Rabbi Yair D. Robinson
Congregation Beth Emeth
Erev Rosh Hashanah: a Blessing of Gratitude
In spite of myself, this summer, I found myself staying up far too late to watch the Summer Olympics. In spite of their lack of sensitivity to the 40th anniversary of the Munich games and the terror that accompanied it, in spite of the fact that we were watching something that took place 6 hours earlier and was viewable (or at least readable) thanks to the power of the internet and therefore knowing the results, despite my personal allergy to hype (you can’t take the punk out of the kid, after all), I found myself watching Women’s Gymnastics of all things. And, like much of the world, I watched five young women dominate in the team competition, winning gold for the first time since 1996. If you remember a few months ago, they were dominant, such that one sports writer exclaimed that they could have sat in the middle of the mat for the floor routine and read a good book and still win. And they were led by a Jewish girl from Needham MA, a member of the reform Temple in that community, Aly Reisman, who did her floor routine to Hava Nagilah. She was the team captain, which meant, as one journalist wrote, it was her task to ‘see clearly through the fog of media frenzy and expectations from coaches, USA Gymnastics, fans, friends and family.’ It was her duty to ‘maintain resolute under extreme circumstances’.
And yet, and yet, at the end of her floor routine, the last one for the event and for the team, you could see finally, as she stuck her landing, the expression of emotion. It wasn’t just an expression of joy or completion or exhaustion—or of watching her parents completely lose it in the stands, as Jewish parents are wont to do—it was an expression of gratitude, of thankfulness. And then, as many of us know, she repeated her performance on the floor mat later to win another gold. As wonderful as that second showing was, I want to focus on that moment at the end of the team competition. Whatever the score, you could tell she knew she and her team and gone through an amazing experience for anyone, never mind a nice Jewish girl from outside Boston.
This evening we invoked a new year, a year full of potential, and we have prayed for new blessings, for that potential to be realized for our people, our country, for Israel, for ourselves. We have begun the hard, sacred work of Cheshbon Nefesh, of taking stock of our souls, our personal selves, looking to see how we can improve in 5773, how we can do more or do better. And most years, this would be a time for me to preach about a new initiative, a spiritual realization, a new bit of Torah. I’m not going to do that tonight. Oh, it will come: there will be new programs to promote, new ideas and ways to engage—this is me, we’re talking about, after all. But tonight, as we let go of the previous year, I think it’s important to express our own gratitude, our own thankfulness for this moment. Before the book of our lives are opened, before we go through the ledger of our souls, let’s take a moment to give thanks for what we have and how we’ve come to this moment.
So these are my blessings, with inspiration from Rabbi Harry Danzinger, my teacher. These are my expressions of gratitude for the past year:
Today I was raised from my bed by my son, excited for a new day, for all that he has. I woke next to a woman who supports and encourages me, and who I in turn strive to earn her partnership. This afternoon parents who are healthy and vibrant came to my home and join us here now. Certainly I grumbled about the hour as I got the leash to walk the dog, and I’ve rushed about all day to prepare for tonight. But I am blessed with a loving family, deep and friendships that have lasted a lifetime, colleagues who have served as my teachers and support, and a meaningful connection to many within and outside of these walls.. For my family circle, Baruch Atah Adonai, thank you God!
In this past year we’ve all complained that the room we were in was the wrong temperature. Indeed, many of us have complained in the last hour that the room we are in is either too hot or too cold, but we have a roof over our heads, protected from the elements; we know security and shelter beyond what millions around the world could ever dream of. For the roof over my head, Baruch Atah Adonai, thank you God!
Certainly we have complained about one meal or another this year, our experiments with kale chips or this or that restaurant were, in retrospect, not the best ideas. But we did not go hungry. Indeed, many of us can look to our pantries and an embarrassment of riches. We have the luxury of choosing whether to go to the fancier supermarket, or get our vegetables from the local farm, or to eat out, to be vegetarians or vegans or kosher or eco-kosher or eat anything that satisfied our appetites. For every meal, baruch atah Adonai, thank you god!
Some of us experienced illness or injury—sometimes a sniffle or bruise, others were put into the hospital. There were accidents, including two car accidents in my life this past year, daily dangers that cause our hearts to race. Some of us were bereaved this year, losing a loved one or a friend. We may have experienced failure great or small. But we are here, we found the strength to go on, to get support. For strength beyond imagining, Baruch Atah Adonai, thank you God!
And there were days free of illness, injury and death. There were days of success, of growth, days when everything went right, when we lived up to our ideals and hopes, when there was no tragedy no sadness, no drama. For every day free of trouble, Baruch Atah Adonai, thank you God!
There were days when we enjoyed friends and family, when I got to watch my son play on the playground, completely fearless. There were moments of shared laughter and tenderness, of insight and thoughtfulness; celebrations, simchas, accomplishments and heights gained. And there were moments of simple, honest, and meaningful companionship. For each of those moments shared, baruch atah Adonai, thank you God!
We are surrounded by a congregation that is increasingly active, in a beautiful building, with members of all ages finding meaning in Torah, in study, in community, in bringing a meal to a friend or a stranger, in leadership, and in prayer. We are nourished as a sacred congregation by staff and volunteers for whom this is family in the purest, most real sense of the word, and give of themselves fully for its benefit. For this congregation full of love and spiritual growth, her leaders and supporters, baruch atah Adonai, thank you God!
We live in a community that continually punches above its weight. From the activism of our citizenry to a Jewish community that strives for real connection and fulfillment of the idea kol yisrael aravim ze ba zeh, All Israel is responsible for each other. We have a JCC filled with love and engagement, a JFS serving our whole community, Jew and Gentile alike. We have a nursing home filled with loving caregivers, congregations that work together to help create meaning, multiple opportunities for study and connection, A Federation that strives to bring everyone together, support for Israel through active leadership in Federation Israel Bonds, AIPAC and J-Street, a plurality of voices striving in different ways for the same goal: to serve the needs of all in Delaware. For this Jewish community, greater in strength than it realizes, Baruch atah Adonai, thank you God!
On any given day, I engage in multiple conversations about Judaism, movies, and music, the 80s, the news and other ephemera. I listen to musicians I’ve never heard of, share articles with friends and colleagues that challenge me, communicate with friends new and old, and hear old Jews telling jokes, all from my laptop computer. I have seen new media emerge to give the voiceless a voice, to bring awareness to struggles and challenges, and to give people a means to face those challenges within a community we couldn’t have imagined. These technologies are allowing people to become creators rather than just consumers; writing, creating art and music, working with craft and sharing their wares—and themselves—through these new media. And, for those who are stuck on the road or are homebound due to health reasons, this service is being shared through that same development in media, an impossible idea only a generation ago. For all that technology allows me to do, for all the connections it allows me to maintain, and for the ways technology has broadened my horizons, baruch atah Adonai, thank you God!
We live in a world where Jews have had a sovereign state for 64 years, a country that, in spite of terror and war, and sometimes in spite of itself, has made the desert bloom, has become a leader in technology and medicine, and now entering the world of renewable energy. A country that old and young Jews alike, from around the world increasingly feel a strong connection to, a homeland for Jews not only to flee oppression but to visit in droves to learn about and deepen their connection with their people and their faith. We live in a world where Hebrew is a spoken language, where a diaspora community of Jews and Gentiles from around the world support her, a world in which the Economist was able to write that, despite the charnel house of Europe of the 1940s, Israel as a nation and a people has not just survived, it has thrived. For our Jewish homeland, for our Jewish people, Baruch atah Adonai, Thank you God!
Some of us have suffered this year. Some of us have known successes great and small. And all of us have reached this moment thanks to miracles great and small: a supportive friend, the right words spoken at the right time, a chance to be in the world, a moment of clarity and understanding, a helpful stranger. For each one of those miracles, baruch atah Adonai thank you God!
We have begun a new year, we have said goodbye to the old. We pray for new blessings in this new year, to leave behind old hurts. But we carry with us the thanks for the blessings we have received, and face the new day with gratitude. Blessed are You, Adonai, for giving us life, sustaining us and bringing us to this most amazing day, every day. Amen.