In their 2017 Rosh Hashanah sermons, rabbis from across the denominational spectrum called for their communities to act out Jewish values to combat hate and bigotry, citing a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the past year. Others avoided politics and provided guidance for self-improvement, drawing on biblical texts to offer teachings relevant to how people live today. The following are excerpts from some of those sermons.
Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous
We are here to cry out against injustice, to fight for human dignity. To give love and to receive it. To pry open hearts and minds, to lift the fallen and strengthen the vulnerable, give voice to the voiceless, to advance the causes of dignity and peace — for our people and for all people. We must not abandon our core commitments when things get tough; we must make justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a mighty stream. Read full sermon here.
Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Senior Rabbi Steve Leder
Why is Torah so filled with negative examples of human behavior? Why of the 613 commandments in the Torah are 248 positive “Thou shalts” but 365 are negative “Thou shalt nots”? Because the Torah knows we can become better people by choosing how not to behave. Because what we choose not to do, not to say, not to envy, not to hold on to from within any longer, because of what we remove from our hearts and lives, the true light of Torah, of God, of who we really can be, shines upon our innermost soul. Read full sermon here.
Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Rabbi Beaumont Shapiro
The well-known sports psychologist Bob Rotella explains that the majority of amateur golfers approach a shot by thinking about where they do not want to hit the ball. Don’t hit it into the water. Don’t hit it into the trees. Don’t hit it into the sand. You get the idea. Instead, Rotella gives some incredibly simple advice — focus on the target, not the hazards — where you want the ball to go, not what you want to avoid. Filling one’s mind with negative thoughts about what not to do makes it exponentially more difficult to accomplish what one sets out to do. In other words, think about the positive, rather than the negative. Rosh Hashanah is the same. Today should be all about the positive.
Max Webb Senior Rabbi David Wolpe
There are times in order to have peace you have to take a step back. In other words, you have to make room for other people to make peace. You have to let them in. You have to allow them to have a say. You can’t discount them immediately because they are on the other side of a religious or political or familial divide. You can’t do that. You can’t scream every time somebody disagrees with you or even offends you. There is no discussion anymore once you push them off the bridge. But if you take their hand and step back, you will discover there is a lot to talk about.
Congregation Or Ami
Rabbi Paul Kipnes
Well, if I may be so bold, like [Theodor] Herzl and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I too have a dream, that any two of you, passionate people both, will sit down and talk about the most difficult issues facing our country, and you will converse with kavod (respect) and chesed (kindness), patiently listening to each other to uncover the nuance and complexity of your opinions. Without destroying each other. Without resorting to the “shock and awe” which characterizes the “ridicule and destroy” sloganeering that tries to pass as debate today on both sides of the aisle, and in the middle, too. Im tirtzu — If we will it, it is no dream. Read full sermon here.
Senior Rabbi Zoe Klein Miles
Make yourself an ark. We are the ark when we build not borders, but bridges. We are the ark when we build not separations, but support. We are the ark when we build not contention, but confidence. We are the ark when we build not sarcasm, but security. We are the ark when we build not towers, but trust. We are the ark when we build not feuds, but friendships. We are the ark when we build more compassion, more kindness, more generosity, more understanding, more patience, more joy, more thoughtfulness, more equality, more love. We are the ark when we build upon our best values, when we reflect on ourselves, adjust our sails, make room for others, support and celebrate each other, practice equanimity so that when the floods do come, our inner waters remain calm.
We are sailing over some choppy seas. Darkness on the face of the deep. We don’t always know what lurks beneath, but together we can be prepared for any adventure, until that day when the ark comes to rest, arms linked not to save but to sing, God’s spirit hovering over us with all the colors of the rainbow. Read full sermon here.
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Senior Rabbi Jonathan Aaron
There may be some of you here who are unsure how you want to react to the actions of certain people or groups. You’re affected by Charlottesville and racism and sexism and any other “ism,” discrimination, intolerance, hate, genocide, and the subversion of the rights of those who cannot help themselves. But you are unsure as to how or where you can participate. Perhaps these 10 days can be reflections on what really matters to you and where you want to make a difference in the world. That is our opportunity. That is our challenge. (By the way, bringing food for the hungry and diapers for refugees is a great start.) Read full sermon here.
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Associate Rabbi Sarah Bassin
We do not calibrate our moral compass by what we see around us. We do not adjust to tolerate a new normal. We do not lower our expectations because the world is backsliding. We strive to hold on to the same purpose we had since the start of creation — to gather light and drive out darkness.
Temple Israel of Hollywood
Rabbi Jocee Hudson
We have to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, to say the wrong thing and apologize, to learn from others, and to do so with real humility. Because when we show up together at the Isla Mosque in South Los Angeles to protest white supremacy, and when we show up on Olvera Square in downtown L.A. together to protest the repeal of DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], we show up way more authentically, having done the real work of community building. We have to work to be in relationship with our neighbors, even when we don’t yet fully understand each other. Actually, we need to show up because we don’t yet fully understand each other.
Valley Beth Shalom
Rabbi Noah Farkas
The first paragraph of the Shema, our holiest prayer begins, v’ahavta et Adonai elohecha bchol levavcha, uvechol nafshecha — “Love Adonai your God with all your heart and might.” The word for heart, lev, is spelled with two bets. The rabbis teach that each bet is meant to teach us something different. The Jewish heart has two chambers that beat as one. Do not let anyone, my children, split your Judaism with your Zionism. The Jewish heart has two chambers that beat as one.
Temple Ner Simcha
Rabbi Michael Barclay
God’s love is so overwhelming, so awesome. If we can just for a moment realize at a deep emotional level that every aspect of life has been choreographed in a holy way specifically for each of our individual needs. Every sound, color and vibration is a gift from God — feeding our souls with exactly what we really need in that very moment! It truly is overwhelming.
And the only response as human beings that we can have to such an infinite love is to surrender and love God back. To teach our children in every moment and to remind ourselves at all times the depth of God’s love. To allow ourselves to truly feel the only response to that awesome love: loving God back with a passion, honesty and openness that allows us to truly have a sacred relationship with the Divine.
Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue
Rabbi Judith HaLevy
We are here, during these Days of Awe, to FaceTime with God. We can only be connected if we can bring our full selves, flaws, doubts and all, to the conversation. Only then can we truly say, “Hineni” (Here I am).
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
God wants us looking out for everybody, for those who are in distress, those who are hurting, in need. It’s easy to see when there is a flood how people are in need. So people, their natural instinct, their divine spark inside them, pushes them to help because it is obvious. When we don’t have it so blatantly in front of us, we don’t necessarily realize all the needs.
Temple Beth Hillel
Rabbi Sarah Hronsky
In our Torah portion this morning, Abraham — in the horrendous moment, poised with knife in hand, the most dramatic moment — wakes up when he hears his name called. He lifts his head, opens his eyes and sees in front of him something so important, the ram caught in the thicket. The answer to this dramatic moment was found literally in the resources in front of him, once he opened his eyes. I am hopeful that we, too, in this year will open our eyes each time a dramatic difficult moment happens for us in our country and around the world. Open our eyes to the possibilities of how to offer repair, how to fix, see the resources we have right in front of us, and put it all together to do the hard work.