Rabbi Malka Drucker’s Letter, 5769
Once upon a time, rabbis within denominations spoke about similar things, because each movement suggested the content of High Holiday sermons, e.g. assimilation. I’m grateful that I have freedom of speech.
It’s summer, I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and I feel buoyant. This is a holdover of all the years of being set free from school in June. The warm months still grow playfulness and expansiveness within me.
When I was growing up, summer bore no shadow of fall. I worked hard not to look at the temporary nature of things and believed that everything would last forever. If I weren’t a rabbi, I might be able to resurrect the childhood illusion in these warm months. Despite my clothes, my mind turns to the big questions in preparation for High Holidays.
It is mortality that gives meaning to life. Harold Schulweis would ask his students, “What will they say at your funeral?” this is a good question with which to direct your life. There is a midrash that sounds like a final oral exam.
When our time comes and we are face to face with our Third Parent, what do you think our Creator will ask? Did we keep Shabbat? Were we philanthropic? No, and I think the questions are surprising as a path to wisdom.
The first question will be, “Did you deal fairly in business?” On Erev Rosh Hashanah I will speak about Jewish business ethics. The great majority of Jewish laws are concerned with how we do business, not how to slaughter a chicken and other ritual guidelines.
The second question is, “Did you set aside time to study each day?” We will explore the holiness of study as part of the training to become a mensch on Rosh Hashanah morning.
The Kol Nidre sermon is something like the State of the Union for Jewish communities. On that night we’ll look at the third and fourth questions as a community. “Did you have children?” and “Did you keep faith for the future?” asks us to look at our legacy. We may be living comfortably yet we carry deep concern about the future. Obviously, this worry is not new if it is the ultimate question God will ask.
The ancient, wise ones told us, “The only irredeemable sin is despair.” I would add indifference. Some of us have children, some of us don’t. We all bear responsibility to the young. I once saw an African-American Baptist minister, during a baby naming, lift the baby in her arms in the midst of her congregation and in a booming voice ask, “Whose baby is this?” The congregation shouted, “Our baby!” “Who will care for this baby?” she asked. “We will!” they proclaimed. It is that relationship that I hear in God’s question about having children and holding faith for the future.
I look forward to beginning a conversation with you this High Holidays that will help us to live lives that will be an answer to the four questions waiting for us.
Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker