I don’t have police outside your hotel room?”
He said, “I just knew you were a good Christian.”
Well, this idiot sent him a Western Union money order for eighty dollars, aiding and abetting a criminal, but, apparently, saving a soul.
A year later, Erev Rosh Hashanah I received $100 in paper money from him and a note: “I have a civilian job, I’m married, have a kid coming, and I’m honest. You did it. God bless you, Rabbi.”
There are so many ways to help a stranger, especially in these recession times. Look for them. My second plea is: Help a stranger, or even a relative.
My third plea is: “Light a candle.” Why do I think it’s an important suggestion to give you on this holy day” A rabbi who lives in Southern California tells this story. Many years ago he and his fiancé were going to be married in Pittsburgh where Rabbi Moshe Goldblum was the rabbi. He welcomed them into his study and instead of merely taking their Hebrew names etc. he asked them a number of questions. “Do you intend to join a synagogue?” The answer was, “No”. He asked them, “Do you go to services on the High Holy Days?” The answer was, “No”. He tried again. He asked them, “Do you intend to observe any Jewish practices.” The answer was, “No.” At this point, the rabbi said, “I will marry you anyway but would you do me a favor? Will you promise me that you will light Shabbat candles in your home every Friday night?” I guess now the couple was feeling a little embarrassed at answering “No” to every question that the rabbi had asked them so they looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said to themselves, “Why not. What would it cost?” and promised the rabbi that they would.
The couple lit candles every Friday night after they were married and after awhile the husband began to make Kiddush as well. Then they began to have a festive meal on Friday night. And then they started going to services on Friday night. And they met other young people at services with whom they became friends. One thing led to another. Believe it or not, he went to the Jewish Thological Seminary and came to the Conservatine synagogue, Temple Emanu El, in Burbank, California where he and his wife, Rabbi Mervin and Helen Tomsky, served for many years.
Some of you may know them. All this happened because of a promise to light candles that Rabbi Goldblum extracted from them in a premarital interview. I am sure there are many other rabbis and teachers who changed people’s lives and never got to find out about it. Rabbi Goldblum may never have been in Southern California but there are a number of people in the local Jewish community whose lives have been affected by Rabbi Tomsky whose own life was affected by him. So indirectly, Rabbi Goldblum probably changed the lives of many people whom he never even met by asking the Tomsky’s to light a candle.
While writing these remarks I received my annual copy of Craig Taubman’s “Jewels of Elul.” I happened to open it to page twenty-four and came upon the message from Rahm Emanuel, the Jewish Mayor of Chicago who formerly served as White House Chief of Staff. His passage concludes as follows:“Shabbat dinner with my family helps to remind me that my public service finds its roots in the lights that shine on our table.”
So, in case there are any homes among us where candles are not shining on your table on Friday night, I beg of you: in this new year, light two candles, what could it cost? And what could it do to the Jewish quality of your home if you did not go out to dinner?
What could it teach your children, or grandchildren? How might it change your guests? For all you know, looking at the candles you might decide to make yours a kosher home. And in that home, who knows what troubled guest might find healing and inspiration?
And who knows when someone at your table may be encouraged to be more zealous for the survival of the State of Israel? And who knows, dare I mention it, who might decide to study to be a rabbi, all because you lit candles as the newly-wed Tomsky’s did those years ago?
There is a little saying that impresses me: when a butterfly waves its wings at one end of the world, it starts a chain reaction that can cause a storm on the other end of the world; which for us means that any little thing we do or say, makes a difference somewhere in this wide world.
This has been my introduction to tonight’s sermon, but I see I have exceeded my time already, so let me just say:
Patch up a foolish quarrel, save a stranger, and light a candle, and maybe next year I’ll give my sermon. And if I don’t, start without me.
Rabbi Susan Leider - Yom Kippur 5772 Sermon
When I enter the living room in my house, I see a large white bookshelf on the left wall. The old IKEA bookshelf is crammed with one of my favorite type of books. It overflows with scrapbooks and yearbooks – scrapbooks from my childhood, my wedding album and the newer albums that I created for my children. One of my favorite things to do is to pull a book from the shelf, grab the old crocheted burgundy afghan that my Granma made for me. I curl up on the couch under the afghan and crack open my oldest scrap book with the avocado green cover. On the first page, my eye falls upon the black pages dotted with various-sized photographs. I gaze at my childhood pictures. Here I am - a tow-headed toddler with blond curls bouncing across the page. I see the interior of the first house in which I lived as a young child. There’s the shiny blue toy car that I once raced around the living room. Another picture: I see my older sisters lined up beside me in the backyard, with my little brother running around us. Yet another: I am in my grandfather’s arms, in front of the tuxedo shop that he owned on Atlantic Blvd in Long Beach. My really young-looking father poised on his bike and my mother’s bright smile - I remember so many everyday moments. . .
For me, my scrapbook is one kind of sefer zikhronot – a book of remembrances, a book of memories. When I see the pictures, the milestones of my life spring off the page before my eyes. I am filled with nostalgia and a bittersweet feeling - bittersweet because of the beautiful things I have experienced in life and yet I am painfully aware of the difficulties that the people in those pictures have lived through. I am aware of my struggles with many of them and my own shortcomings in these relationships. Time flies and we are left with memories.
Remembrance and memory are a huge part of the Yamim Nora’im. Rosh Hashanah is known as Yom Hazikaron, the day of remembrance. God remembers Abraham and Sarah in our Rosh Hashanah Torah reading and this gives us hope that we too will be remembered. We pored over the “scrapbook” of seder zikhronoteinu, the order of remembrances that we sang in the musaf service. When we sang out the words of Areshet S’fateinu after the blasts of the shofar, we prayed to God: “Accept our offering – the Biblical verses we sang to you prove our faithfulness. “Remember our ancestors. Remember the times when we held up our end of the bargain in our relationship with You. Remember us for good.”
The mahzor represents the scrapbook of collective Jewish memories. Like personal memories, if those Jewish memories stay tucked away in our mahzorim to be cracked open only several times a year, then our memories will be stagnant. Or even worse, they can actually even paralyze us because they remain something that we contemplate in a passive way. The scholar Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi in his great book Zakhor, notes that the Hebrew word “Zakhor,” meaning remember, appears in the Bible 169 times. But “zakhor” carries a much deeper nuance than the English word “remember.” The word “remember” is essentially passive. I can sit on my couch, crack open a scrapbook and remember my childhood. You can sit in shul, open the mahzor and remember God’s relationship with Jews over time. But “zakhor” means not only to remember but to act.
With so much focus on remembering, we now find ourselves here on this Yom Kippur Day. The question is “What are you going to do this year with your own memories? How are your memories going to be a catalyst for action? Will they spur you to create more memories and deepen your relationships?”
Jews are great keepers of collective memory; memory, not history. Collecting memories is the not the same as history. Yerushalmi argues that Jews have really never been historians, but we excel at keeping those memories alive. Think about it: you can sit in a history class, you can memorize the important dates, a timeline of a specific period, but if you can’t describe the human narrative, the factors that contributed to specific events, then the knowledge or regurgitation of the dates mean nothing. Many of us could not tell the exact date of the destruction of the First Temple, yet we can share in the Jewish narrative. History is not a Jewish pursuit, he would argue, but memory-making is the Jewish art par excellence. In relation to our own lives, Yerushalmi would probably say that birthdays, graduation dates, anniversaries, the day you moved from one city to the other, mean nothing, but rather it is the story, it is what happened on those random dates that is important.
Which memories actually make it into the scrapbook?
Some memories are born out of months of grand plans, such as Bar Mitzvahs, and weddings. We hire a photographer, we buy special clothes, we order invitations. There are a myriad of details to manage – all with the end goal of creating meaningful memories.
Some memories are born out of moments that bind us together as Jews. Holidays and rituals often create memories that blur actual years and dates. When we stand at a Bar/Bat Mitzvah of our child, niece or nephew, our family becomes every family who has ever celebrated a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. When we bask in the glow of Hanukkiyah lights, we connect across the millennia with Jews who understood the timeless lesson of Hanukkah. When we feast at a Seder table, we become the generations of Jews who have gathered to celebrate freedom. Our rituals meld memory from one year to memory of the next to create a giant melting pot of memory for each of us. Each ritual evokes memories across the years, across the spectrum of our lives.
Other memories are born in the unexpected moments. These are the moments that happen in the otherwise normal course of our days. These are the moments that happen spontaneously – seeing a beautiful pool of water in the middle of a hot day, a quick trip down to the beach to see the sunset. Seeing our kids love each other, spouses hug each other, a good laugh with colleagues in our workplace, a quick cup of coffee with a dear friend.
This is the stuff of memory, not of history. I think Yerushalmi would say that when it comes to spiritual meaning, these memories are more important than history. Our memories are linked to story and ritual woven in the grand tapestry of our lives.
What are the memories that you are carrying with you into this Yom Kippur day? In the recesses of your heart, which people in your life are sitting next to you right now, regardless of whether they still walk this earth or not? When we reciteYizkor in a few moments, we will enter an intense communal moment. All of our memories come together in a giant melting pot of memory. Will the memories you create in 5772 be different because you sat here today and remembered?
As we move into 5772 and we look to create memories, I share you three pieces of advice:
1. Don’t leave it up to FACEBOOK. Now before you laugh, consider this maiseh or story, recently related to me by a dear friend. She was sitting at a beautiful Rosh Hashanah table, enjoying the company of family and friends, and she looked up and saw that across the table, one of the guests was videoing the dipping of the apple in the honey so he could post it on FACEBOOK. For many of us the desire to record the events of our lives with photographs, video and other media actually substitute for experiencing the moment itself. I remember a moment at a wedding where I was officiating. The couple had just exchanged rings, and I was ready to move to the next part of the ceremony, when the photographer turned to me and said, “Hey rabbi, I didn’t catch that shot. Can we go back and re-do that?” Who among us believes that the true memory of a wedding lives in the pictures rather than in the hearts and minds of those who attended?
But for some, the memory is only real when it is posted on FACEBOOK or captured in the picture-perfect pose. The truest memories live on in our hearts and in order for that to happen, you must be present in the moment. Don’t leave it up to technology.
2. Don’t disagree over memories. If it wasn’t Shabbat right now, I would ask you to each pull out a piece of paper and begin writing what you are taking with you from this Yom Kippur service. And we would have as many different interpretations of what is happening right now as we have people in the room. Memory is subjective and so each one of us is going to refract story and memory in a different way. Just because you remember the narrative a certain way doesn’t mean that someone else’s version of it is inaccurate. It is memory, not history and don’t quibble with family or friends over the details of how you think something really happened. It is amazing, yet sometimes challenging to realize that you and your loved ones can all shared a particular moment, and yet it can be different for each person. Don’t fight over the memories – it is not worth it.
3. Don’t try to erase the bad memories. Our tradition exhorts us “Zakhor et Amalek,” to remember Amalek, the person seen as the quintessential source of evil in the memory of our people. Jews know that it is through holding on to the memory that we actually have the ability to move beyond it. When a person has power over us, we release that by remembering and transforming the memory, not erasing it. We read Amalek’s name and recount his actions in our annual Torah reading cycle. While it is tempting to want to erase those bad memories, the times when we felt pained or disappointed by what did or didn’t happen, we musn’t do this. Instead we must learn from, reflect on and allow these bad or even less satisfying memories to breathe in our life narrative, even when it feels counter-intuitive to do so. This is what the Jewish mystic the Baal Shem Tov meant when he taught that “forgetfulness leads to exile while remembering is the secret to redemption.” Don’t exile yourself from your inner tyrants. Rather redeem yourself from your inner tyrants.
This week before Yom Kippur, I did it again. I went into the living room pulled the old green scrapbook down from the white bookshelf, grabbed the old crocheted burgundy afghan Granma made. I curled up on the couch under the afghan and went to open the scrapbook. This time I didn’t open to the beginning of the book. Instead I turned it over and I opened to the back of the book. I wanted to see how many unused pages were left in the scrapbook. How many pages did I have left to fill in this book?
None of us in this room really knows how many pages are left in our own sefer zikhronot, our own book of memories yet to create. But each of us can commit to filling those pages as best we can. We can commit to those pages calling us to action. The images of the page should spur us to care more, reach out more often, and to deepen the connection with those we love. Will the memories you create in 5772 be different because you sat here today and remembered?