Yom Kippur Afternoon / Yizkor 5780
October 9, 2019
Rabbi Heidi M. Cohen
A New Light Searching for Our Truth
There once lived a man who set off to look for truth. He scoured the world in search of it, giving up his possessions, his family, his home, all to search for truth. After many years of wandering, his travels took him to India where he heard tales of a distant mountain. Atop that mountain, people told him he would find that place where truth resides.
For many months he searched until he found the mountain of which they spoke. He climbed for several days and finally came to the mouth of a cave. He called into it and, a minute later his call was answered by the voice of an old woman.
“What do you want?”
“I seek the truth.”
“Well, you have found me.”
He entered the cave and there, in the back, saw the most horrific creature he had ever laid eyes on, huddled over a fire. Her eyes bulged out, one further than the other, and bumps covered her face. Stray teeth stuck out from her mouth and her long-tangled hair hung down in matted strands.
“You?” he said. “You are truth?” She nodded.
Though shocked at her appearance, he stayed with her and found that she was, indeed, truth. He lived there for many years, learning her ways. Finally, as he prepared to leave, he asked how he could ever repay her for all she had done for him. “I would ask simply this,” she said. “When you go out in the world and speak of me, tell them I am young and beautiful!”
Tonight we begin the search for our truth. Tonight we continue to examine our heshbon hanefesh, the accounting of our soul, of our lives. We seek the truth about who we really are and ask if we are really happy with our lives. In the parable, truth hopes that we will go out and say she is beautiful and young, but does this only do a disservice to mask the realities of life? Life is not always perfect, it can be ugly, bumpy and full of cracks. But these cracks and imperfections have the potential to be beautiful as well.
Our journey through Yom Kippur is to both understand the paths we have taken to get us to where we are at this moment and to embark on a journey of examining the possibilities of what lies before us and a new outlook to the future. This is our time to examine if we are truly happy with where we are in our lives.
This is my 22nd High Holy Days at Temple Beth Sholom, and what a journey it has been. And like so many in this sacred space, I too wonder every now and then about my life journey. Am I in the right place? Am I still effective as the rabbi here? Am I happy? Yes, there is always the 7 year itch, and I guess you can say I’m in the third cycle. I’ve watched many of my colleagues move from congregation to congregation. And one can say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, that is until you have to weed and mow it.
In 21 years I have been a part of great change and challenges. Together we endured the recession of 2008 during which so many had to make hard financial decisions which included leaving the congregation even though together with the Board, I told families that we were not letting them go. Unfortunately, this began the decline of membership not only for us as a congregation but for many membership dependent organizations. Yet still, we continue to welcome many new families and we continue to adapt as to how we look at connections in our congregation.
Together we made it through our fire and rebuild in 2015. And today, we continue to evaluate how we are able to engage one another and ensure that there is a Jewish community not only for ourselves, but for future generations. Never in 21 years have I ever felt like Temple Beth Sholom was static, rather we were open to the possibilities of change. We experienced that last week when we took our Second Day Rosh Hashanah service that was almost a carbon copy of the first day, from within the synagogue to the outdoors, overlooking the ocean in Huntington Beach with over 200 people from TBS, Congregation B’nai Tzedek and Temple Beth David. Reading the story of creation that morning, we experienced it and we look forward to doing it again next year. Rabbi Michael Marmur teaches, “the most traditional thing a Jew can do is to change.”
Each of us have had the experience of asking ourselves, am I really happy where I am? Am I happy doing what I am doing? Over the years many of you have retired. But as I’ve heard you say, retirement is not what one thinks it will be when we begin our career journey. Today, there are few who are able to financially rely on their pensions alone if they even have one. Many still have to work in order to cover the cost of living. And then there is a need to keep busy. Some may volunteer, go back to school or even start a whole new career after retiring from one profession.
Throughout our lives we have the opportunity to examine our life purpose, our strengths and areas for growth. Each of us have to do that work and not for someone else but rather for ourselves. Over the past few years I’ve worked with both a rabbinic mentor and a life coach. Both of them reminding me why I am a rabbi and how I can continue to grow in not only supporting our community and the Jewish people but also how to maintain my self integrity and identity. It’s a balancing act that many of us face in our careers and lives – to not lose ourselves in our work in order to meet our work and life goals. And while I had to spend time with my life coach who is not Jewish, teaching about the rhythm of the Jewish year and lifecycle, what remained constant was the consistent message; I’m never going to make everyone happy, that’s not my responsibility. Instead it is the responsibility of each individual to find their own happiness. And if all we do is try to make everyone else happy we will lose our own ability to be happy because we’re too busy worrying about everyone else.
During Yom Kippur we take an accounting of our lives and then decide how that accounting will shape our future. How will we find our happiness? How will we explore the depths of our souls and our hearts?
We can turn to our liturgy to find inspiration: The morning blessing, yotzeir or, says, m’chadeish b’chol yom tamid ma’aseih v’reisheet, renewed each day are the works of creation. In other words, we have an opportunity every single day to be renewed; to find new possibilities. We don’t have to be so stuck in one place that we don’t feel like we can ever climb out of a hole we may feel like we have fallen into. Every day is new and meant to be different from the last and different from the future. Every day we should be able to say, I’ve done enough today because there is still tomorrow and we should always leave a little bit undone. (thank you Rabbi Joe Black)
It’s easy to get stuck in the hole and only see the darkness around us, the darkness of despair in which we feel like we haven’t done enough or worse, that we are not enough. And when we are in that dark place, it’s hard to see the light of possibilities and new opportunities.
The yotzeir or continues with, or chadash al tzion ta’ir, v’neezkeh kulanu m’heirah l’oroh, Cause a new light to shine in Zion, may we all soon share in the portion of its radiance. When we are overly critical of ourselves we are sometimes only able to see the darkness and the negative, the humiliation or failures. And when we are in that dark place it is so hard to see our successes and the positive change we create. Our critical voice is louder and drowns out the potential for praise and pride. There are those who are only able to criticize and complain instead of complement and find the good. As we examine our nefesh, our souls tonight, we have to begin by setting our intention. Is our intention to destroy ourselves, breaking our souls down to their very foundation in hopes that we can rebuild them? That can only lead to destroying ourselves instead of recognizing the potential for who we can become.
In yoga practice, before one begins a session we are asked to set our intention for that days practice. Setting an intention means choosing something that we want to amplify or cultivate. Some examples include:
I trust that the universe is giving me exactly what I need at exactly the right time. Everything works out perfectly.
I let go of expectations. I create powerful possibilities. I will face my fears to live my dreams.
I love and embrace all that I am and all that I am not. I do not base my entire sense of self on mistakes I’ve made in the past.
This last one hits on what our intention is for tonight. Do we base our entire sense of self on the mistakes we’ve made in the past? If we do, then we are doomed to fall into the hole of self-hatred and shame. Brene Brown says, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” Yes, we recognize our mistakes but we don’t live by them. We learn and grow from them. Instead of spending so much energy on beating ourselves down or letting others beat us down, we need to spend time on building ourselves up and celebrating our successes. Instead of being our worst critics, we need to become our best cheerleaders.
Tonight, we stand at the mouth of the cave and we call in to find truth. Don’t be afraid if that which you find at first looks scary with all the cracks and bumps. Rather, find the beauty in your cracks and bumps. Truth is you. Truth is me. Truth is us. As we examine our lives from this past year and the year ahead, embrace truth. May we find the courage to see ourselves wholly, get to know ourselves and find out just how beautiful we are. May you do that work for you, not because someone else tells you to do it. May we all remember, the only person you have to make proud for who you are is you. And that truth is beautiful.