Rosh Hashanah Day 2 Sermon

September 12, 2018
By Beth Mordecai
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Rosh Hashanah Day 2 Sermon

God’s presence surrounds us every moment.

When I was in my last year of graduate school, I worked at a synagogue in Malibu, CA.  I would drive through cities, streets lined with strip malls turning onto a highway, then to narrow roads surrounded by brush and no cell service.   My car would finally climb up the last hill and I would be overlooking the gorgeous Pacific Ocean before driving down to sea level.  The view was incredible…the first time.

After a couple of weeks, I was distracted making a to-do list in my head as I approached my job.  After the first month, I almost didn’t notice the view.  I then decided that I was missing something great.  There will always be moments to feel stress, it comes too easily.

We have to work to continually find amazement in our world that has become too familiar.  Even after this scene had become a regular part of my week, I was able to pause for a moment, look out and feel God’s presence in the beauty.

What about those bitter cold days at the end of winter when we are so tired of the muddy, slushy snow.  We are cooped up inside and just want to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays.  Besides hopping on a plane to Florida or the Caribbean, how can you tap into that feeling of finding God? That feeling of being part of awe-inspiring greatness?

The difficulty is finding God in the everyday moments.  God is there but we often do not know it.  The air we breathe, that supplies our lungs with life giving oxygen surrounds us everywhere. Ideally, when we sleep, when we eat, when we are relaxing, we are breathing. We are not always cognizant as our bodies take over.  The air we breathe is constantly around us.  Even when we do not feel it, when the air is still and there is no wind, it is there.

This is similar to God.  The evidence of God’s presence surrounds us in every moment.  Just as we can see the wind move the branches and leaves on a tree and we can feel the movement of the air around us.  We cannot see the wind.

We can see the great strides humans have made because God has endowed us with intelligence and understanding.  We are able to see glorious works of nature because God created the world yet we cannot see God.  Just as the wind changes the world and is felt, so does God.

But how, how can we adapt our mindset to be God centered?  How can we feel God in the mundane and every day moments?

The first time we do something, it takes all our concentration.  I remember decades ago as a teen, I studied hard, received my driving permit, and went to sit behind the wheel of car for the first time. My father sat in the passenger seat next to me. I remember feeling excited for my freedom but overwhelmed with enormity of getting behind a 2-ton vehicle, responsible for my life and others. I remember listening to his directions on how to turn, how he said to me press the brake — no slowly press the brake; turn the wheel— no turn the wheel slowly.  Every step, every direction was a challenge, took my full concentration.  I continued following his directions and we came to a turn.  My father told me to turn the wheel and slow down.

So, I turned the wheel, stepped on the brake and we stopped. My father looked at me and asked me what happened?  I was confused, nothing happened I was listening to the directions.  He forgot to tell me to slowly press the gas again.  I recall wondering how I would ever be able to do all of the steps like it was second nature, without even thinking. Each piece of this took my complete concentration,

It’s a good thing that driving has become second nature, we wouldn’t want it to be as difficult every time as it is the first time.  But then sometimes we zone out, miss a turn, or have an accident because we are not paying attention.  So, the question becomes how do we keep focus and concentration when something has become second nature to us?

“Beginner’s mind” is a powerful Buddhist concept cherishing the idea of being totally immersed in the task at hand.  Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg writes on this topic saying, “The challenge that many teachers of spirituality set forth is to live every little experience as though it were an absolute novelty.  If you stopped to enjoy the gorgeous flowers in the window of this shop the first time you passed by, the theory goes, ideally you would feel the same amazement at their beauty every single time – you would not become inured to them as they became a familiar, known entity in your daily routine.”

Yesterday I sounded the shofar for the community.  I have seen many people lift the rams horn and what appears to be effortlessly create a giant sound that fills the room.  Scott Gursky will demonstrate this for us shorty. This past summer, I took the journey to learn this craft.  While practicing, I needed to focus every time pushing the air from my lungs out my lips just so to create a noise.  It did not happen each time.  Yet, each time I had the intense focus trying to get it right.

While the more we do something, the easier it becomes, in this unique task and honor of blowing the shofar and calling to God there is a pause and recognition in this call and response that keeps the focus of this beautiful mitzvah in our beginners’ mind.

Picture in your mind, the ocean, beautiful, calm, glistening and grand.  See the water moving, can you hear the sound of the water crashing on the shore? In your mind, look to the sky, it is evening and the sun in setting.  The air is still warm as you watch the sky turn from a bright blue to a brilliant canvas containing reds, purples, oranges and yellows of sunset.  God is painting this masterpiece to be admired.  God is reaching out just to you to show you of God’s incredible magnificence.

If we focus and remind ourselves, we are able to continually feel the calm and comfort we feel seeing such beautiful scene in nature.

Why should we want this?  Is it worth the effort?

We can go through our lives, largely on autopilot zoning out yet we miss the incredible moments.

Theoretically, I love seeing movies in 3-D.  The first moments of the movie when I feel the weight of the funny glasses and the first scenes just jump out at me.  Yet a few moments in, my eyes get used to it and the glasses start to pinch the tops of my ears.  I continually and actively remind myself to notice and be amazed by the 3-D nature of the movie.

When we stop reminding ourselves to enjoy and be amazed, we are lulled and numbed.  Yet when we actively engage with our world, when we remind ourselves to be amazed, we are!

That feeling of amazement is the feeling of God. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel calls this radical amazement.  Heschel states, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

It is hard to live in this space of radical amazement because it takes constant work and effort to be mindful. One must pay attention to find something great and awe inspiring in the everyday moments.

John Lennon wrote, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.  We certainly can go about our lives from one day to the next, enjoying, having fun and even occasionally feeling awe.  Yet our time and our lives gain much more meaning and are deeper when we are able to tap into the Divine.  To feel and appreciate God around us.

How do we do this?  As a people, we were all present when God gave us the Torah on Sinai.  The people resided at the able of the mountain for too long and it was God who told us we must journey on.  The revelatory experience at Sinai was incredible but we could not live there.  We had to leave that physical place but learn how to come back to it in our souls.  One way we come back to that revelatory experience is through our participation in Jewish holidays, rituals and this community.

Throughout the Jewish year we have various holidays that celebrate or commemorate our relationship to God in some way.  Each and every week God has given us Shabbat as a break in the week for us to recharge and to reach out to God. Every day, the cycle of prayer three times a day in the morning, afternoon and evening is designed as set times for us to pause from our worldly mundane actions to do something holy, to connect with ourselves and the Divine.  Three times a day, Shachrit, mincha, maariv that’s a lot.  Yet the intention behind those thrice daily prayer services is something we all can do. We all can take a few moments at the beginning, middle and end of the day to breath.  With each conscious breath, we feel God in the air nourish and sustain us.

Try this with me, “Close your eyes, feel your feet on the ground,
take a deep breath in, feel that God is around you, let it out,
take a deep breath in, know that God is around you, let it out,
take a deep breath in, feel that God is around you, let it out,
take a deep breath in, know that God is around you, let it out,
Feel how your chest rises and falls.
take a deep breath in, feel that God is around you, let it out,
God has given us the life-giving air that go into your lungs and is expelled out.
take a deep breath in, let it out,
God is with you
take a deep breath in, let it out.
God is with you
When you are ready open your eyes.
God is with us.

We took 7 breaths together.  In Judaism, 7 is a number of wholeness, of completion.  Together we paused and felt our breath for 7 cycles. We focused on feeling that air, that presence of God is a part of us.

As you go about your day, try this meditation. Just breath in 7 breaths and feel how God has created us.  Even for short moments in between the busyness and the moments of tedium, we can find connection if we make connection.

I invite all of you to take that moment this year, and allow yourself to experience your life on a deeper level as we connect with GD in everyday ways.

Category : High Holidays Rabbi Rabbi's Journal Rosh Hashanah Sermons