Friday, October 24, 2014

Kol Nidre. U (you) turn

U (you) turn
I am going to start my sermon with a joke. I am telling you this because: I want you to know it is joke so please be gentle and laugh at the end.
This is the story of a person who enters in his house and all of the sudden finds a cat on his couch.
He is not very cat-friendly so he grabs the cat and very gently opens the door and places the cat outside.
When he closes the door, he goes to the restroom to wash his hands. To his surprise, when he is out the bathroom, the cat is sitting again on the couch.
He grabs the cat again, goes across the street to a park and leaves the cat there. When he returns home, the cat is sitting on the couch.
Now instead of grabbing the cat, he grabs the phone and calls a good friend for advice.
The friend tells him to put the cat in the car and dive the cat two miles away. After that the cat will get lost. He drives the cat in his car three miles away, just in case... Of course when he returns home, the cat is sitting on the couch...
It's getting dark, and he starts to get nervous, so he calls his friend and asks for more advice.
The friends tells him. Put the cat in your trunk. Drive 25 miles north, When you arrive at the bridge cross the bridge and turn right. Drive 500 yards and make a U turn. Then drive 5.2 miles and turn left. After you turn left, drive 3 more miles, cross the railroad tracks and turn right. There, there is a lake, go around the lake and go up the hill. Once you are on top of the hill, there is a group of trees. There you can leave the cat.
The man follows his friend's instruction and leaves the cat. When he is back home, the phone rings, it is his friend. The friend asks: so, how did it go? Did you get rid of the cat?
Are you kidding me? If it weren't for the cat, I would have had no idea how to get back home...
Of course the joke made sense 20 years ago. Things have changed since then.
In some ways we are worse nowadays. For example I just saw a sign in a nearby Church that read:
"20 years ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Steve Jobs. Now we have no Cash, no Hope and no Jobs. Please don't let Kevin Bacon die"
On another hand we are doing much better. For example we have GPS. It is easier to return home with a GPS. And it is more difficult to get lost, too.
Man’s definition of a GPS is that it is a Global Positioning System, but I believe that today, the most sacred day of the year, we can change it for God Positioning Spirit.
This sacred night we get together at 920 Franklin Road to pay attention once again to the first dialogue between G-d and man in the Torah. That first dialogue between G-d and man starts with a question: Aieka. Where are you?
That is the first question the GPS will try to figure out: where are you?
And then the second question is: where do you want to go?
For a GPS to do you any good you have to be on the move, going somewhere. After all, why would I want to know what my position is if all I’m doing is sitting on my backside in a rocking chair? Something has to be programmed into the GPS or it just sits there and has little use. All of the information that it can give, and all of the directions that are stored there to help you along the journey, don’t do one bit of good until a journey is begun.
So let's begin the journey together.
This journey we will do it together so nobody is offended, we are all included and you do not have to feel it is just you who got lost and made mistakes.
Early childhood or elementary school. Some of us were not very careful of the way we treated our classmates, and we bullied. We called names, we grouped together leaving others out, we tattle taled. Well... maybe all kids make mistakes...
Let's see about the teenage years. Some of us were rebels, or responded badly to our parents and even worse we ignored their advice. We started arguing with them even about our clothing.
Then came High school. Some of us got drunk for first time, some of us tried our first cigars or started to smoke. Some of us misused our hormones, some of us abused them and then abused our own bodies. Some of us started to use inappropriate words and some of us were violent.
And then college. Some of us found it funny and cool to have a tattoo or to smoke a joint or use other drugs. Pills, Marihuana... Some of us lost so many beer ping pong games that we cannot remember who beat us. Some of us didn't take advantage of the possibility of being educated, and we partied too much.
Then we got married and with the marriage we acquired a new family. The family in law. Some of us didn't want to even talk to them or to respect them. Some of us forgot to call our parents home frequently enough. We forgot our home still was our home.
And then some of us became parents. Some struggled to get pregnant and suffered when we heard others were pregnant. Some got pregnant without wanting it. Some loved the babies they carried some hated them.
Some of us put too much pressure on our kids, some let them be completely free.
Some of us overprotected our kids.
And then some of us got divorced. Some of us cheated our soul mates. Some of us still cheat them.
As we grew older some of us dedicated more time to our jobs than to our families.
Some of us lost our parents and discovered we didn't say enough times I love you mom, I love you dad.
What was really important was a good car, or a nice trip or great cigars or the last cell phone model. Family not that much.
Then some of us retired and discovered we were empty without our jobs because that is all we did in our lives. Some others retired and discovered a new career and regretted they didn't do it before...
Some of us got sick and blamed everybody else. Some of us got sick and thought everyone else should be taking care of his or her sickness.
Some of us forgot the best prize we get in life is family, friends and love.
In every moment of our lives, in every corner, in every mile stone, we knew there was and there is a GPS. Every once in a while we missed a turn, but God’s GPS kept talking, kept re-routing our course, to get us back on track.
We always had in the back of our minds the presence of G-d. G-d was always willing to help us return.
On Yom Kippur the most important thing we need to learn is that G-d permits U Turns. And that is what Teshuvah is. Teshuvah is a U turn, in which a person who has been living the wrong way decides to turn around, and live differently in the new year.
Look back and see how many U turns we made.
Look back and see how we have been able to change.
Even this year we made several U turns.
When we decided to support Israel instead of being tempted to listen to the hostile media, we made a U turn.
When we decided that kosher in our life is important and supported a kosher truck to Roanoke, VA, we made a U turn.
When we decided to say sorry and forgive, we made a U turn.
When we decided that c'omforting the mourners is important and gave up one hour of our job to attend a miniyan we made a U turn.
When we decided to teach our kids that attending to Hebrew School is more important than swimming lessons, we made a U turn.
Even if we made a wrong turn, even if we made twenty wrong turns, the GPS will recalculate and bring us to our destination.
God permits U turns: These holy days are an opportunity for all of us to look at our lives, and to decide if this is really the way we want to live and if not, these are the days that enable us to change, and to resolve to live a different way in the new year.
Yom Kippur and its rituals give us the opportunity to make U turns.
Among all the rituals that took place when the Temple was built there is one that always fascinated me.
This ritual represented the apogee in the human effort to come close to G d—an event that brought together the holiest day of the year, the holiest human being on earth, and the holiest place in the universe: on Yom Kippur the kohen gadol (high priest) would enter the innermost chamber of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies, to offer ketoret to G d. To offer the holy incense to G-d.
The offering of the ketoret was the most prestigious and sacred of the services in the Holy Temple. The ketoret was a special blend of herbs and balms whose precise ingredients and manner of preparation were commanded by G d to Moses. The formula had to be precise. Twice a day, ketoret was burned on the golden altar that stood in the Temple. On Yom Kippur, in addition to the regular ketoret offerings, the kohen gadol would enter the Holy of Holies with a pan of smoldering coals in his right hand, and a ladle filled with ketoret in his left; there, he would scoop the ketoret into his hands, place it over the coals, wait for the chamber to fill with the fragrant smoke of the burning incense, and swiftly back out of the room. That moment marked the climax of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple.
Interestingly, one of the spices, the chelbonah, galbanum, had a foul aroma. Apparently it smelled really bad...
Our sages derived from this that when the community gathers to pray, the sinners must be included in their communal prayer. Just as the chelbonah was included together with the other spices, so, too, should those, whose spiritual aroma is lacking, be included in the greater community. Everyone -- the righteous as well as those who are not yet righteous - all have a share in serving the Almighty.
I'd like to suggest another reason of why the Chelbonah, that smelled horribly should be included. Maybe because the chelbonah represents those moments when we were lost. The moments when we lost our way. The times in life when we knew we needed a U turn. The moments in life when things didn't smell very good.
Our lives would not be complete without those moments that made us grow. Our achievements would not make sense without our failures. Our journey would not be completed without getting lost here and there.
Dear friends,
Today the GPS is recalculating.
If you know where you are, if you know where you are going the GPS, Gods positioning spirit will show you the way.
In this holy day, we need to know U turns are permitted.
May we all be sealed in the book of life.

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