Each night Sportscenter features the ten greatest plays of
the day. On Rosh Hashanah we can ask what are the greatest sins in Jewish
history? Not the greatest sins committed by individual Jews. That would be too
long a list. It would include Arnold Rothstein fixing the 1919 World Series. My
questions is, what is the greatest sin committed by the Jewish people as a
group? I think there is no question about it. It is the Golden Calf.
The generation of our people which witnessed the ten plagues,
the generation which crossed through the divided sea, the generation which
collected manna every morning built a Golden Calf to replace God. While Moses
was on the top of Mount Sinai receiving the Torah, the people turned away from
the God who took them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an out stretched arm.
The Torah describes God responding to seeing the people
worshiping the Golden calf with anger and frustration. God tells Moses, I am
going to destroy this entire people.
Recently I learned from Rabbi Rick Jacobs an interesting Talmudic
interpretation of this story. Rabbi Eliezar taught that God said to Moses, “Now
that Israel has sinned, what are you to me?” All at once Moses became weak and
had no strength to answer. He felt he had failed as the leader of the people and
no reason to go on. But when Moses heard God say, “Let me alone that I may
destroy them,” Moses said to himself, “D’var zeh Taloui Bi, This thing depends
on me, D’var zeh Taloui Bi.”
At once Moses regained his strength. He stood up and sought
mercy for the people of Israel. Moses understood that only he could act to save
the people. The continued existence of the people of Israel rested on his
shoulders. That thing depended on him and Moses convinced God to spare the
Today we can each ask ourselves, what depends on me? About
what should I say, “D’var zeh Taloui Bi, This thing depends on me?”
Some people feel that everything depends on them. In our
families or at work, we may feel this way. We may live or work with people who
feel this way. It is no way to work or live.
It is important to know that some specific “thing” depends
on you. There can be joy in being able to select, to choose, to identify that
thing. To say this is me, this is happening because of me.
People need to feel purposeful. I recently learned that despite
the fact that our nation is at war one of the branches of our armed services
has a waiting list. Which one? The Marines! The Marines have a waiting list for
boot camp. Young people want part of the sharp end of the spear. They want to
be one of the few, the proud, the brave.
Movies are filled with stories of individuals who felt
themselves to have no purpose, finding their purpose, discovering there place
and time to shine. We could list countless sports movies in which the once
rejected athlete emerges as the star and takes the last shot in the key game
against the dreaded foe.
In action movies the key good guy always ends up in one on
one combat with the key bad guy. It could be the sword fight on the stairs between
Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in the Adventures of Robin Hood. Or it could be Obi
Wan Kenobe and Darth Vader dueling with light sabers in Star Wars.
In the real world individuals face key moments. In one month
it will be exactly 50 years since Cuba Missile Crisis. Some of us clearly
recall this turning point in the cold war. I realize that for those of you
under 60, it is history. So let me provide a brief history lesson.
On October 16th, 1962, the American government
discovered that the Soviet Union was placing medium range, surface to surface
nuclear missiles in Cuba aimed at the heartland of America.
President John Kennedy had to decide how to respond. Many of
his military advisors wanted him to launch a surprise surgical air strike on
the missile sites. Other advisors urged him to mount a full scale military
invasion of Cuba. President Kennedy understood, D’var Zeh Taloui Bi. He had to
make the decision. It was up to him to consider
how the Soviet Union would respond to military action.
The world was on the brink of nuclear war. President Kennedy
chose to resist the advice from the generals. And instead he established a
naval blockade of Cuba. He was firm with the blockade. As days passed the
pressure built for military action but President Kennedy remained committed to
diplomacy and blockade. After two weeks of blockade and negotiation, Soviet
leader Nikita Khrushchev backed down and agreed to withdraw the nuclear
missiles from Cuba and the United States pledged not to invade Cuba. Months
later America quietly withdrew some obsolete missiles from Turkey.
Our lives are generally not so dramatic. We are not called
upon to take the game winning shot or duel the villain with a light saber, or
save the world from nuclear war.
Nevertheless, we can ask, “What depends on me? About what
can I say, “D’var zeh Taloui Bi, This thing depends on me?” We can ask this
question about our families, our work, among our friends, and the synagogue.
What aspect of family life depends on you, in your small
family or in your larger family? Circumstances change. We change. The needs of
those around us change. Times change. Where I was once needed. I am no longer
needed. We can ask where am I needed now?
What aspect of the life of this community depends on you? Everybody
does have to be chair of the budget committee. Everybody does not have to teach
kindergarten in the religious school. Everybody does not have to work in
gardens but everybody needs their spot.
Most of what we do here began with a single person saying, “D’var
zeh Taloui Bi, This thing depends on me.” Years ago one person said, we need to
become part of PADS. Many people responded back then and many people continue to respond. Because one person saw
the matter depending on him, we have provided shelter and meals to hundreds and
hundreds of people.
In the mid 80s, one person said we have to have a Youth
Israel Trip. As a result we have sent seven groups of teens to Israel. We
are currently working on the next trip for December of 2013.
I want to share with you the story of two young women from
our congregation taking the initiative to help others. Katie Gelman started Operation
Stuffed Animals. Katie describes her project, “Operation Stuffed Animal gives toys
to kids in need. We collect new and gently used animals, and send them to
mission groups that travel worldwide to help
children. Most of these kids have never had any toys. The stuffed animals
provide joy and comfort.’
Julia Carter following in her brother Adam’s footsteps spent
last spring doing micro philanthropy on the grassroots level in Central and South
Our two Etz Chaim teens, Katie and Julia, joined together. Julia
delivered stuffed animals which Katie had collected to children in a hospital
in Panama. Every one does not have to go to Panama. Part of the process is
understanding one’s unique role.
Near the end of camp this summer, one of the Chalutzim
counselors told me she was thinking about returning for a third summer as a
counselor in our Hebrew immersion program. She asked me what keeps me coming
back to Chalutzim summer after summer. I told her “D’var zeh Taloui Bi, This thing depends on me.” I feel I bring
something unique to the program.
Most people think of Frank Carpa’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” as
a Christmas movie. I understand that it is really a Rosh Hashanah movie. It
tells the story of George Bailey, who grows weak when he sees his life as a
failure. He grows weak like Moses did after learning of the Golden Calf. George,
like Moses, no longer has any strength to go on.
George wants to die. He declares that the world would be
better off if he had never been born. Because it is a Frank Capra movie,
George’s guardian angel intervenes. George gets to see what the world in truth
would be like if he had not been born. He would not have been there to save his
brother from drowning. He would not been there to prevent a pharmacist from
sending the poison to a customer. He would not have been there to marry his
wife. He would not have been there to provide loans to help families purchase
their first homes. George awakens from this vision of this alternative reality
with a renewed understanding of the importance of his life. He recognizes how
much does indeed depend on him.
In the Midrash, Moses rises from his weakness when he
realizes how much depends on him.
God does not say to Moses, “This depends on you.” Moses says,
“This depends on me.” Moses does not wait for God to assign him a task. Moses
takes the initiative.
We cannot wait for others to invite us to act. We have to
take the initiative to act. We must take charge of our own lives. As the New Year
begins we should each ask ourselves, What depends on me? About what will I say,
“D’var zeh Taloui Bi, This thing depends on me?”