Day 2 Rosh Hashanah 2013
Monday, 14 July 2014 | 16 Tammuz, 5774
Dreaming great dreams
Second Day Rosh Hashanah Drasha 2013
Rabbi Ralph Genende
Earlier this year Abigail van Buren, the famous Jewish advice columnist (LA Times) died. This is one of her legendary exchanges:
Dear Abby – I don't want to appear conceited but I am forced to admit that I am one guy who has everything. Women are always flocking around me and telling me how good looking I am and what a marvellous personality I have. I am beginning to find this pretty annoying and extremely tiring. I just want to live a normal quiet life. How can I dissuade these hopeful females? Signed, CW.
Dear CW: Just keep talking.
The more we talk, the more we reveal of ourselves and the more we listen, the more we learn of others...There are great speakers and there are special listeners,
Last week was the 50th Anniversary of the fabled march on Washington and the anniversary of one of most legendary speeches,that of Martin Luther King Jr (show picture). At Rosh Hashanah time it's worth reflecting on the power of these words,the potency of all words.
King's timeless words articulated the direction of America and impacted on the world. Its vision of a racially equal society where people "live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character".It continues to inspire with force and energy. It's an idea expressed in many of our tefillot over these awesome days on the Jewish calendar. וכל באי עולם and "make us like one band."
We pray for the improvement and future of all humanity:The clothing workers in Bangladesh, citizens starving in Zimbabwe, those wandering homeless on the streets of Melbourne. We acknowledge that God is colour blind and that every human being has the imprint of God on their soul ("TzelemElokim").King's words certainly spoke to me as a teenager in South Africa trying to figure out the tortuous madness of apartheid.They speak to us in Australia today when too many still suffer from racism
King's speech was of course encapsulated in the repetitive,musical phrase: "I have a dream". Martin Luther knew that this address was just a start and at the time the audacious stuff of fantasy.And so each year at Rosh Hashanah we try to recapture the "audacity of hope" to quote Obama,a product of that very audacity,that very dream.
And it's at Yom Tov time this enchanting dream phrase echoes in our Tefillah. During the BirkatHakohanim that section where the kohanim or Priests bless us there is a custom to read a prayer: Ribonoshelolam,"Master of the world, I am Yours and my dreams are Yours. Chalom chalamti,I dreamed a dream but no longer remember it ..."
רבונו של עולם אני שלך וחלומותו שלך חלום חלמתי ואיני יודע מה הוא
And so we try and retrieve the dreams we have forgotten .A dream of Israel being a light to the nations promoting its vision of Tzedakah and Mishpat, justice and righteousness, a dream of a community strongly connected to its Torah and marvellous mitzva system, its great and wise traditions.ChalomChalamti A dream of an inclusive community gathering in those who feel on the outside -be they gay or just different. It's a dream that those who have been abused at home or in our schools will feel recognised ,that those suffering from disabilities will feel empowered, that those who have been having a tough time financially or emotionally will feel acknowledged. Let us move from marginalising to integrating all those on the outskirts of our shtetl...
Sitting on the stage behind King on that singular day in Washington were many Jewish leaders. Among them was Rabbi Joachim Prinz, (president of the American Jewish Congress). As a young rabbi born in Germany he had actively opposed the rise of Nazism .Tracing the Jewish struggle for freedom and dignity back to the Exodus he passionately declared: "When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community of Berlin, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned is that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems. The... most shameful and ... tragic problem is silence." This idea is best expressed in the now iconic phrase chiselled out on stone at the Washington Holocaust Museum: Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all thou shall not be a bystander.
These words are especially compelling today as the world contemplates action against Syria for the brutal use of chemicals on its own people. It's also relevant for Australians when thinking about the policy on Asylum Seekers and how we as a Jewish community react to the cargoes of desperate people making their way to our shores. I know both are complex and divisive issues and we have reason to be afraid and careful but I would rather err on the side of compassion than indifference .
One of the most fascinating things about Martin Luther King's speech is that it almostdidn't unfold in the majestic way that we know it today.It was only during the last part of the talk when King had begun to extemporise that gospel singer Mahalia Jackson standing near him urged: "Tell 'em about the dream Martin. Tell 'em about the dream."
Casting aside his script, Martin Luther King Junior carved out those words that would help transform a nation and inspire a generation
It's a telling reminder of just how powerful the word is. A word can change a world. That's why the final book of the Torah and the final message of Moshe is called SeferDevarim ,The Book of Words, the ten commandments are actually the Ten words - aserethadibrot.We went out there and changed civilisation by the sheer force of our words... We are a far more vocal than visual people, we prefer to kvetch and kvell than draw pictures or create paintings. There are far more Jewish writers than painters. It's the שמע ישראל that grabs us more than the ראה. We are the people of the book, the word.
And while a whole lot more of usare learning the books today a lot of us remain Jewishlyignorant unfamiliar with Jewish words, Torah topics, Talmudic twists. We are the messengers who have forgotten the message – let's change that. We are changing it here at CHC, we are learning Daf Yomi, we are introducing more adult education program Listen up – after all the critical mitzvah of today is to listen to the shofar, to listen and learn the words gifted to you regardless of where you are religiously.
And on a mundane level as the people of the word we need to be especially careful with the way we use our ordinary words.Remember we have whole set of anti-hot gossip laws called Lashonhara...remember that over lunch today;focus on the issues rather than the hot losh ...Words can cut and kill. It's been said you can'thammer in a nail with words but you can start a war with them .Our rabbis warned the human tongue is a beast that few can master;it needs to be caged in lips and teeth; it strains constantly to break out of its enclosures and if it isn't tamed it will turn wild and cause you grief... so choose your words carefully.
Seven retired Surfers chaverim were playing poker in the clubhouse when Meyer loses $800 on a single hand, clutches his chest and drops dead at the table.
Showing respect for their fallen comrade, the other six continue playing, but standing up.
At the end of the game, Finklestein looks around and asks: "So, who's gonna tell his wife?"
The cut the cards. Goldberg picks the low card and has to carry the news. They tell him: be discreet, don't make a bad situation any worse.
"Discreet? I am the most discreet person you'll ever meet. Discretion is my middle name. Leave it to me."
Goldberg goes over to Myer's apartment and knocks on the door. The wife answers through the door and asks what he wants. Goldberg declares: "Your husband just lost $800 in a poker game and is afraid to come home."
"Tell him to drop dead!" yells the wife.
"I'll go tell him" says Goldberg.
Maybe we all need a Mahalia or a Miriam beside us egging us on...tell em about your dream, tell em about your dream. Good parents do that regularly, caring partners and friends do that often, great teachers do it daily ...They encourage us to let go of our fears and inhibitions, they help us realize our possibilities,they bring out the very best in us..Perhaps that is what the verse (which we read in the Torah today) means when it suggests Abraham and Isaac walked together on that terrifying journey to Moriah and the sacrifice -vayelchushneihemyachdav-and the two of them walked together . Abraham got his son to walk together with him on the path of courage and heroism, to discover his own strength,to uncover what he was capable of doing and etch out for himself a place in Jewish history. When you learn how to let go, you let in your inner light ,you become energised and empowered. When you tellem your dream,you find your own words,you realise that if you can get the right words in the right orderthat's how you nudge the world a little.. .
Every time I read or hear Martin Luther King Junior's address it moves me like the sound of the shofar, he gives me hope, he lifts up my eyes to the mountains ...In his words
"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and every valley shall be exalted, every hill and every mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight... With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. "
As we move into the new year,let us dream great dreams ,discover wise words, hew audacious hope out of despair and faith out of disrepair...