Rosh Hashanah Morning 5778
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld
Albuquerque, New Mexico
While procrastinating writing this sermon, I calculated that over my six year tenure at Congregation Albert I have saved 85,000 emails, deleted 10’s of thousands more and received about 22,000 junk emails for a total close to 150,000 - 200,000 emails or about 25,000 - 35,000 emails a year. That does not count the 10’s of thousands I received and read on my personal email accounts. I am not citing these numbers to whine about how busy I am or brag about how hard I work. I know that the vast majority of those emails are from you and contain the important details of your lives, your families, your hopes, and your dreams. I also know that most of you receive at least that many emails each year and many of you far more.
Before email, none of us received 1/10 of the number of phone calls and letters combined as we do emails today. Email is the greatest time suck ever invented.
Juliet Funt, yes the daughter of Allen Funt of Candid Camera, teaches:
- Most of us who are working spend 100% of our time on exertion, i.e. doing and 0% of our time on thoughtfulness.
- We are too busy to become un-busy
- With ever present screens, TV, computers, phones, pads, game consoles, email, texts, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, iMessage, and so much more, we have become uncomfortable with The Pause, moments of quiet, moments of reflection.
Ms. Funt reflects that at work we have lost the permission “think the un-thunk thought” and at home, one day, we will rue the precious moments we miss because we are busy.
She shares a story she heard about a woman who turned down the opportunity to spend the day driving and picnicking with her family. Her spouse and children enjoyed a marvelous day. Two weeks later her spouse died. According to the woman’s daughter, for the rest of her life she repeated: “I didn’t take the ride.” We have all missed at least one drive because we were “too busy”. I am among the worst culprits.
We believe there are forces in this world that compel us to tie ourselves to the ground and not let our spirits and our lives soar. These forces may include our own egos or our image of what makes us important, as well as others. Yes, there are times we need to work, to struggle, to be busy. But, we also need to let go, to pause and allow ourselves the freedom to think, the freedom to grow spiritually.
My friend and colleague, Rabbi Larry Malinger, uses this example: “When we start to fly and are struggling against these forces [eg. gravity and inertia], there is a lot of noise. Sometimes, it is an external noise…. Other times it is an internal noise…. It is true, for the first ‘10,ooo feet” it is hard, it is noisy, you cannot use approved electronic devices, your seat belt must remain fastened…. Then the noise slowly fades and you keep climbing. You can now use electronic devices. Having reached cruising altitude, you can get out of your seat and move around. Nonetheless, turbulence, or other complications [occur] and you will need to refasten your seat belts just to stay safe.”
I love this analogy. Even though the noise fades it is not gone. If you let it, the noise fades into your unconscious until “we begin our descent”. The time between reaching 10,000 feet and beginning our descent is a pause. You allow yourself to simply go along for the ride. You let go of control. True, someone is flying the plane, but it is not you. “The descent” itself is a wonderful metaphor. The plane begins its descent back toward earth just as we, at the end of the pause, return to the busyness of life.
This morning we read of Abraham answering God’s call with the word “הינני, I am here, I am ready to take on the task as awesome or as awful as it may be.” Throughout Torah and the entire Hebrew Bible, our ancestors answered the call with “הינני, I am here, I am ready.”
Mostly, “הינני, I am here, I am ready” responds to an external call; whether the voice of God or, more likely, the alert on our phone. Our ancestors understood the importance of responding to that external call. They also understood the need to respond to the internal call with “הינני I am here, I am ready”. Therefore, they gifted us שבת, the Sabbath, a day of pause, a day to put aside the roar of the engine, the alert of our phone, and take control of our time.
Rabbi Maligner writes: “In a world full of distractions, the proper way to translate ‘Hineni’ today is ‘I am fully present.’ I am fully present in my life.” Ms. Funt reminds us that the moments of creativity and insight occur when we are fully present and able to create WhiteSpace in which to consciously pause.
Let’s be honest. We all know what happens when we are not fully present, when we do not pause. We crash; we hit the wall; we burn out - pick your metaphor. We get irritable. The important people in our lives feel ignored. We lash out. We do a lousy job. And of course, we are SO much fun to be around.
Think you are different, that you do not need the pause? Think you are superhuman and able to do it all 24/7/365 (or 6)? Our ancestors knew better even if we do not. From its outset, Torah teaches the importance of the pause. Even God, whom Torah saw as omnipotent, took a break after six days spent creating the world. Continuously in Torah, Tanach and Rabbinic Literature, the importance of Shabbat is reiterated over and over and over and over. The Torah, and later the Rabbis, reiterate the punishment for ignoring Shabbat is the ultimate punishment, death. While Torah sets the sentence to be carried out by stoning, we know dying from exhaustion and stress was, and is, more often the cause of death.
As we wrote you earlier this month:
It does not have to be the Shabbat of your great-grandparents. Be creative and daring. Find a way to make Shabbat meaningful for you. A quiet dinner with family or friends, or going for a hike in this incredible place we are blessed to call home. Call friends and family to reconnect and show your caring. The possibilities are endless. This first time experimenting with Shabbat may not open new doors or create a spiritual high. But, perhaps, with time and repetition you may discover things about yourself that can only come to light in the space that Shabbat can provide...Find or create your own way of observing Shabbat.
Historically the Jewish community observed Shabbat on Friday night and Saturday. My teacher Rabbi Alvin Reines, since he worked every Friday night and Saturday, observed Shabbat on Thursday night and Friday. I do not suggest you follow Rabbi Reines’ example any more than you follow your grandparents’. Find your own path. Draw from the core of our tradition, understand the purpose of Shabbat and revel in the pause. Use the WhiteSpace of Shabbat to center yourself and re-find your creative, introspective true self. Do not be afraid of the descent back to the busyness of life. Your landing will be much smoother because you took the time to pause.
Making time to pause and understanding our priorities allows for the growth of opportunities. Our own personal WhiteSpace of Shabbat helps us to know who we are, and what we are truly meant to do. We can be blessed with the luxury of identifying the path we need to take in life, realizing what is important to us and most important, who is important to us. When we know that, things fall into place.
Find the strength to pause and may you never have to say: “I didn’t take the ride.”