Forbidden Phrases for the New Year 5778

These talks will be part of High Holiday services in September 2017 for Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation and later available on The Kol Hadash Podcast and as separate posts here (adult events only). If you are interested in celebrating the Jewish New Year with us in Deerfield, Illinois, please email our office or call 847-383-5184.

We believe in freedom of speech and thought, and we believe in taking responsibility for what we say and do. Sometimes these two values require choosing our words carefully, since words create reality: “’Let there be light!’ And there was light.” If we reject words, let it be for good cause.

Rosh Hashana Evening: “Post-Truth” {Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 Word of the Year}
We must find a balance between individual perspective and objective reality. There are times it is appropriate to say, “I don’t know” or “I think,” and there are also times to say, “I DO know.” Human reason is limited — and partial, and collaborative — and it is also a powerful tool for discovering human truth.

Rosh Hashana Morning                 “Judaism Says”
Can a tradition of 3,000 years speak with one voice? All too often, we want our identity to fully endorse our personal beliefs and behavior. Just as we cannot claim that all Jews were always secular, others cannot claim Jews were always religious and always united by religion. How can we achieve unity without demanding uniformity?

Rosh Hashana Family                     “Who Cares?”
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” We can always make a difference, even if all we do is let people know they are not alone. Choosing to care is only the first step.

Yom Kippur Evening                       “Bad Jews”
We can be crueler to our own family than we are to strangers. It is all too easy to judge others by our own arbitrary standards. Do they agree with us? Do they value what we value as much as we value it? Do they live their lives the way we live ours? If we can worry more about ourselves than what others do, we might just learn there’s more than one way to bake a bagel.

Yom Kippur Morning                     “We’re Number 1!”
Competition has its place, but also its risks. We become blind to our own faults and exaggerate the danger and deficiencies of “the other.” We magnify our needs and minimize theirs. We need to seek self-esteem while avoiding chauvinism – as individuals, ethnicities and nations. Pride, honesty and humility dance a challenging but necessary waltz towards an ethical life.

Yom Kippur Family                         “My Bad – Again”
There is nothing wrong with making mistakes and apologizing, but that is only the first step. An early Jewish teaching suggests, “If someone says, ‘I will do wrong and be sorry, and then do wrong again and be sorry again,’ Yom Kippur does not work.” How can we not just fix what we’ve done wrong, but also learn to do better the next time?

Yom Kippur Memorial                   “It’s All for the Best”
A traditional Jewish response to hearing of a death is “baruch dayan ha-emet – blessed is the True Judge;” a way to claim that this loss, however painful, is all part of the plan. But what if there is no plan? What if our losses, whether sudden or gradual, tragic or at the end of a long and loving life, are simply part of the flow of life? We still need meaning, but maybe we must find meaning for ourselves.

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