|Return to Sermons||Home|
Kol Nidre 5764 Sermon by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone
I don’t know about you, but I was not raised with the language of love. Love I was taught was a goyisha word, Love for the world? a thing Jews could not afford. Compassion? too soft a concept to have found its way into my rough home. Indeed, until I met Reb Zalman, nobody had ever said anything to me about being in this world as an agent of blessing, or as a healer of a shattered world, or a purveyor of love. Not in a Jewish context, anyway. By no fault of my parents and teachers who were taught the same things, I was brought up with a different ethic: I was taught to look out for myself, to use my head, to get the best deal, to get to the head of the line before the food ran out, to make sure I was never ripped off, to give credit where credit was due, and blame where blame was due, to do the right thing, and…when I did the wrong thing, to get out of paying for it. These and other Jewish axioms I discovered later were only the cultural skins, the outer layers of a far more profound tradition. They were adaptations that were learned for a myriad of good historical reasons, intelligently layered down, generation by generation through the centuries.
But this Lenny Bruce/Woody Allen cover on Judaism deceives us. Many people think that‘s all there is, and so they naturally turn elsewhere for spiritual nourishment . Who would think of seeking out Jackie Mason as a spiritual guide, for example? No, we come to Boulder instead. We study the work of Trungpa Rinpoche, or Thich Nat Hahn, we read the Dalai Lama, and many others.But over the past 2 decades, I have come to learn that underneath this cover, the essence of the Jewish tradition is incredibly deep and transformative. My own life’s work has come to be about Chipping away, sandblasting when necessary, this Jewish facade that keeps us from seeing, feeling, knowing the heart and power and universality of Judaism, which is a tradition fueled by a hunger for love and justice, and a desire to live and die in the most holy way.
One example that pertains to us tonight is about death. Jews have no comprehensive text, like the Tibetan or Egyptian Book of the Dead. Nor do we have extensive public manuals on how and what to meditate on when our time comes. What we do have though is an annual dry run. This is YK. You may not have known this when you bought your ticket, but YK constitutes a rehearsal for dying, a practice day for the profound act of letting go that each of us will be invited to do at the end of our time. (For some of us YK is a dress rehearsal…if you look around, you will see many of us are dressed in white tonight and some of us are wearing the kittel, the sacred garment in which they will be buried. ) YK is in the profoundest sense, a tiptoeing into the passageway that leads from our personal lives to eternity.
*What kinds of things occupy a person in this passage? If we are blessed with time and clarity of mind, we might muse about and review our lives, working through our regrets and letting go of our shortcomings. We might struggle to take responsibility for what has befallen us and let go of our blame and grievances. In many cases I have seen, people become sweeter, pouring forth the love and blessings to others that had previously been withheld. For one day every year, the sacred technology of the Jews, so wise, so profound, teaches us to practice these very things. Softened by the realization of our mortality. We contact our friends and loved ones, we ask for clearings and forgiveness. If we have the courage, we seek out our enemies and make reparations. We clear the slate as clean as possible, just like we will do one day, if we have the fortune to die when we are ripe and ready, as we are getting ready to leave this world. And then there are our physical attachments, to food and drink and substances, to our sexuality, to ornate clothing, leather, make up, and perfumes. Judaism instructs us to practice giving up all the material comforts that reassure us of our physical reality. On YK we re-learn what we know but don’t want to know: That this body is not who we are, that there is no lasting physical reality. That this part of us, which we pay so much attention to, is in the end, fleeting, just a vehicle for light, a passing one, at that. By dropping our physical habits for a day, we remind ourselves that we are much more, must be much more than our physical reality.
On YK we take ourselves out of life, and under the privacy of our talit, far removed from the pleasures and distractions of the world, we ask: where am I? On the line between my birth and my death, Where do I stand ? Am I becoming what I came to earth to become? Am I offering all that I came to the world to offer? Like Zusya on his deathbed, every YK, we must answer the question: Not why are we not like Abraham or Sarah, Gandhi or Mother Teresa, but Why are we not more like ourselves? And finally, we come to ask for the loving grace of the day, of the candles, of the Kol Nidre. We ask for an aliyat neshama, an ascent of soul to be able to see from an elevated consciousness and God willing released from all that is driving us, ruling us, keeping us from being agents of blessing and love here on earth. The passage that leads to our final curtains is very hard work. So much letting go, harvesting, tallying, forgiving.
The good news is that Judaism bite-sizes this process for us. Instead of getting clobbered with it all at the end, we get to examine and release our attachments and aversions year by year, to observe our growth and our hang-ups, forgiving and making mid course corrections as we go. One day, when our end is near, this work will already be familiar to us. Our hearts will easily break open then, like a hive filled with honey, with love for our families, our friends and teachers, and hopefully for our selves and all of our efforts. The Jewish Tradition, so much wiser than we had ever known, says: don’t wait. Un-pry that tight fisted grip on life now: practice now, regularly ask for forgiveness from everyone around you and surrender to the power of Love that lies within you, practice jumping off the wheel now, into the peace and rapture that will one day greet you. On YK we come to understand the great paradox: that the practice for death is the practice for life.
|Return to Sermons||Home|