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Make the World a More Accepting Place - Starting with Ourselves

10/08/2019 08:14:32 AM


Rabbi Sam Trief

For those of you who were not with us on the second day of Rosh Hashanah I would like to share with you the remarks I offered during services. It is hard to believe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have passed us by yet again, but it isn’t too late to make a change for the new year! In fact, while it is important to reflect and change our behavior between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is MORE important to change our ways and reflect between Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. I invite you to read below, and if you feel so inclined, please pick up a purple bracelet in the lobby the next time you are at Temple Sinai (you’ll see what I mean if you keep reading). Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!  

Rabbi Samantha Trief
Rosh Hashanah 5780 Sermon 

Recently I watched the US Open tennis championships, a riveting match between a long-time veteran and a promising young upstart. Normally, I turn off the TV and don’t wait around for the award ceremony and speeches. This time, I kept it on. I watched the runner-up receive a check for $1.85 million dollars as thousands of fans cheered. When the presenter asked her what she was most proud of after so much success,  she replied that her team had been very supportive during all the “ups and downs and downs and downs and downs and downs and downs, and hopefully we’ll have some ups soon.” 

It was natural for her to feel some  disappointment, but  she had just received a check for close to $2 million dollars, and the love of so many people, and won dozens of championships before, but...what she focused on, in her words, were the  “Downs, and downs, and downs, and downs.” 

She reminded me of someone I know: I can be a bit of a kvetcher. 

This morning as I drove to synagogue I thought: "I did not get enough sleep.  My shoes hurt. There’s nowhere to park. It's too hot outside, it’s too cold inside...and of course my constant complaint: I am HUNGRY." 

Complaining is universal, most of us do it every day. Our biblical ancestors sure did. The books of Exodus and Numbers are rife with instances of kvetching and complaining. Perhaps we are so ashamed of the Israelites’ behavior because we see a piece of ourselves in them. 

Having just won their $1.85 MM dollar check--getting rescued from Egypt and delivered from the Red Sea--the Israelites instantly forget their blessings, and focus instead on the lack of food and water. Instead of saying, “this journey sure is hard, but we are so grateful to be free,” or “this manna is different from what we are used to, but we feel blessed to be nourished and satiated, ” they focus on what they don’t have. 

During the summer, I was having one of those days. The kind where I was feeling uninspired, when Rabbi Brad  arrived at one of our clergy meetings with a bag of purple bracelets. "What are you doing with those purple bracelets, Rabbi Brad?"

He shared a challenge he had come across from Tim Ferris, a writer and entrepreneur. Ferris writes: 

A pastor friend of mine had an interesting initiative. He offered his congregation a purple bracelet with this directive: go 21 days without complaining. Each time one of them complained, they had to switch the bracelet (from one wrist) to their other wrist and start again from day 0. 
It was a simple but effective metacognitive awareness training. He went on to explain that he wanted to teach people that if they’re going to complain, if they  were going to describe a person or an event negatively, they also needed to indicate steps to fix the problem. What I love about Ferris’s teaching is that he does not tell us NOT to complain, but instructs us to couch it with action items, concrete steps to change the negative. 

For instance: living in Atlanta it is  easy to complain about traffic, and use it as an excuse for almost anything.
“OH MAN, I sat in gridlock for 30 minutes today trying to go two miles on 285.” We’ve all heard  this gripe before. Well, next time I offer it, I’ll try this instead: “I sat in traffic for a half hour on 285. Next time I’m going to remember to time my trips better or come armed with a good podcast to listen to, to pass the time. 

One of the themes of  Rosh Hashanah is Zichronot, meaning “remembrance.” Remembering might seem passive, but it is not!  As the Biblical scholar, Nachum Sarna teaches: the root of the word, zion-koof-raysh, connotes much more than the recalling of things past. It means that we need to be mindful, to pay heed, signifying a sharp focusing of attention upon someone or something. It embraces concern and involvement as active, not passive, so that it eventuates in action.” 

Rosh Hashanah invites us to pay attention to our words, to banish passiveness, to change ourselves for the better, and in turn make our world a more forgiving and kinder place. 

The ultimate lesson is this...we are allowed to observe and complain, but we must avoid creating toxic environments through our negativity. So everyone, take out the purple bracelet you received when you walked in the sanctuary.  Together, let’s make  a promise, to make the world a more accepting place - starting with ourselves, right here, right now. 

Put the bracelet on your left wrist. Hold your wrist up. Now for the next 21 days, any time you complain out loud without offering a positive solution, switch your bracelet to your right wrist, and you will have to start again at day 1. Let’s see if we can all make it to 21 days.  Check in with me, I would love to hear how you are doing. 

So now, close your eyes let’s all set an intention for the rest of these Days of Awe, these Yamim Noraim, and beyond. For the sake of  elevating ourselves, and our communities and in order to create constructive thoughts and actions - we commit to wearing these bracelets, to thinking about how we present ourselves in the world, and how we can best spread positive energy to everyone we meet. 
Open your eyes! 

It’s hard for me to  imagine my sense of humor and personality without being a kvetcher, I know it will always be a part of who I am...but, I hope that when I reflect upon my life, I see all the ups and ups, and ups and ups... and I am able to thank God for my abundant blessings. And that is my prayer for all of us here this morning . Ken yihi ratson, may it be God’s will. 

Sat, July 4 2020 12 Tammuz 5780