Friday, October 24, 2014

Rosh Hashanah Selfie

I can hear the whispers beginning already: “The Rabbi has flipped!” “Why’s he taking a selfie with a cell phone?” “Hey, it’s Rosh Hashanah, get serious up there. Don’t take this lightly. Sock it to us. Turn on the guilt. Make us feel shame. Chide us for not showing up often enough during the year. Mention something about indiscretions. Tell us about how to raise children. Rock us about relationships. Rebuke us for showing up only during High holidays. Talk about prayer and ritual – turn up the heat. Plead for money. Hey, Rabbi, get into the spirit of the day; get with the program!” C'mon rabbi get with the program!!!
Well... this is part of the program.
You know me well enough and I am sure you know this is a toy and not a real phone. You know I would never take a picture on a Holiday...
But this little toy gave me the possibility to talk about something many of you have done or seen last year... no, no, no... I am not talking about cheating...
I am talking about the word of the year...
This past year the word of the year was... correct... SELFIE.
I bet many of you took one or posted one or commented one in Facebook right?
I bet many of you saw the most retweeted picture during the Oscars ceremony, with Ellen DeGeneres, Meryl Strep, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Angelina, Kevin Spacey and more.
That is a selfie... a picture you take mainly of yourself, and it may include others or not...
I strongly believe the selfie represents more than a picture. It represents our culture. It represents what we have done with our tradition and why not so with our lives.
But before I continue with the selfies let me get to the phones. Without phones there are no selfies. That is where I should have started, with the phones. Oh my Lord phones...
How different are our phones right now...
Remember when we remembered by heart phone numbers? How many do you remember by heart today? 3, 4, 10 numbers? I still remember 4 or 5 elementary school friends' phone numbers. Things have changed...
No one is certain who invented the telephone. Although the U.S. p'atent belongs to the Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell, many believe he stole it away from an American inventor named Elisha Gray. Others maintain that an Italian named Manzetti or a Frenchman named Bourseul or a German named Reis or another Italian named Meucci deserves credit.
What few dispute is that all these men, working in the mid-nineteenth century, explored the idea of transmitting vocal vibrations from one place to another. But the very first telephone conversation, between Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson, standing in separate rooms, contained these words: Come here. I want to see you.
In the uncountable human phone conversations since then, that concept has never been far from our lips. Come here. I want to see you. Impatient lovers. Long-distance friends. Grandparents talking to grandchildren. The telephone voice is but a seduction, a bread crumb to an appetite. Come here. I want to see you.
We came back today, to this place, at this specific time because we heard that voice, we heard the call: Come here. I want to see you.
That is the call that every Jewish person should be hearing not just today but every day: Come here. I want to see you.
And I guess I do not need to tell you the answer we should hear, because it is the most famous word we read in torah during these days...
The answer is Hineni, here I am!!!!
That was our Patriarchs answer, that was their answer, hineni. When Hashem talks to Moses, his first answer is Hineni, here I am.
That should be our answer as Jews. We Jews answer, Hineni
Do you know what is the meaning of the word Jew?
The biblical word for a Jew, Yehudi, means “one who is grateful.” It comes from the biblical story of the birth of Jacob’s fourth son. His mother calls him Yehudah, saying “for this, I will thank G-d.”
Here is where everything starts. When Hashem tells us Come here. I want to see you.
Our answer is here I am and I am grateful to you Hashem. I am a good Jew so I am here to thank you.
Woody Allen once said: “90% of life is just showing up.”
When was the last time we “showed up” to thank to Hashem?
When was the last time we were grateful?
I can share with you an episode from last year in our congregation.
Unfortunately there was a death of a Jewish person who had no family, no friends, nobody. He lived in Rocky Mount and left everything organized to have a Jewish burial. He only needed a miniyan, which he could not arrange in advance. So many of you showed up to honor a person you didn't know. We had a moving ceremony.
I imagine many of you came also to thank Hashem for what you do have, family, friends, love, companion, a congregation.
That day I felt we answered hineni when we heard Come here. I want to see you.
But I still want to ask: When was the last time we answered hineni when we heard Come here. I want to see you.
If it is becoming difficult to answer this question I think I know the reason...
Lately you've been taking too many selfies...
Only a couple of people fit in a selfie... but mostly you.
On the other hand our tradition needs you, but mostly all those who are with you. It is not recommended to live your Judaism in solitude, we need company. We need to be with other people who are looking for the same sense of community you have. And the place to find it is here at Beth Israel.
In a selfie, you do it by yourself. You do not need extra help.
In our tradition the first thing you need is help. It was not good for Adam to be alone, he needed help, ezer kenegdo. Moses asked G-d for help to lead the people. Abraham asked his servant to help him get a bride for Isaac. Jacob called out to Hashem for help. We all need help and we all know the place where you always find helpers is here at Beth Israel.
In a selfie you need to pose, you need to presume and you need to look good. Our tradition accepts you as you are. No special faces, no special clothing, no need to pose.
In a selfie, in order to enjoy it you share your result with others. In our tradition all the gain is yours. The more Torah you study the bigger your benefit. The more you grow spiritually, the better person you become.
So why did we decide to make our tradition into a selfie?
Why did we forget that the center of Jewish life is the Synagogue and not just one person?
Another story from last year moved me a lot. I made some phone calls and letters to invite teenagers to come and celebrate the anniversary of their bar mitzvah. One teenager not only decided to come but also called friends and invited them to come. That teenager didn't want to transform the anniversary into a selfie.
So let me continue asking questions.
Who said it is not cool anymore to meet at the Synagogue?
When was the moment we changed our priorities?
When was the moment we decided that from now on we will focus on me, me, and me and not on others?
When was that particular moment we started to take selfies and become selfish?
When we answer Hineni to the voice that says: Come here I want to see you, we need to do it not for our benefit but for the benefit of the Jewish people. I do not answer hineni for me, but for you.
When we answer hineni we are not selfish any more.
This reminds me of another story. This is about an episode in a mental health institution. The patients were very bored of the routine. Every day the same schedule, same habits, they were really bored. One of them said to the others: hey guys why don't we go out and play some soccer?
Great idea they answered, but one of them said: we do not have a ball?
Let's go out and let's imagine we have a ball. Everybody was happy. They went outside made two teams and started to play soccer with an imaginary ball. They score goals, kicked the ball hit it with their heads. Another patient heard some of his roommates were having fun so he went outside and asked them if he could join them.
They stopped the game and told him: you know the teams are already formed we are even, 11 against 11. We cannot let you play.
This guy became very upset bent over and made a movement like he was grabbing something and then told his friends: Ok, not a problem, if I cannot play so I am taking the ball with me.
The story is funny. And we may think being selfish may be funny too.
Well... let me tell you that the fun ends when you hear that in April 2014, a man who was diagnosed with a mental disorder recounted spending ten hours a day attempting to take the "right" selfie. He attempted suicide after failing to produce what he perceived to be the perfect selfie.
Dear friends,
The perfect selfie happens when we all fit in the picture.
The perfect selfie happens when we take these days for reflection, for Teshuva, for change.
The perfect selfie happens when we take advantage of every inch of our tradition and we live it in community.
The perfect selfie happens when we stop being selfish and we start thinking of others.
The perfect selfie happens when we pay more attention to the sound and vibrations of the shofar than to the sound and vibrations of our cell phones.
The perfect selfie happens when decide again to take group pictures and not selfies.
In this new year that is starting, may we will take the best pictures ever.
Pictures of good health, thankfulness and happiness.

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