Rosh Hashanah Day 1 Sermon

September 12, 2018
By Beth Mordecai
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Rosh Hashanah Day 1 Sermon

How many of you have called out to a loved one and used the wrong name?

Did you have a dog or cat growing up and was accidentally called their name by your parents? Growing up I would sometimes hear: Donna, Steve, Rusty, Samantha I mean Sara come here.

When my father would call me my mother or brother’s name it wasn’t so bad, when he got to the cat or dog’s names… I didn’t love it.  Then my father would look at me and say, well you know who you are.  Like my father, I do this too. I cycle through the kids’ names before landing on the correct one.  I too then look at the child I’m calling and declare, “Well at least you know who you are!”

That off handed remark my father would exclaim with exasperation. “Well, you know who you are!” has deep meaning, because yes, I do know who I am to my core.

Do you? Do you know who you are?

We have identities based on our skills, knitters, musicians, artists, athletes, and mah Jong enthusiasts.  Professions, life events and characteristics.  Many of us are siblings,

spouses, partners, friends.   Others know us by these monikers, yet I ask you today, in your soul, deep in that place within yourself, who are you?

How do you see yourself?

Often the way we see ourselves is within our strengths and limits.

Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves, seeing only our mistakes and mishaps, not the good we have done along the way. Yet other times we believe our smaller niceties are grand gestures affecting great change for the better.

Do you think too highly of yourself or not highly enough?  This is a balance, if you drift too far onto either side there are negative results. When people think of themselves generally in negative terms, they may not take a risk to help another for fear of failing or for a variety of other reasons.

When one thinks too highly of themselves, they may over inflate their own self-importance.  They may think that every small decent action they do has great impact.  The danger in this is that they may only ever do the small things, never truly helping themselves or others.

Throughout the past year, my middle son, my 2-year-old Eitan, loved watching the Disney movie Moana.  We would listen to the music and play the movie almost daily.  His favorite word was “Moana,” asking us to play the movie once again…and again.  So, after 3,000 times of watching and learning from this movie, I will share with you how to find not only the heart of Te Fitti but your own heart.

For those of you who are only on your first viewing the movie takes place somewhere near the French Polynesian or Hawiian islands.  The chief has one daughter who will be chief after him.  The crops on the island are rotting and the fishermen are coming back empty handed.

According to their legend, years ago, the demigod Maui went deep into the mother Island, Te fiti and stole her heart.  Without this heart, she lost the power of creation.  Without this power, the agriculture and fishing cannot be sustained.

Through song & dance the movie shows Moana’s journey to find Maui and bring him to return the heart to Te fiti.  Spoiler alert, I’m going to give away the end of the movie.  In their journey to replacing Te fiti’s heart, Moana and Maui experience trials and tribulations to finally reached the Island where Te fiti is supposed to be. When they get there, to great disappointment, there is nothing but a discoloration in the water where her form used to be.

The revolution occurs when our main character Moana, realizes that her main adversary, the angry fiery monster, is Te Fiti without her heart.  Understanding what she must do, Moana instructs Maui to “let her come to me.”  Lava spewing creature angrily moving towards Moana as she stands unmoving to face her.  Once the monster reaches her, Moana tells her, – in song –
I have crossed the horizon to find you
I know your name
They may have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are

The movie wraps up with Moana placing the heart onto the still smoldering chest and watching as the angry monster made of molten rock slowly becomes the lush green joyous creature of Te Fiti.

I bring you back to the last four lines:

They may have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are

So often life can seem to beat us up and hold us down.  It may seem as if our heart is stolen from inside us.

When I began rabbinical school a fellow student, who I will call Chava, was a few years ahead of me.  I approached her with great friendliness, introduced myself and tried to get to know her. However, I was met with a terse response that was snapped at me.

Throughout the year, I continued to attempt to strike up conversations and watched the same scene repeated itself.  Then one morning at minyan I finally got up the courage to approach Chava again.  She had been saying kaddish every morning.  I told her I noticed she was saying kaddish, and asked if she was remembering someone in particular.  In this instance, something changed. Her whole face softened, her shoulders dropped. She looks touched and comforted. She finally took the time to share with her pain.

She told me that just a few months ago, her father became ill suddenly.  His health got worse and worse and he soon passed away.  Her father was her rock and anchor.  Chava felt unmoored without him in this life.  I then understood.  She was angry and anyone coming in her path felt that anger.  She was working through her grief.  With her father gone, she felt as though someone had stolen the heart from inside her.  It took her time and the understanding of those around her for Chava to remember who she really is.  She is eternally grateful for the healing power of time and to those who helped her remember and work through her anger.  Chava now is working as a rabbi helping others and bringing life to them.

This time of year, we reflect.  We reflect and wonder have I forgotten who I really am? Do I feel consumed with anger or hurt? We wonder if we are struggling?

In one way or another I believe we all can answer yes to some part of those questions.  What part of yourself have you forgotten?

Returning your heart may take many different paths.  You are not the irate smoldering creature bent on destruction, but you are the life-giving and joyous being.

You are that person who laughs, smiles and helps others selflessly.  You are the best version of yourself!  When you are able to see that best version, it is possible to work towards being that person again. You can return.

This is not to say we don’t remember, our losses, whether it be of a loved one, work, change of life. We honor our loss, our disappointments, the times we could have been better, by continuing to live and working towards being our best self.

Often times, we need the strength of others to help remind us who we are, like Moana did for Te Fiti.  However, that is not always the case. Sometimes we have to work hard, examine our own reactions and emotions to reclaim our own hearts.

As we begin this new year, I ask how can you return to your best self?

Do not let the grind and tragedies of life steal the heart from inside you.  This is much easier said than done. When you feel pressure, anxiety and stress or you feel hurt by the loss of a loved one it can be so easy to descend into darkness and anger.  It is important to feel our emotions and work through them.  Yet by acknowledging them we are able to be self-aware and try to act as who we really are.

Just last week, we had a wonderful class where we discussed the concept of Teshuva.  This is often translated as repentance. Yet, the root of this word means returning.  The goal of the High Holidays is for us to truly look at who we are, to examine ourselves. We aim to see who we really are, as our best selves.  We then must ask ourselves if we are on the path to being this ideal version of us.

We studied together the steps of repentance as outlined by the medieval Jewish commentator, Maimonides. He states that first we must make the change.  We must acknowledge the places where we need to return and make a verbal declaration to God of our intentions to be and do better.  We must truly regret our past actions. Finally, we must not repeat the behavior. The true penitent, Maimonides says, is the one who finds themselves with the opportunity to commit the same sin again yet declines to do so.  We must return to who we are by doing better, by not repeating the same mistakes.

We must commit to examining our own actions. When you feel run down and heart broken, reach out, allow others to help remind you who you really are.  Or take the opportunity to remind yourself and return your true heart. Let yourself slowly do the work, and you will find your way back.

Shanah Tovah

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