Shaarei Shamayim

A Place of Comfort, Companionship and Healing



Some of you may have expected me to speak this morning about the bid for Palestinian Statehood submitted yesterday in the UN—about the speeches of Abbas and Netanyahu. Don’t worry; I’m sure I’ll get to it on the High Holy Days. Today, however, is the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah and instead, I would like to speak about how to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. Let me begin by asking you to take some time and count up all that was good in the year that’s almost over, and then think about what you want to do, and what it is that you want to be, in the New Year that will soon begin.

Let share with you a couple of simple stories and a teaching that raise 3 questions that I think we need to think about when a New Year begins and then let me suggest some possible answers to them that come from our tradition:

1. Where are we? And what are we doing with our days?           2. What do we weigh today? And how much do we want to weigh a year from now? Not physically...but emotionally.

3. Where is Gd?

The 1st story is found in the old Hebrew textbooks that were commonly used in the cheders of pre-WWII Europe:

Once there was a man who was very forgetful. When he woke up in the morning, he could never remember where he had put his things the night before. On one night, he worked out a plan. He took a pencil and a pad of paper, and as he got undressed, he wrote down exactly where he put his clothes. Then, the next morning, when he woke up, he took the piece of paper and read the list. “My cap is on the dresser”...he went over to the dresser, and sure enough, there it he put it on, and made a checkmark on the pad of paper.

Then he looked at the paper again. And it said, “My pants are on the chair,” and so he went to the chair, and there they were... so he put them on, and made a check on the paper. Then he looked at the paper again, and it said, “My shirt is on the table,” so he went to the table, and there it he put it on, and made a check on the paper. And then he looked at the paper and it said, “My shoes and socks are under the bed,” so he looked under the bed, and sure enough, there they were.  So he put them on, and then he made a check on the paper.

And so it went until he was fully dressed. And then he said, “This is fine...but where am I?” He looked and he looked, but he could not find himself.

That, it seems to me, in one sentence, is the purpose of the High Holy Days. It’s the time in which we try to find ourselves, our real selves, not the mask that we show to other people, but our real selves, the selves that we should be, the selves that we could be...the selves that so easily get lost in all the hustle and bustle of our daily lives.

So ask yourself today, or some time before Rosh Hashanah, “Where am I in this world? And what am I doing with my days? And if I am wasting my life...if I am frittering away my days on this earth…who am I fooling besides myself?”

The 2nd story is about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, z”l. Shlomo came to America as a teenager from Austria. He came as a refugee from Nazi persecution, and he became a great folk singer and spiritual teacher. He traveled all over the world, giving concerts and teaching Torah to Jews and non-Jews. Every so often, he would go back to Austria and Germany to give concerts there. Someone once asked him, “How can you go back there? How can you give concerts there to gladden their hearts? Don’t you hate them? After what they did to you and your family, don’t you hate them?”

This was Shlomo’s answer. He said, “If I had 2 souls, I would devote one, full time, to hating them, but I don’t. I only have one soul, and so I am not going to waste it on hating.”

I tell you this story on this Shabbos before Rosh Hashana because I believe that it speaks—not only about Jews and Germans—it speaks to all the hatreds and all the grudges that all of us carry around inside us...that weigh us down. What do you weigh now and how much do you want to weigh next year at this time? What Shlomo Carlebach says to us is, “Enough already!” Isn’t it time to say, “I don’t need this anymore. I don’t need to shlep this baggage around within me, into the New Year. I’m going to forgive, or, if I can’t do that, then I’m going to forget...not because the person who hurt me deserves it—he doesn’t…but because the person who hurt me doesn’t deserve to have so much power over my life. That person doesn’t deserve the power to turn me into a hate-ridden human being.”

Doesn't that make sense? If it does, then let us make one New Year’s resolution to leave at least one grudge behind as we enter the New Year, because what do we need it for? And what good does it do us? And who does it hurt when we hate? Drop it, and you will weigh much less inwardly, as you enter the New Year. You will look better and you will feel better as a result.

And the last question is the question that underlies all our questions. Where is Gd? Down through the centuries, there have been as many different answers to this question as there have been scholars and philosophers. I want to share just one word of Torah with you so that it may give you a hint as to where I believe the answer may be found.

Do you know the Hebrew word for love? Ahavah. Its gematria, numerical value, is Aleph 1+ Hey 5+ Bet 2+ Hey 5 = 13. Now the 2nd question, what is the 4-letter name of Gd that we pronounce Ado-nai or Hashem? It’s spelled: Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. What is its numerical value? Yud is 10, Hey is 5, Vav is 6, and Hey is 5 = 26. Says the sages, “Whenever you have two 13’s together...whenever 2 people love each other; whenever a person gives love and receives love...there, Gd is present.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a spouse or a family member or a friend. Two 13’s together equals 26.

I suggest that there is more than just a numbers game going on here. I think that what the sages were saying was that if people are selfish and self-centered, they drive Gd out of the world. And that if people give and receive love, they increase Gd’s presence in the world. Gd is to be found in the space between 2 people who love each other.

So here are my 2 simple stories and a teaching. One that raises the question: “Where are we? And what are we doing with our days?” One that raises the question, “What do we need to hate for? And, what good does it do to hate?  And, whom does it hurt when we hate?” And one that raises the question, “Where is Gd and How do we find him?”

I offer you these 3 questions to think about this Shabbos before Rosh Hashana, or at any time in the New Year, when you are alone, and the television set is off, and the telephone is silent, and the soul wants to speak. May Gd bless us in our search. Shanah Tova Tichateyvu V’teychateymu, May Gd inscribe and seal you and yours, and all of us, for a good, sweet, healthy and a happy New Year. Amen.

Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

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