Sermon-2010.09 Traditional-RoshHashana-Jennifer Hodges

As we greet each year anew, we ask that we and our loved ones be inscribed in the Book of Life.  Most of us, those who are not completely righteous or entirely wicked, have until Yom Kippur, actually until Hashanah Rabbah, to seal our destiny for the coming year.  We have choices to make. We inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life to the extent that we choose to overcome our past limitations and plan to involve ourselves in reaching for our destiny as individuals and as a people.


This brings meaning to last week’s Torah portion: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses before you, that I place before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Choose life so you and your descendants may live.”  Asking for a good inscription is part of choosing life.  What does it mean to “choose life so you and your descendants may live?”  If this merely meant survival, it would not need the emphasis of saying the heavens and earth were witnesses.  There is more to it.  It means to choose to live a life that leaves the world better than how we found it, to be part of Tikkun Olam – repair of the world. Those of us without children can still leave behind a legacy of love and hope that makes the world a better place.  Rosh Hashanah is the time to revitalize our commitment to Tikkun Olam, renew our covenant with God, and commit to a revised, if not new, plan for our lives.  We do this each and every year because the specific circumstances and opportunities in our lives change all the time.


Elul and Rosh Hashanah came none too soon for me this year.  My situation is entirely different from this time last year, and I certainly needed to revise my plan so I can stand before God and present my plan and commitment to life.  Introspection compelled me to make sense of the past year and to choose how I pursue my purpose of having a positive impact on the world.  It turns out,  I have to let go of my resolutions from last year and turn to new pursuits.  I chose to accept this, but not without effort and listening to others.


A couple of times, Rabbi Klein’s sermons told me exactly what I needed to hear at just the right time.  One was his drash on parsha Toldot, so this process started from a seed planted several months ago.  The Rabbi described how our patriarch Isaac humbly left when people shunned him and filled his wells with dirt. He simply moved on to dig another well someplace else.  I was later compelled to reread that part of Genesis and felt encouraged by Isaac’s story.  Digging wells was not quick like propping up tents.  People dug wells when they intended to make a life and dwell in a place.  They were setting up their lives to have water for cooking, cleaning, and bathing.  Today, we might build a house or accept a job offer.  Isaac had legitimate rights to remain where he was and use the wells there.  But rather than do the equivalent of suing Avimelech (the leader of his resentful neighbors), he simply moved on and dug another well.  Again, people in the next place argued with him, this time claiming his water was theirs.  Isaac again declined confrontation and moved on to dig another well, this time further away.  Then, Avimelech (who had banished him before) visited him to make peace. Isaac did the honorable thing from a Jewish perspective.  He forgave Avimelech, and even arranged a feast before sending him on his way. This time Isaac prospered and stayed a while. 


One moral of this story is now clear to me: moving on does not mean giving up on fulfilling one’s purpose in life, nor does it mean failure. I desperately needed to learn and accept this in my own life so I could present my life plan before God this Rosh Hashanah.


Last Rosh Hashanah, I chose life with a vision of becoming a speech therapist after putting years into my goal.  Mentsch tracht und Got lacht. Man plans and God laughs.   Well, I don’t quite imagine God laughing at me, but my vision was not fulfilled.  I was banished from my graduate program.  I spent months feeling lost, wondering whether I should fight back for my legitimate rights to finish school and start my career, or give up. 


After digging into my soul, I decided that I could move on without giving up, dig another well, and continue to choose life by striving to make the world a little better than it was when I arrived.  I can inspire hope in people by living as an example of overcoming adversity, or at least not letting adversity overcome my spirit. I don’t need to be a speech therapist to inspire people.  I can live my life affirming that persistence pays off, by simply living my life to its fullest, by choosing life. 


In my perseverance, I continue to make New Year’s resolutions. This past year I had health problems. This year I will prove that I can be healthy enough to hold down a job.  At this step, the job does not have to be meaningful in any way other than being a step toward moving on.  It may be time-intensive volunteer work or temporary office work, as long as I prove to myself and my family that I can work.  I will become more independent by getting my driver’s license and working hard with a therapist.  And I am learning to chant the traditional Shabbat service.


This year, I don’t have a clear vision of what the year to come will bring.  I don’t have a specific career plan, but I have a purpose. I will help improve the world by helping to inspire hope in others so they can be the best people possible.  I now understand that my career does not have to be the way I serve my purpose.  I can inspire hope in people by moving on, continuing to learn new things, loving others, and especially by graciously accepting their love. 


To those whom I have offended or harmed, I am sorry and ask your forgiveness.   To everyone, l’shanah tovah tikateivu.