Friday, December 14, 2012

Better to Light a Candle - Chanukah and the Tragedy

Better to Light a Candle: Chanukah and the Tragedy in Newtown, CT
By Rabbi David Kaufman Dec. 14, 2012

On the first day of school, excitement was in the air,
One was wearing a new dress, a big red bow in her hair,
Another had on new sneakers and had nearly forgotten,
The kiss, the hug, the picture taken before kindergarten,

The months rolled by, joy and learning,
Children at play, always yearning
The bell sounded to begin just another day,
But yet not another day…

Thunderous sounds, but not thunder,
Screams, but not of joy and laughter.
A town of lives torn asunder,
From this day and ever after.

I could not think of words to say,
No prayer enough, not today,
Yet today was today and something must be said,
As we think of the darkness that reared its ugly head.

Tonight, we remember ancient times of challenge and fear,
Miracles that happened Sham and Po, there and here,
Through the power of your spirit, the weak defeated the strong,
On this night our weakened spirits are carried along.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that when things look bad and hopeless,
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
On this night of all nights,
We remember that one candle may kindle many lights.

Light will kindle light.
Hope will kindle hope.

May we work to make our world a better place for our children and grandchildren to grow up in health, safety, happiness, and joy.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Choosing the Right Path and Getting the Wrong Result

Choosing the Right Path and Getting the Wrong Result
Sermon for Yom Kippur Day 2012-5773
Rabbi David Kaufman

In the 1973 movie, Sleeper, starring Woody Allen, a man, Miles Monroe, awakens 200 years in the future. His doctors discuss his care when he wakes up:

Dr. Melik: Well, he's fully recovered, except for a few minor kinks.
Dr. Agon: Has he asked for anything special?
Dr. Melik: Yes, this morning for breakfast. He requested something called wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk.
Dr. Agon: [laughs] Oh, yes. Those were the charmed substances...That some years ago Were felt to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies? Or hot fudge?
Dr. Agon: Those were thought to be unhealthy, precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible.
Miles Monroe: Where am I anyhow, I mean, what happened to everybody, where are all my friends?
Dr. Aragon: You must understand that everyone you knew in the past has been dead nearly two hundred years.
Miles Monroe: But they all ate organic rice! 

Woody Allen poked fun at the things that we do to try to stay healthy. He thought that people would find it funny, as we do, if the foods we consider today to be terrible for us turn out instead to be good for us. Many of us work very hard to keep ourselves healthy…some of us, not so much.

Few of us live like Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru who died at age 96 last January, would have wanted us to live, but then again there is only one Jack LaLanne. For those here who do not know about him, Jack LaLanne was the guru of fitness in America for most of the latter half of the 20th century. He created the jumping Jack. Yes, it is named after Jack LaLanne. For those of us who have difficulty doing one, much less ten, twenty, or fifty pushups; at age 43, in 1957, Jack did over 1,000 pushups in 23 minutes while on the television show, “You asked for it.” He worked out two hours a day, every day. Jack LaLanne believed that we could control our health, entirely. Yet while few of us live like Jack LaLanne, none of us IS Jack LaLanne.

We try to work out regularly. We run, walk, swim and bike. We eat organic. We diet. We play tennis and golf. We do not smoke or if we do, we work hard to quit. We take our medicines and follow the things that our doctors tell us to do. Yet too often in spite of our best efforts, illness strikes.

I wrote in my recent bulletin article about how as I look back on the year that has just passed, I am struck by the many health challenges faced by people in my life over the past year and a little more, no few of which are ongoing.

Some of these individuals inspire me just by walking through the door of the Temple; the very act a reminder of their inner strength and our human ability to overcome. Others have not been so fortunate as to be given the chance for healing, but have shown tremendous power of the spirit in facing their illnesses, inspiring many others. This year, I sat at all too many bedsides, offering words of prayer and comfort, holding hands, hugging shuddering shoulders, eyes filled with tears.

What does one say, when the question is an existential one, “Why?” Why is this bad thing happening to me? To her? To him? Why now? Even more specifically, why in spite of efforts to do all of the right things? Sometimes even when we choose the right path, we get the wrong result. That is what I would like to talk with you about today.

I will begin with a look at Fundamentalist ideas of reward and punishment, then at challenges to the idea that God punishes at all. Finally, I would like to talk about what is perhaps the hardest thing for us to address, the idea of not being in complete control of what happens in life.

Fundamentalist Ideas

On Yom Kippur, we are particularly mindful of our vulnerabilities, our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and our failings. The Torah uses the terms “blessing” and “curse” in describing the good things and bad things that happen to us.

We read in the book of Deuteronomy:

When all these things befall you, the blessing and the curse that I have set before you, and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to which Adonai your God has banished you, and you repent to Adonai your God, and you and your children heed God’s command with all of your heart and soul, just as I enjoin upon you this day, then Adonai your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love.

The Deuteronomists, those who authored the Book of Deuteronomy and edited parts of the Book of Joshua as well, believed that whatever befalls us in our lives occurs because God blesses us or because God curses us. Everything that happens according to this belief happens because God wills it to happen. It is the philosophy that has guided traditional Jewish thought for generation after generation. It continues to form the basis of Orthodox Jewish thought today with some modification for free will, and is prominently found among Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims.

Taken together, the belief that God either blesses us or curses us and the belief that God is always just, leads to the conclusion that God rewards only the righteous and punishes only the wicked. Blessings that are in our lives are rewards for our righteousness. Curses are punishments for our misdeeds. Therefore, if curses are present in our lives, according to this philosophy, it is because we have sinned.

Many of those who are suffering feel a need to seek out the reason why. Just as Job’s “friends” did in the Book of Job, there is an assumption that suffering must be deserved. In ancient times, suffering and sin went hand in hand to the point that in the story of Hagar and Sarah, Hagar is said to look down upon Sarah because Sarah was barren. It was not merely a reflection of problematic physiology, but of her sinfulness. God was punishing her.

Some take this kind of thought to an extreme, arguing that floods, hurricanes, tsunamis and other major natural disasters are the result of sinfulness, the disasters occurring as punishment by God. Our tradition, Reform Judaism, finds this idea offensive. We do not feel compelled to explain why God did these things.

For fundamentalists, who believe that God causes all things to happen, there must be reason why God made this happen or allowed it to happen. They ask, “What did these people do, what did we do, to deserve this?” No answer to that question is appropriate in my mind and I am sure that the vast majority of you, if not all of you, would agree with me. The problem is not the answer, but the question itself.

I have spoken and written about this many times in the past, but it never hurts to mention that the belief that blessings and curses are bestowed upon us by God for what we, ourselves, have done in our lives is already an advancement over the previous theodicy, the belief about divine justice, that is found in the book of Numbers, chapter 14. There we find:

Adonai, slow to anger and abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression; yet not remitting all punishment, but visiting the sins of the fathers unto the children, unto the third and fourth generations!!!

According to this philosophy, righteous people are indeed punished!!! Not for their own actions, but for the misdeeds of their ancestors! How did anyone come up with this idea? Well…the basic concept is the same one that underlies the Avot v’Imahot prayer that we say in every service. In that prayer, we ask God to bless us because of the righteous actions of our ancestors. It must be assumed for that to happen that we could also be cursed as well.

The idea that we may be punished for the sins of ancestors is a reasonable explanation for why bad things happen to good people. It explains why the righteous might suffer. The problem is that this kind of god would be unjust and vindictive, taking vengeance upon innocents who had nothing to do with the action taken. A good and just God would not do this.

By the time that the book of Deuteronomy was written, it seems that the belief that God would punish descendants for the behavior of ancestors had ended. Now, blessings and curses were considered to be rewards and punishments for one’s own actions. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, when bad things happen to us it is because we ourselves deserve them.

Challenges to Fundamentalism

The problem is that where the earlier philosophy explained why bad things happen to good people, by putting the blame for punishment on ancestors, the philosophy as found in Deuteronomy does not. Deuteronomy argues that bad things simply do not happen to good people. If something bad happens to someone, they must deserve it. The righteous are never punished, because that would be unjust and God is always just.

This brings us to one of the first real challenges to the Deuteronomic idea of reward and punishment, the Book of Job. In Job, Job’s friends, people who know him to be an exemplary person, argue that the curses befalling him must be happening because God was punishing him for his sins. Job must have done something wrong about which they did not know. God would not punish a righteous man. Therefore, the path they saw for Job was to admit his failings and perhaps then God would withdraw the punishment.

The one thing that the story tells us to be true beyond any doubt is that Job is righteous. God tests Job to prove a point to Satan about just how righteous Job is. While the author tells a story that tries to explain why Job is suffering, the reader knows all along that Job is a righteous person who is being punished. How could this be? A just God, who is all powerful and all seeing, cannot punish the just, even if intending to reward later.

However, we have all seen innocents suffer. The story of Job rings all too true for us. The problem remains. A just god would not punish the innocent for the sins of others, nor would such a god allow the righteous to be punished if it were possible to prevent it. This day, during which the written prayers seek mercy and compassion from God in order to turn away punishment, we should remind ourselves that the view of God as judge and arbiter is not the only one provided by our tradition.

The 23rd Psalm holds a much different explanation for why bad things happen to good people and offers a different view of God’s role in relation to human suffering.

When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—or to translate the idiom more appropriately, “the darkest valley”,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me,
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The 23rd Psalm, though we recite it during the funeral liturgy, is not about death. It is about those times when we find ourselves in a dark valley, where we might easily be afraid. Therein, when we cannot see the light ahead, the psalm reminds us that Adonai is our shepherd, watching over us, that God will not let us get lost, and that God will lead us to green pastures and to tranquil waters. Even when we find ourselves in the most awful places in life, we shall fear no evil because God is with us.

In the 23rd Psalm, there is no request for God to simply lift us from the valley into the light, nor is that expected. The God of Psalm 23 helps us to face the difficulties that we will encounter along the way, like a loved one holding your hand during a time of illness and pain. This God does not curse us, nor does this God have the power to remove our curses.

At this time of year, we call God, “Avinu,” “Our Father.” We ask God to treat us like a loving parent, with compassion and mercy. The God of the 23rd Psalm takes care of us like a parent with a sick child, loving, embracing us, aching out of helplessness, yearning to bring us to a better place, to bring us through the tough times. And like a parent, all the while calming our fears. God can not remove us from our darkest valleys, but like a parent, God can help us feel better as we walk through them.

Control over fate

Growing up, we are taught that our actions affect how we are treated. If we perform well in school, we receive good grades. If we behave at home, our parents will be happier and perhaps give us things that we want to have. If we are nice to our friends, they will be nice to us. We would like this pattern to continue on as we get older in all our relationships in life and many times we act as if this is the way things work.

We believe that if we eat healthy and live healthy, exercising and avoiding problematic things, that we will live forever or at least much longer and much happier. We do not bat an eyelash when we hear that someone who is battling issues with weight or smokes or drinks a lot tells us that they are suffering health consequences. But what of the marathon runner who has diabetes? I know at least one.

We are to an extent like the friends of Job. We would like to find answers that fit with our preconceived notions of how the universe works. God, in our tradition, brings order to chaos. We expect to find order. We do not like chaos.

We read the first verses of the creation story incorrectly:

When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth being tohu va-vohu, all chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep. The spirit of God swept over the surface of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light.

Nowhere are we told that all of the chaos was transformed into order, only that all that there was in the beginning was chaos. Some chaos remains. And nowhere are we told that all of the darkness was transformed into light, only that light appeared in the midst of the darkness.

If we are able to live our lives like Jack LaLanne, we will most likely live healthier lives than we might otherwise. We can bring some order to chaos, but we cannot forget that tohu vavohu are still around. Woody Allen once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

There are times when we may choose the right path, following it diligently, and nonetheless receive the wrong result because of something completely unforeseen or perhaps because the path that gets us closest to where we want to go, may not get us all the way there.

In the past year alone, more than one friend who never smoked a cigarette has recently found himself facing lung cancer. Most of us know of the challenges faced by a member of our congregation who went kayaking, fell terribly ill, and is now a famous face of health care reform. The young child of a colleague is facing leukemia. Tohu va-vohu.

We are not in full control. We realize that on this day, the Day of Atonement, perhaps more than we do on any other day. Whether we believe that God has influence in what happens to us or not, we know that we are not able to lift ourselves from all of those dark valleys, nor avoid wandering into a few in the first place. This day, we hope to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good and healthy year, but we know that not all of us, in spite of our best efforts, will be so inscribed and it frightens us. Not that we doubt our worthiness, but that we doubt our ability to control what happens.

This day, we acknowledge both that we have the ability to influence the direction of our lives, to make teshuva, to turn to the right path, and that some things are beyond our control and that we hope for mercy and compassion when we face them.

We may not be able to avoid entering valleys in our lives, but we do have some say as to how we go about journeying through them. Psalm 23 reminds us that God is with us in our dark valleys, but others may also be there with us, giving us strength as well. It is my hope that I may be there alongside you with a caring presence at a bedside, with a word or a hug. I am always available for you and your loved ones, any day, any time of day.

And let us gain strength from one another in our congregation. Let us, each of us, reach out and help those in need in any way that we can, whether it is by giving blood, by donating money, by giving a hug, by calling or visiting those touched by illness or sorrow and letting them know that we are thinking about them. This is what being a part of a congregation and a community is truly about, offering and finding friendship and support, being there for one another.

May we ever help to bring true the words of Psalm 30 that we find during the concluding service today, “You have turned my grief into dancing, released me from my anguish, and surrounded me with gladness. Adonai, my God, I shall give thanks to you forever.”
Kein Yehi Ratson. May it be God’s will. Good Yom Tov.

Vows and Obligations – Kol Nidrei 2012-5773

Vows and Obligations – Kol Nidrei 2012-5773
Rabbi David Kaufman

Although we think of books by Dr. Seuss as “children’s literature,” almost all of his works have messages for readers of all ages.  In no story is this more true than in Horton Hatches the Egg. Just as Mayzie, the lazy bird, wishes for “someone to stay on her nest,” because she was “tired and bored,” Horton the Elephant—which is not a political reference—passes by. Horton is persuaded to take over for Mazie, who promises:

“I’ll hurry right back.  Why, I’ll never be missed.”
“Very well,” said the elephant, “since you insist.”

In summer, the task was easy. But eventually autumn passes, “And then came the Winter…the snow and the sleet! And icicles hung From his trunk and his feet.” 
But Horton doesn’t abandon Mayzie’s egg, repeating the refrain that runs through the story:

I meant what I said and I said what I meant
An elephant’s faithful one hundred per cent!

Spring brings more tribulations when Horton’s friends spot him sitting in the nest:

They taunted, they teased him, they yelled, “How Absurd!”
Old Horton the elephant thinks he’s a bird!

When his friends run away, poor “Horton was lonely. He wanted to play, but he sat on the egg and continued to say:”

I meant what I said and I said what I meant
An elephant’s faithful one hundred per cent!

Horton kept his promise, fulfilling the obligation that he elected to take on. By the closing lines of the story, Horton’s faithfulness is rewarded: When the egg hatches, the baby bird has a trunk and a tail!

Tonight, on this night when we offer the words of the Kol Nidrei, a prayer seeking forgiveness for promises we could not have kept and those we should not or cannot keep, I would like to speak with you about making promises and keeping obligations, about acting rashly, perhaps when emotions run high, and then about how to do better this year, how to set ourselves on a better path.

Vows and Obligations

The story of Horton Hatches the Egg, teaches us, using humor, about how difficult it is to fulfill our obligations and promises. We, like Mayzie the Bird or Horton the Elephant, make promises and take on obligations that may prove increasingly hard for us. Let us for a moment imagine ourselves, not as Mayzie, abandoning responsibility, but as Horton sitting on the nest. Our task may move from a symbolic summer, when doing the task was relatively easy, to winter with icicles hanging from our bodies, when keeping up the task is painful and we wonder if we can go on. Our friends may well come by and wish for us to break our vow, to join in their fun. They may even make fun of us or taunt us for refusing. Have you ever been called a “party pooper” or worse because you chose to be responsible? Many who have taken on responsibility have faced this at times.

This Summer, I spoke at Goldman Union Camp on Shabbat Matot-Massei. Matot-Massei, a combined Torah portion, includes a discussion of wiping out the Midianites, the vows of women, the death of Aaron and the creation of cities of refuge. It is not easy to figure out what to talk about with a congregation full of children. Many rabbis in the past have picked something else entirely to talk about.

I chose to work with the Torah portion and spoke of a connection between the Torah’s concern about vows and the cities of refuge, both of which to some extent have to do with acting rashly and perhaps emotionally.

Our people in times not too distant believed that God would enforce vows. If you swore an oath or made a vow to God, you were expected to keep your promise or God would punish you. That is why people were asked to make vows in the first place. In fact, Jews believed that God might well punish not only us individually, but our entire family or the entirety of the Jewish people if we failed to uphold our promises. Vows were a big deal.

If for example we would make a pledge to God, such as “God, if I get an A on this exam, I will say the Shema three times a day for a month and not watch any TV,” or “If the diagnosis isn’t so bad, I will never eat [fill in the blank with your favorite food] again,” the tradition tells us that we need to follow through or there will be consequences. Sometimes, we say things in an emotional state that we really do not want to do or should not do. The consequences that we have proposed may be things that we would never wish to happen or perhaps cannot allow to happen. For example,

If you do this again, I swear I will [fill in the blank with some horrendous consequence]. I will kill you, never speak with you again, etc…

If only I could meet this movie star or rock star, I would [fill in the blank with something very inappropriate or harmful].  Or---
I would cut off my arm, if I could….

In ancient times, people did not simply make vows that they had no intention of keeping. Vows were not expressions of desire or mere reflections of our emotional state, they were serious agreements not to be violated. The prophets in fact regularly reminded the people of the oaths that they and their ancestors swore to God to keep. If you ever get a chance to read the Book of Judges, you will find all kinds of stories about vows and the consequences of breaking them.

The most famous story is of Samson who was most likely a Nazirite hero. The Nazirites were people who swore an oath not to allow their hair to be cut except in a certain ritual fashion. The hair was considered holy and used for Temple purposes. Delilah of course ends up cutting Samson’s hair, breaking his vow, and his super strength, his power, suddenly vanishes. The story is about what happens when this vow in the service of God is broken, even unintentionally. Everything changes.

Sometimes, we swear oaths simply out of ignorance. We don’t have all of the necessary information, and we make pledges that we never should have made, nor would have made had we known more.

In this vein, there is a second story from the Book of Judges, that of Jephthah, a leader of Gilead, who swore that if he was victorious in battle, he would offer up to God as a sacrifice the first thing that came out to greet him when he returned home. The supposition is that he intended for it to be an animal, but it turned out to be his daughter. The story tells us that the daughters of Israel went out into the wilderness to mourn for the young woman every year, indicating that Jephthah kept his vow.

This tale, like many other tales of morality in our tradition, is one that almost certainly did not happen; it is probably a mythic tale, but it is also a story that stresses the importance of keeping vows. The belief was that had Jephthah failed to go through with his vow, the entire people might suffer. Remember also that these stories about vows are in the context of discussion of the covenant, the vows, between God and the Children of Israel. Not only the Torah, but the prophets, and many of the other works in the Tanakh, Jewish scriptures, discuss the necessity of the Jewish people upholding their vows and meeting their obligations.

But Jewish history puts vows into a different context in addition to this one. Over the past 2,000 years, we Jews were regularly forced to make vows with which we did not agree by people who also believed that God would enforce consequences if those vows were broken. We were forced to pledge our belief in other faiths, ones in which we did not believe, or we were compelled to break oaths we meant to keep because of threats against our lives. Because breaking oaths is not a minor thing in our tradition, the rabbis created the Kol Nidrei prayer in the hope of avoiding the consequences of breaking oaths to God, even ones made under duress. As our prayerbook states:

Kol Nidrei is the prayer of people not free to make their own decisions, people forced to say what they do not mean.

Yet the prayerbook also concludes its introduction to the section containing the Kol Nidrei prayer with these words:

For what we have done, for what we may yet do, we ask pardon; for rash words, broken pledges, insincere assurances, and foolish promises, may we find forgiveness.
We know that it is hardly only when forced that we make promises that we should not or cannot keep, nor is it only when forced that we make rash decisions, nor is it only when forced that we do not fulfill obligations and commitments that we have made.


In the Torah portion of which I spoke this Summer, we also read about the cities of refuge. The concept of refuge cities was intended to provide a way to prevent angry mobs from taking justice into their own hands. We do not know if these cities ever functioned, but the idea makes some sense. Fleeing to such cities could have allowed time for emotions to decrease and the truth about the events that transpired to come forth. Making emotionally based decisions can multiply our problems rather than helping to solve or heal them. We need time to think and reflect in order to make the right decisions. We cannot let our emotions drive us to act without thinking things through.

Too often, our emotions may drive us to speak without caring about whether or not what we speak is the truth or about the consequences of our words. The traditional Yom Kippur story about lashon hara, saying bad things about others, reminds us that words are like feathers spilled from a pillow into the wind, easy to release but often impossible to retract.

In an emotional state, we are much more prone to perceive things incorrectly, to say things that we should not say, and to act rashly. This is not merely true when we are angry or full of hatred, it can be when we are sad, in love, full of pride, overjoyed or full of any other emotion.

How do we avoid acting rashly?

The prophet Micah teaches us:

God has showed you, what is good. And what does Adonai require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

We need to be merciful, not merely just. Being merciful means having a disposition to forgiveness. On balance, just as we wish for God and for others to be merciful and not vengeful in regard to wrongs that we have done, so must we tend toward mercy ourselves in our relations with others.

We know that we can be wrong in our judgments. At times, we may feel certain that we are in the right and offer condemnation of others only to find out that our understanding was terribly wrong. Some of us have found ourselves on the wrong side of this very type of action. We need to be mindful of our potential to err when we get angry and wish to act upon that anger, so that we do not do or say something that we could regret later. We need to be humble.

That is not easy for a people too often willing to sit in the dark. We are a people whose tradition is full of rash responses, responses made full of emotion. We have made promises without thinking. We have reacted violently against the very concept of assimilating practices or beliefs different from our own, often without understanding them. We have acted to avenge perceived harm done against us without knowing any, much less all of the facts. We have done these things in the past as a people. We often still do them in our own individual lives today.

Tomorrow afternoon, during the concluding service, I will recite these all too appropriate words as I stand before the open ark:

Called to a life of righteousness, we rebel: arrogance possesses us. The passions that rage within us drown out the voice of conscience: good and evil, virtue and vice, love and hate contend for the mastery of our lives. Again and again we complain of the struggle, forgetting that the power to choose is the glory and greatness of our being.

Yes, we have a tendency to speak and act rashly. Yes, we are people full of emotion. Yet, we have the power to choose.

The prophet Micah warns us. Be humble. Let us not expect perfection of others when we know that we ourselves are not perfect. Let us strive to be better people and our world will become a better place for us all.

May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good, healthy, and happy year. Good yom tov.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Peoplehood and Religion – Rosh Hashanah Day 2012-5773

Peoplehood and Religion – Rosh Hashanah Day 2012-5773
Rabbi David Jay Kaufman

It was wonderful to see people from across the spectrum of the Jewish community in Des Moines join us for the Rabbi Larry Hoffman scholar in residence weekend at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in April. Throughout the weekend, one dominant theme prevailed; the Jewish world is changing and its institutions need to adapt to the changing times.

Rabbi Hoffman noted the situation of the Jews in Napoleonic France as the beginning of the modern period for Jews.

At that time, the Jews were asked, “Are the Jews a foreign people, their own nation? Or are they Frenchmen practicing a religion called Judaism?” They had a profound decision to make. Were they Frenchmen who could benefit from that status or foreigners potentially not loyal to the local government who would constantly find themselves under threat? Jews, historically, were not able to make that choice. They were simply considered as foreigners in nation after nation. These Jews decided that they were Frenchmen, pledging their loyalty to the state, and were welcomed to remain in France.

Rabbi Hoffman noted that today most American Jews consider Judaism to be their faith, but do not consider themselves to be part of a Jewish nation. We tend to see ourselves as Americans who practice the Jewish faith, not as Jews who happen to be American citizens. Ethnicity, peoplehood, is on the wane.

This has major implications for Judaism today, and many articles have appeared on the topic just in the past year alone in the Forward, the Huffington Post, Jweekly, eJewishphilanthropy and in just about every other publication dealing with the Jewish community.

I will share with you some of the ways in which the weakening of a sense of peoplehood has impacted the Jewish world today and non-traditional Jews in particular. This sermon will focus on three areas connected to peoplehood all of which I believe have been affected by this: The Jewish World, The Jewish Community, and The Jewish Individual.

The Jewish World.

The rise of Reform Judaism fits well with the shift away from peoplehood that began in the early 19th century. It was a shift away from the idea that Jews constituted a nation practicing a national religion, Judaism, and it is not a new phenomenon at all.

Reform Jews came to stress that they were practicing a religion and not part of a nation from the very beginning of the movement in Germany in the early 1800s. They were Germans practicing the faith of Judaism, granted in a Reform version. They were loyal citizens of the nation in which they lived, wherever they lived, who happened to practice the Jewish faith. They were not “Israelites,” but Jewish Germans.

The practice of Judaism up through the 1800s, and continuing on today for Orthodox Jews, included the hope for the return to the Jewish homeland and the restoration of traditional Jewish practices there. For the Orthodox, this desire includes the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the reinstitution of the sacrificial cult.

The traditional focus on a return to Zion as the homeland for the Jewish people was not part of what came to be seen as Classical Reform Judaism, the dominant form of Reform Judaism through the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. In some communities, rabbis went so far as to preach against Zionism because they believed that the Mission of Israel could only be accomplished in the Diaspora, working among non-Jewish communities. Through the 1920s in the United States, in fact as late as the 1950s in some congregations, rabbis gave sermons about being better Americans.

In Europe as well as in America, many Reform Jews, the cultural elites in particular, did not appreciate the attitudes of their Eastern European brethren on Zionism and other matters which they saw as potentially jeopardizing promotion of Jews as good Americans. The influx of a significant number of Eastern European immigrants during the early 1880s brought challenges and in 1885, the leading Classical Reform Rabbis produced a platform of beliefs for the official movement in America which was only a decade old.

The 1885 Pittsburgh Platform included the following paragraph:

We recognize, in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching of the realization of Israel’s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.

By the 1930s, the focus of Jews in America began to shift toward maintaining traditions that might otherwise be lost. This was the result of the situation in Europe and World War I in particular during which the American Jewish community saw a radical transformation with a huge influx of Eastern European immigrants.

Events of the late 1930s through the 1940s greatly amplified the fear that Judaism, not just the Jewish people, were under threat. The Shoah and the creation of the nation of Israel suddenly made opposition to the attempt to create a Jewish state seem awkward at best and anti-Jewish at worst. There had been prominent Reform Zionist voices prior to the war, people like Rabbis Stephen S. Wise of New York and Abba Hillel Silver of Cleveland, but their voices were drowned out by others such as rabbis Kaufmann Kohler, the President of Hebrew Union College from the 1900s until his death in the mid-1920s, and Irving Reichert, the rabbi of Temple Emanuel in San Francisco who was one of 92 rabbis who created the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism in 1942.

Reichart, as late as the early 1940s echoed the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform when he stated that:

Judaism is a religion and a religion only. Zionism is a retreat from the highway of Jewish destiny and achievement in America to the dead end street of medieval ghettoism. One wonders what the Gentile world makes of all this Zionism. It is notorious that anti-Semites, when other arguments fail, sometimes succeed in prejudicing even friendly Christians against the Jew by quoting this type of nationalistic propaganda to convict us out of our own mouths for being a nationality embedded within a nation. Too dangerous is a parallel between the insistence of Zionist spokesmen upon nationality and race and blood and sinister pronouncement by Fascist leaders in European dictatorships. We may live to regret it.

The concept of separating Judaism from peoplehood, separating the faith of Judaism from Jewish ethnicity, was not found in Eastern Europe or among Traditional Jews at all. For them, Jews were a people, Am Yisrael, who practiced the faith of the children of Israel, the people whose homeland was Judah. As Eastern European Jews became more prominent in the heretofore German ancestry dominated Reform Congregations, conflict between anti-Zionists and Zionists became inevitable.

There was real fear among those Reform leaders like Rabbi Reichart that Antisemites would seize upon the statements of Zionists and be able to convince large numbers of Christians that Jewish Americans were a fifth column. After World War II ended, however, most American Jews along with most other Americans, saw the creation of a Jewish state as a refuge for Jews as reasonable and many saw it as a moral and ethical imperative. The American Council for Judaism continued to work against American Jewish support for the new Jewish state, but its voice was much weaker, and Reform Zionist voices continued to gain strength until after the creation of the new nation and especially after Six Day War when Anti-Zionist voices became far fewer and less influential.

The Reform movement’s seminary had already created a campus in Jerusalem in 1963 with slits for windows on the side facing the old city because of regular Jordanian sniper fire against its walls. Since 1970, it began sending rabbinical students for their first year in Israel, and interaction with and support of Israel has since become more and more of a part of Reform Judaism. NFTY, the Reform movement’s program for teens, has sent many thousands of teens on six week summer-long trips to Israel and more and more teens are spending semesters there in college.

Whereas Kaufmann Kohler in the 1900s would have argued that Zionism would have inhibited the Mission of Israel to spread understanding of Universalistic Ethical Monotheism to the corners of the earth (Jews had to be in a Diaspora for it to work best) and Irving Reichart argued that Zionism could well not only prohibit the Mission of Israel, but result in threats against Jewish lives, modern Reform Jews tend to believe that the Jewish state should exist in peace and security but also that it be an exemplar of our religious values in the world, promoting the betterment of humanity and the spread of prophetic ideals.

The debate today about Israel among Reform Jews is primarily about the promotion of peace between Israelis and Palestinians and about internal Israeli issues such as women’s issues and pluralism within the state. The Reform movement supports Israeli security and promotes connections between American Reform Jews and Israel as a Jewish state or as a state for the Jews depending on who you ask. Reform Jews should be involved with and care about Israel.

At a macro-level, a new kind of peoplehood has developed, one that separates to an extent the practice of any particular type of Judaism from deliberation about what it means to be part of the Jewish people. This has brought great pressure to respond to a new concern that crosses the lines of faith and peoplehood and about which I have spoken many times and will speak again in the future without any doubt, namely, “Who is a Jew?” That question will continue to challenge the Jewish community and the Jewish world for some time to come. So how does the weakening of the concept of Jewish peoplehood affect the Jewish community?

The Jewish Community

I came across a great joke that pretty much describes how things in the Jewish community functioned not terribly long ago:

An elderly Jewish couple are sitting together on an airplane flying to the Far East. Over the public address system, the Captain announces:   "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am afraid I have some very bad news. Our engines have ceased functioning, and this plane will be going down momentarily. Luckily, I see an island below us that should be able to accommodate our landing. Unluckily, this Island appears to be uncharted; I am unable to find it on our maps. So the odds are that we will never be rescued and will have to live on the island for a very long time, if not for the rest of our lives."   The husband turns to his wife and asks,   "Esther, did we turn off the stove?" and Esther replies, "of course."   "Esther, are our life insurance policies paid up?" "Of course."   "Esther, did we pay our United Jewish Appeal pledge?" "Oh my G-d, I forgot to send the check!!"   "Thank Heaven! They'll find us for sure!!"

Once, every Jew in a community was connected. You had to work hard to avoid contact with Jewish organizations. Today, younger generations of Jews do not, by and large, join or support Jewish institutions simply because they are Jews. A large percentage of those who join synagogues do so because they need something from them, a life cycle event or education for the children. While increasing numbers are joining as part of a pursuit of spirituality in their lives, few join because that is simply what Jewish people are supposed to do.

The younger generations search for meaning and relevance just like older generations have. However, they do not particularly like keeping traditions for tradition’s sake, and do not, as a manner of general practice, join organizations. They may “like” them on Facebook and then may well block their postings so that they do not even see what the organizations post. Many Jewish people today do not see the institutions of Jewish peoplehood that focus on serving those of Jewish ethnicity, as opposed to Jewish faith, as a primary concern. Jewish community centers, Jewish Federations, Jewish homes for the aged, Jewish Family services and food banks, have all seen support wane in favor of institutions and organizations that serve the broader community.

The fact that many today give money to secular institutions but not to Jewish charitable ones and spend their volunteer hours in the secular community rather than the Jewish community has made it more difficult for Jewish organizations to be there for Jews in need and to promote the very ideals embodied in our prayers and in our philosophy that challenge harmful cultural norms.

It isn’t that working in the broader community or supporting its institutions is a bad thing at all; by no means am I saying that. In fact, you all know that I am active in the broader community. However, it is vitally important to be active in the Jewish community and to be charitable to it as well for our community to be healthy.

We need to be upset if we have forgotten to contribute to our Jewish communal organizations. We need be a part of supporting the Jewish community’s ability to serve the needs of Jews in need.

The Jewish Individual

A couple of years ago, I shared the words of Rabbi David Aaron, who said that:

On Rosh Hashanah…my illusion of being self-contained, without any accountability to a Higher Power, is shattered…I realize that I cannot do whatever I want, whenever, or wherever I want…There is someone to whom I am accountable. My self wants to feel accountable, because if I am not accountable then I don’t count.

This brings me back to the joke about being found on a deserted island by the United Jewish Appeal. There is something very comforting in that. Yes, it may be annoying to get financial appeal letters at times, especially when we are in financial circumstances when we may be unable to contribute as much as we would like. Yet, it is comforting to know that each of us matters. We may wish to avoid responsibility at times, however there is comfort in knowing that other people are counting on us, that others care if we contribute of our time, energy, or resources.

For certain, people in the broader community are counting on us as well. We need to do our best to help there too. That said, why so often do we do so without thinking about how the kindness and generosity, the care and commitment that we show in our acting out the mitzvah of “Loving our neighbor as ourselves” is connected to the values of the Jewish tradition or even to our own practice of Judaism? Judaism is not confined to the moment you cross the threshold of a synagogue until the moment that you leave it. Our tradition teaches us that everything that we do in interacting with the world around us should be done while considering the Jewish tradition.

What has happened to an extent is that in redefining ourselves as a faith and not a people, we have forgotten that Judaism as a faith is part of whom each of us is as a person. Its practice is not done solely within the synagogue, nor solely within the home as well.

We are taught to go beyond just the Jewish community and to bring blessings to the broader community. The Torah [Gen 12] tells us that God said to Abram:

Go forth from your country, from your people, and from your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse. All peoples on earth will be blessed by you.

The possibility of losing this blessing is the context of the story of the Binding of Isaac that we read today.

If we choose to see ourselves as Jews by faith alone or if we choose to see ourselves as Jews by birth if not by faith as well, let us remember that we are Jews wherever we go.

This new year, may we indeed be a blessing to all peoples and to each individual. May our efforts bring light into darkened lives, Shalom into the midst of chaos and discord. May afflicted bodies and spirits find healing and comfort. May this year, be a year of blessing for us, a year of health and happiness, prosperity and joy. May the nation of Israel, the people of Israel, and the people Israel, the Jewish people, have a year of peace and well-being.

L’shanah tovah tikateivu. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.

Prophetic Judaism - Erev Rosh Hashanah 2012-5773

Prophetic Judaism Erev Rosh Hashanah 2012-5773
Rabbi David Jay Kaufman

Israeli Author, Doron Kornbluth tells this story:

I was in eighth grade and my classmate Kevin came over to me. He told me to sit down because he had a great joke to tell me. A few of the guys were smiling.
Two polar bears are sitting in a bathtub. The first one says, “Pass the soap.”
One of the onlookers started cracking up. As he left our little group, he kept laughing and repeating the words, “I can’t, I can’t…”
Kevin looked at me and finished the joke.
So again, two polar bears are sitting in a bathtub. The first one says, “Pass the soap.” And then … the second one says … [here Kevin had to hold himself in] … the second one says, “No soap, radio!”
At this point, the entire group gathered around started losing it. I don’t mean little chuckles. I mean loud, uproarious belly laughter.
I was the only person who didn’t get the joke. And they were starting to notice. So I started laughing too. This made everyone else laugh even more.
Only later did I realize why.
Kevin and the guys had set me up with a non-joke, a punch line lacking any humor at all. The whole point was to put me on the spot. They wanted to see if I would laugh along with the group just to fit in, despite having nothing funny to laugh at.
The joke was on me. And I fell for it.

Kornbluth’s story tells us something about conformity. Most of us will conform most of the time without much thought. We follow fads, fashion trends, crowds walking down paths. If we are not paying attention, we might even follow the car ahead of us going somewhere we had no intention of going. That is why there are those warnings on construction trucks that say, “Do not follow into construction area!” Without warning road signs or horns blaring at us, we will drive on believing without question that the way we are going, the road ahead, must be good because it has been well traveled.

Few of us, when faced with the choice of the road more traveled and the road less traveled will take the latter. Most of us follow our GPS navigation devices without question, sticking to the highways. Few of us realize that we act this way, not only when driving, but in most of the things we do in our lives: how we dress, how we act in social circumstances, but also what we believe about our world in general. We go through our lives too often barely paying attention, simply doing what we have always done in the same ways that most people do them.

Judaism and its prophetic tradition in particular teach us precisely not to do this. We are not supposed to assimilate, to lose our identity. We are supposed to stand out, to miss work and school for the holidays. We are supposed to be respectful of the religious traditions of others, but not to adopt them simply to fit in with those of other faiths. Historically, this has been one of the major criticisms leveled against Reform Jews by those adhering to tradition. In many places, Reform Jews held Sabbath services on Sunday mornings, dressed just as any other people who were going to worship on Sunday might dress, and prayed in the vernacular, English or German, rather than in Hebrew or Yiddish. For Reform Jews, it was the content of the services and the meaning of the prayers that were most important to maintain, not necessarily keeping age old customs for tradition’s sake.

Reformers believed that modernity required some changes as did necessity, but it also required that we remember timeless values, not forgetting those essential ideals that form the basis of our Judaism. We are supposed to stand up for what is right and good in the midst of wrong and evil for certain, but in the midst of acceptance and comfort as well.

The Rabbis [Pirkei Avot] teach us, “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man,” which we take to mean that “In a place where people are acting inhumanely to one another, we should strive to act humanely.”
We are to be the voice that cries out “Hope!” from the midst of the wilderness of despair.
We are also the ones who cry “Never Again!” while all too many notice nothing going on.
We are the ones who in the face of daunting challenges recite the words of Rabbi Tarfon, “It is not up to you to finish the work, but neither may you desist from it.”

Too often these days, we do not pay much attention to the world around us. We are so busy moving on the highway of life that the things going on around us are but a blur. Today, a day on which we read of a divinity who said “No! Do not lay a hand upon the child…,” in my opinion demonstrating that our God did not wish for Abraham to conform to the standard practices of his age by sacrificing his first born son, let us reconsider and perhaps reclaim the prophetic tradition. 

How do we go about doing that? I have some ideas as does our tradition. I will begin by briefly addressing the nature of Biblical Prophecy. Then I will discuss the Prophetic Judaism that formed the basis of Reform Judaism for much of its history. Finally, I will address the need to rekindle the prophetic voice today. As I will note, challenging conformity is part of the very essence of Reform Judaism.

The Biblical Prophets
Among the favorite topics of the prophets was the relationship between God and the people Israel. When the people were thriving but forgetting to worship God properly or were worshipping the gods of other peoples, conforming to local customs, the prophets warned the people to correct their behavior or there would be consequences. However, the prophets also preached hope at times when conformity meant living in hopelessness. When the people were suffering and saw no light in the future, the prophets reassured the people that God would return them to a position of blessing. These messages of faith offered by the prophets were not as important to Reform Judaism as a third message, that of social consciousness, which is also found throughout the prophetic works.

Prophetic Judaism

If you look up the origins of Reform Judaism, you would find that while Reform Judaism does consider itself based upon modern interpretation of the meaning and values of the Torah, it has historically been more focused on the Prophetic Tradition. Reform Judaism is not Halakhic, based in Talmudic interpretations of the law like Orthodox Judaism or in modern interpretations of it such as Conservative Judaism, but primarily is a religious tradition based upon the ethical and moral imperatives of the Jewish tradition. Many of those imperatives are found the Torah, such as the one etched in stone on the side of this building, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Many more of these imperatives are found in the prophetic works.

The rabbis who led the development of Reform Judaism through the 19th Century expressed belief in what was called “The Mission of Israel.” These rabbis believed that unlike every other religious people, those who had chosen to call themselves Jews took up the prophetic mantle to challenge conformity and to bring light into a world filled with darkness.

The Mission of Israel was based on the words of the prophet Isaiah [42].

I, Adonai, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant people and a light unto the nations, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

While we, today, have largely, if not completely rejected, the idea that God chose us as a people for a special purpose in life, Classical Reform Judaism believed that Jews were chosen to carry out the Mission of Israel. Our mission required that we be dispersed among the nations, no longer in the land, and no longer had anything to do with a sacrificial Temple cult. To make that very point, many congregations came to call their places of worship, “Temples.” Our offerings are our prayers and our good deeds.

Moreover, Reform Judaism came to embrace working in partnership with those of other faiths and welcoming Jews-by-choice into our midst in large numbers. The Mission of Israel became not a mission for Israel as a nation, but for those who chose to associate themselves with the Jewish people. Chosen-ness came to be applied not in its traditional sense of God choosing us, but of us choosing to do this work, to follow these imperatives. We, Reform Jews, are all Jews by choice.

As Reform Jews, we took on the voice of the prophets and sought to act out their ideals.

With the industrial age and gross disparities of wealth and power in Europe and America, the prophetic vision took on greater import. Events such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire focused attention upon the flaws of a society where conformity meant workers accepting abuses, a society in which half of the population, women, were unable to vote, and wealthy families such as the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Rothschilds lived in luxury beyond imagination while workers suffered and too often died to make a pittance in unsafe factories.

George Vanderbilt’s estate in western North Carolina, completed in 1895, required that a three mile long spur rail line be created so that the massive amount of stone and other materials needed to could arrive at the site. Constructed on 125,000 acres near Ashville, the home sat on four acres of floor space and had 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. The basement alone would house a swimming pool, gymnasium and changing rooms, a bowling alley, servants' quarters, kitchens, and more. It was one of the very first homes, if not the first, to have electricity. In New York City, multiple families lived in the same small squalid apartment.
As immigrants came to America by the millions before and after World War I and as the entire world faced the Great Depression, the message of the prophets became more and more relevant.
At convention in Columbus in 1937, the Reform rabbis put forth a platform containing a powerful vision of the Mission of Israel. These words still ring true for those of us who see Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world, as of vital importance:

We regard it as our historic task to cooperate with all men in the establishment of the kingdom of God, of universal brotherhood, justice, truth, and peace on earth. This is our Messianic goal.
In Judaism religion and morality blend into an indissoluble unity. Seeking God means to strive after holiness, righteousness and goodness. The love of God is incomplete without the love of one's fellowmen. Judaism emphasizes the kinship of the human race, the sanctity and worth of human life and personality and the right of the individual to freedom and to the pursuit of his chosen vocation. Justice to all, irrespective of race, sect or class, is the inalienable right and the inescapable obligation of all. The state and organized government exist in order to further these ends.
Judaism seeks the attainment of a just society by the application of its teachings to the economic order, to industry and commerce, and to national and international affairs. It aims at the elimination of man-made misery and suffering, of poverty and degradation, of tyranny and slavery, of social inequality and prejudice, of ill-will and strife. It advocates the promotion of harmonious relations between warring classes on the basis of equity and justice, and the creation of conditions under which human personality may flourish. It pleads for the safeguarding of childhood against exploitation. It champions the cause of all who work and of their right to an adequate standard of living, as prior to the rights of property. Judaism emphasizes the duty of charity, and strives for a social order which will protect men against the material disabilities of old age, sickness and unemployment.

This lofty inspiring language is all but gone in the similar document produced in Pittsburgh in 1999, where much more generic language has replaced it, but the meaning is still clear: Reform Judaism should be significantly about challenging social norms, rebelling against conformity to standard practices that may be unhealthy for us or for society, and acting upon the prophetic imperative to repair the world. Yet, for too many of us, it is not so today.

Meeting the Challenge

So how do we get there? How do we meet the challenge of bringing Prophetic Judaism back to the forefront of Reform Judaism and, more so, into the lives of Reform Jews? How do we find that prophetic voice again?
Mahatma Ghandi is reported to have said something that is often repeated these days in a political context, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” Waylon Lewis, the Buddhist founder of the Elephant Journal, which is not connected to the Republican party, but rather to the spirituality of India, notes that Ghandi did not actually say those words, though they look good on a bumper sticker. What Ghandi actually said was:

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.
We, each of us, can impact our world. Individually, we can make a difference. The rabbinic literature teaches us [Pirkei Avot], “mitzvah goreret mitzvah, averah goreret averah,” “a good deed will bring about another good deed, a curse will bring about another curse.” If all of us were to change our behavior to enact good deeds on a regular basis, our world will change. This philosophical point of view is not by any means new. The Torah portion that we will read on Yom Kippur tells us that the choice is ours:

What I am commanding you this day is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

Every year, I am struck by a profound contrast between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah, we read of Abraham’s test and that an angel of God had to call down to Abraham twice to stay his hand, “Avraham! Avraham! Lay not a hand upon the child.” While on Yom Kippur, we are told that the power to choose life “so that we and our children may live” is ours. What brings about this change?

The ram’s horn. We wake up. The choice was always there. The choice is always there. Sometimes we simply go through life conforming without thinking, obeying without questioning. The shofar wakes us from our stupor and demands that we pay attention. In a sense, our Mission as Reform Jews is to be that shofar for humanity.

The reality is that most of us go through life not looking for problems, not veering from the road more travelled, not looking for what is missing in our lives or in our society, but should be present. We do not wish our own comfortable lives to be afflicted, nor to afflict the comfortable.

We often do not like what the prophets have to say. But we should care what they have to say. We should listen to that challenging voice. It makes all of us try harder. It reminds us that while we know that feeding the hungry is something that we should do, perhaps we do not do it regularly or enough. It reminds us that while we may be concerned about whether or not to buy the giant screen high definition television or settle for just the large screen one, that some people do not even have books to read and have never had the opportunity to watch television. It reminds us that as we sleep soundly, our bellies full, in our mosquito free beds, there are those who sleep in caves or even in the open air, having had little or nothing to eat for days, and do not even own mosquito nets to keep them safe from deadly diseases.

Maimonides, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, offered us this challenge during the High Holidays:

Wake up you sleepers from your sleep and you slumberers from your slumber. Search your deeds and return in penitence.

Return. Make teshuva, a turning. Find the right direction, not just the well traveled one. Stand up for what you believe to be right and good in the face of pressure to conform. Then we may reclaim the Prophetic voice and we can renew the Mission of Israel to bring light unto the nations.

“No soap! Radio!” really isn’t funny. 

To quote the poet Robert Frost, when he spoke about making a choice between following a road already worn flat by the feet of many or forging his own path: 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

L’shanah Tovah Tikateivu! May you be inscribed for a good and happy year.