Rabbi Weisblatt’s Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon – “To A Dream Deferred No More”

“To A Dream Deferred No More”

 

Shanah Tovah.

 

Before I begin this evening, I’d like to ask a favor.  If you have a watch on, smart, analog, digital, or, what may be more common in 2015, are sitting next to someone with a watch on, take note of the time.  According to my watch it is (LOOK AT WATCH!) ….  Just keep note of the start time for now, and we’ll return to it at the close of my words this evening.  OK, now I can really begin.

 

In 1994, Hootie and the Blowfish, a popular early 90s band, released a song that began with the following lyrics:

 

Time, why you punish me?

Like a wave bashing into the shore

You wash away my dreams.

Time, why you walk away?

Like a friend with somewhere to go

You left me crying

Can you teach me about tomorrow

And all the pain and sorrow

Running free?

Cause tomorrow’s just another day

And I don’t believe in time[1]

 

Just as they were said in 1994, and perhaps in various forms in years before and since, words and lyrics such as these may very well resonate with us.  All of us here this evening know all too well the effects of time and of asking for, perhaps even wishing, for more Time.  Time – 5775, what a period of time it was…for us, for the Jewish community, for our world.  Each month, each week, each moment seemed to bring something painful into our world.  It was a year of dreaming of a better world – of dreaming the dream deferred.  It was a year in which we kept hoping on hope and wishing and waiting, and it never seemed to happen – the dream was always deferred.  Why are we hoping and waiting?

 

Today, we begin anew.  Today is Yom HaZikraon, the Day of Remembrance, Yom Harat Olam, the Day that the World is Born, & Yom T’ruah – the Day of hearing the shofar’s call.  Today is a day of feeling free to start again, of remembering where you came from, and of announcing who you will be in 5776 – no longer is it a time for a dream deferred. On this dawning of 5776, I’d like to see if we can put an end to our dream deferred…

 

For about a dream deferred, Langston Hughes wrote:

 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up?

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore –

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over –

Like a syrupy sweet?

 

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

 

And so I ask us tonight, what happens if we turn hope and thought, of dreams deferred, into lives and action of now?

 

Tikiya!  Shevarim! T’ruah!

 

On Rosh HaShanah, our Shofar calls to us, awaken, arise, be present.  On this journey to live our dreams, we will begin with Yom Hazikaron – remembering where we have been, who made us who we are, and acknowledging that yes, so many times we dreamed, but we did not dare to act, dare to be mindful and present.  Coming to terms with this painful realization, we will move forward to Yom Harat Olam – acknowledging that though we may not have been present, we may have deferred, today of all days we are given the chance to start from a clean slate – to begin being aware of who we are and what we are dreaming of and why.  Then, when we have reconciled who we were to who we are becoming today, realizing that we are able to act, we will conclude with a call – Yom T’ruah – today is the day on which we announce we will act!  Let me be clear – tonight I want us to use these different aspects of Rosh HaShanah to awaken us to being free to live in the moment and to remind us to act now, not waiting for tomorrow. Let us now remember, let us now be renewed, let us now call – it is time to be present, time to end the dream deferred.

_ _ _ _ _

Yom HaZikaron

ki zeicher kol ha-yatzur l’fanecha bo, ma’aseh ish ufkudato, va’aliot mitzaday gaver, machshavot adam I’tachbulotav, v’yitzrei ma’al’lei ish…Everyone’s record is set before You: each individual’s actions and their consequences, all that people do, all that humans think and plan, and all that each of us intends…”[2]

 

He was no more than a child of eight or nine.  What did he know of life at that time?  He knew of baseball, friends and food.  He knew of skinned knee, of wind in the tree, of time that was free.   He knew of parent’s love, a friend’s good hug, and the power of a kind smile.

 

This child of eight or nine, he did not know that he was running out of time.  Time it seems last forever, except that moment that haunts forever.  He did not get to say all he had to his now dear, departed dad.  So let me ask you this, when you will be missed, will you have said what you wish?

 

Will you have said what you wish?  To be mindful, is to be present in the moment, to making the dream deferred a reality of the present.  Yet, we cannot get there without remembering our past and who we were, to understand who we are on this day, here, in the present.

 

I look to my past as an example of something that sadly, all too many of us may feel and experience within our lives.  Life becomes so busy and we become so reliant on the belief that there will be a tomorrow, another chance to right a wrong, to say what should have been said or to take back what was said.  However, in our heart of hearts, deep within us, we know that this is not always true.

 

When I was nine, I had no idea that one morning I would wake up with a father and go to bed the same night without a father.  Can I blame myself for not knowing then what I wanted to say? No, that is a part of realizing on this Yom Hazikron, this Day of Remembrance, that we are human.

 

We need to forgive ourselves for not being present, not saying, & not acting…we are human and we cannot always be present in every moment; it is simply not possible.  However, what we can begin to do is REMEMBER.  We can remember those moments when we wished we had spoken, when we wished we had acted.  We can remember those who were present with us and what that felt like.  We can remember what it felt like to keep a dream deferred and not to act.  By remembering who we were and those who gave to us, we can take them and bring it to the now – to our present.  Let us take those longings with us as we are now renewed – Yom Harat Olam – it is time to begin anew.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _

Yom Harat Olam

Bereshit barah Elohim et hashamyim v’et ha’aretz…va’yar Elohim et kol asher asah v’hinei tov ma’od…When God began to create the Heaven and the Earth…and God saw all that God had created and it was good!”

 

In the process of creation, the Eternal teaches us to stop, look and listen. This sacred concept of being present and being mindful.  God didn’t simply create and then move on, constantly moving from act to act, never acknowledging and embracing the moment.  Yes, the Eternal does move forward in this eternal process of creation, but God also stops!  God looks!

 

“Vayivra Elohim et ha’adam b’tzalmo, b’tzelem Elohim…Vayomer Elohim…hinei!”  And God created the human being in God’s image…and God said to humanity…heini…look!”

 

We know all too well the frailty of this life, the shortness and the sweetness of it.  We have the power, if we are willing, to take the moment and appreciate, be present and live.

 

Today is Yom Harat Olam – the day on which the world was created.  This evening, we are witness and a part of this awesome act of creation and of being renewed.  Bereshit doesn’t state that God thought and thought and prayed for something to happen.  No!  God acts, God is present and then God continues.  We are a part of that eternal act of creation – of not being deferred but of making something happen! Creation calls out to us to be present and to act.

 

The Greek philosopher Epicetus once wrote about our gifts from Creation, “We were given two ears and one mouth so that we could listen more, speak less.”  If we are willing to be present in the moment, it means we are willing to listen.  By making this concerted effort to truly listen and not rush to speak and act, then we can be present.  We can be present by listening to others, hearing what they need from us and then we can respond to what was actually said and to then act.  Being present means listening and then acting.

 

In our prayers, we state that this is our goal.  When we say the words of the V’ahavta “L’ma’an tizkiru v’asitim” – we are praying and saying the following: “that we should remember and we should do!”  We promised, in covenant with God, that we would fulfill and not defer the dream.  Yom HaZikaron – We have remembered.  Yom Harat Olam – We are now born, ready to act.  And how shall we act to fulfill the dream?  To be present?  To bring about the day?  Yom T’ruah – we hear the call.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _

Yom T’ruah

“U’vachodesh ha’shivi’i b’echad lachodesh mikra kodesh yiyeh lachem kol milechet Avodah lo ta’asu…tiku va’chodesh shofar bakeseh l’yom chageinu…”  “On the seventh month, on the first day of the month, it shall be a holy time for you, you shall do no work…sound the shofar, for our day of celebration, sound the shofar!”[3]

 

So here we are.  We are ready to finally be fully renewed.  Together this evening, we have discovered a past, embraced the fact that yes, we are here, we are present, we are living with a chance.

 

 

Now – what do we do with this chance?  What do we do when we hear the shofar?  Will we always be so lucky to have that ahah moment to call us to mindfulness?  Will we be surrounded by loved ones, friends, community, where we say sacred words, bond together and are reminded by the sounds of the shofar, the Tiki’ah, Shivarim, T’ruah, to tell us to be present?  To be present does not mean that we have to change the world today, but it means being responsive to the call, whatever the form it is in – sometimes, the call is a short Ti’kiah, or maybe the brokenness of Shivarim and T’ruah – in the form of a cry, a conversation, an email, or sacred time with loved ones.

 

Harry Chapin reminds of us of our daily Tikiah, Shivarim, T’ruah.  In his words:

 

“…My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then…”[4]

 

 

Then again, sometimes being mindful and present means being able to hear the Ti’kiah G’dolah and bring about the change needed in the world today, needed now and not tomorrow.

 

Tikiah G’dolah:

Sitting in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, a letter was sent to the late Reverend Dr. King that was written by a number of the local Birmingham clergy.  The statement, in summation, noted that while there may indeed be a need for change, for life to be different and for society to respond, now just wasn’t the time to call for equal rights.  Eventually, they noted, that the day will indeed come for change, but somehow, they knew that that day was not “today.”

 

Upon reading the statement, Dr. King set about doing what made him who he was – a man who acted; when he put pen to paper or stood in front of a microphone, he could move mountains.  Dr. King responded to these men with his letter, a Ti’kiah G’dolah that is still ringing today, if only we are ready to hear it:

 

“While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms…I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham…I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider. You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being…”[5]

_ _ _ _ _ _

Yom HaZikaron, Yom Harat Olam, Yom T’ruah…today we remember, today we are born, today we are called.  We have the ability to be present, to be mindful, to remember what it was like when we were ignored, when no one would hear us.  We also have the ability to remember that we were not always present, ready to listen to the call.  However, we are here now, we are given this sacred gift of time once more, to be born anew on this Day of Rosh HaShanah.  And on this day of gathering, this time when we are called to account for who we were, we can become something new, we can listen to the call of the shofar and say that we are ready, we are ready to awake from a dream and live.

_ _ _ _ _

Ok, now, if you haven’t cheated, please look at your watch or your neighbor’s watch.  Note the time – I have XXX.  Forget how long I may have talked…right now, ask yourself this question “where was I during this time?  Did I hear, did I listen, was I truly present?”  This time it was me speaking, but last time…or next time…who could it be?  I know it is hard, I know it is not easy, it may even be uncomfortable, to begin to awaken from the dream and to be present, mindful and ready…

 

The words of Joni Mitchel reminds us of what happens when we let these moments go by…”we’re captive on a carousel of time, we can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came, and go round and round in the circle game…”[6]  But the sage Hillel reminds us of the sacred gift that we all possess to square the circle game.  He calls to us, asking “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”[7] 

 

Tikiah – Remember who you are and that you are important.  Shivarim – Remember too that it is not just about you, but that the world needs you, we need you, we need each other.  T’ruah – Remember that the dream can become the now, you can hear the cry, give a hug, smile, and respond to the present.  Tikiah G’dolah – And now let us finally be able to say “Don’t say the day will come, bring on that day – because it is not a dream.”[8]  The day is here, the now is here – the past is behind, the future is unknown, but together we have the now, the present.  Let us say “we have awakened.”

 

Shanah Tovah – may you all be blessed, may you all have a happy and healthy new year and may you all achieve, your dream deferred.



[1] Time by Hootie and The Blowfish

[2] Machzor Lev Shalem, pg.160.

[3] Bemidbar 29:1, Psalm 81:4

[4] The Cat’s in the Cradle.

[5] Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.

[6] The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell

[7] Pirke Avot 1:14.

[8] Shir LaShalom.