Rosh Hashanah Sermon - 5770

We all like to be in control of our lives. We like to think that we can provide for the health, safety, and comfort of our family. We work at jobs we are trained for, we get involved in activities that we're good at. But there are times in our life when things are out of our control. We get sick, or the economy goes bust and our retirement accounts take a hit.

Couple with that walking into shul on the High Holidays. We are confronted with a language in which we aren't fluent, and with prayers whose content we may not agree, and with concepts which force us to focus on our limitations and weaknesses. The High Holidays force us to do the opposite of our human nature - inner introspection as opposed to patting ourselves on the back.

Let's look at three Biblical models who dealt with limitations. Abraham was a liar and had troubles with his family. He lied about his wife Sarah when seeking food outside of Israel and he had troubles dealing with Hagar, Ishmael, and Sarah. Moses lacked communication skills. The Torah says he was "Kevad peh", literally "heavy of mouth" but is generally understood to mean some kind of speech impediment. King David was an adulterer and a murderer. He saw Bathsheba, had his way with her and then sent her husband off to the front lines to be killed. Yet despite all of these faults these three figures serve as models of religious leadership. Abraham is the father of the Jewish people and had a personal relationship with God. Moses is considered the greatest of all rabbis/teachers and the greatest of prophets. And David is considered to be the author of the Book of Psalms considered by all western religions to be the greatest of all religious poetry (and is incorporated in our liturgy).

One might think that God would have created us perfectly. One might think that since God is perfect that all of God's creation would be perfect too. But Genesis chapter 2 describes the work of creation and one of the words has an extra Hebrew letter "yud". The rabbis interpret that to mean that we were created with a "yetzer tov" good inclination and a "yetzer ra" an evil inclination - in other words we were created with imperfection.

The goal then is to confront our limitations and our wrong doings and overcome them. We are to look at Abraham, Moses, and David as models for overcoming faults and grave sins and achieving greatness.

Sen. Ted Kennedy wrote a letter to the Pope a few months before he died, excerpts of which were published in the August 30, 2009 edition of the Washington Post. He said, "I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines....I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith I have tried to right my path."

Humility is one ingredient in confronting our limitations. The desire to be in control of our lives can lead to arrogance, a feeling that we have the right to do anything and that others around us are there to just serve our needs. Humility on the other hand promotes a sense that no one is perfect and that "we're in this together." That's the religious model required.

Faith is also necessary. Abraham, Moses, and David all had personal and interactive relationships with God which helped them cope with the issues in their lives and made them stronger human beings.

We also need acceptance - a sense that we know who we are and what our limitations/faults are.

Ultimately, facing reality, and recognizing our faults leads us to gain control over our lives. It is a paradox yet a strategy we need to pursue. May this be a year of introspection and growth, a year of awareness and blessing.