Erev Yom Kippur 5777
Yehuda Amichai: The Children:
Every day the children run on the playground
They run on their little legs, which rotate the planet like a circus
They want to be acrobats and magicians
Every night the children thank us for having brought them into the world
With beautiful politeness, they take their gifts and with their small arms they
Cling to the future stubbornly, as they cling to their parents, and their toys.
Then they lie on their backs
In order to paint beautiful skies
Like the ceilings of the synagogue...
I sit next to the children until they fall asleep
And I say seven times
As the closing prayer of Yom Kippur
“I am not God.”
“I am not God.”
There is an account in the Talmud (Bavli Eirusin 13b):
For two-and-a-half years the house of Shammai and the house of Hillel argued. Shammai said:
Better for man never to have been created than to have been created. And Hillel said:
Better for man to have been created that not to have been created.
This is an extraordinary debate: would it be better for humanity to exist, or not to exist?
It is especially extraordinary for the times we are living in, as we anxiously raise the question, fundamentally: whose life matters? Does my life matter? Does anything matter?
In the end, they counted and decided:
Better for man never to have been created than to have been created. Now that he has been created, he should examine his actions.
We spend so much of our lives trying to be God, trying to be in control: over our own lives, the lives and choices of others, the lives of our children, perhaps especially our children. And we curse and criticize those who struggle with their inability to be God over their own lives.
We try to pretend that we are in control.
But we are not God. And no matter how tempting it may be, we cannot be. We oughtn’t be.
We do this because we see the space between our is and our ought to be and we struggle with that space. We try to cover it up, to pretend it isn’t there, to make that space seem very small, because we are afraid that, should we expose it, should we let people see, if we exposed it, we would plummet into the chasm between what is and what should be.
We can’t be God. But that doesn’t mean we don’t matter. It doesn’t mean our choices don’t matter. Rather, we can choose to live our lives and examine our actions carefully. We can take that space, that wide space of our failings, and leave it open. We can keep ourselves open-hearted. We can say to each other, to our children: I am not God, I am not perfect. Nor am I merely accepting my failures either. I’m struggling, just as you are. And I accept your struggle, and hope you accept mine.
Rabbi Eliezer Berkowitz, in his book Prayer, wrote: “appealing to God’s mercy and lovingkindness, we ourselves must believe in mercy and lovingkindness, otherwise, there is no ground left of us on which to stand…” And it’s true. We must believe in mercy and lovingkindness; for ourselves AND FOR OTHERS. Otherwise, what right do we have?
My friends, on this day of Atonement, let me say: you matter. Each and every one of you matters, deeply and profoundly.
Our choices matter, and our choices must be examined, sifted through carefully.
Our forgiveness matters.
Our ability to be open-hearted matters.
On this day of Atonement, I ask you to say, seven times, before the gates close:
I am not God
I am not in control: of my circumstances, of everyone around me
But I have choices, I have freedom.
And I matter
And my choices matter.
And the people around me matter.
I am not God,
But I matter.