Yom Kippur 2017: Neilah –Streching Our Jewish Lives

I recently came across the last words of Steve Jobs that I would like to share with you.

I have come to the pinnacle of success in business.

In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.

However, apart from work, I have little joy. Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.

At this time, lying on the hospital bed and remembering all my life, I realize that all the accolades and riches of which I was once so proud, have become insignificant with my imminent death.

In the dark, when I look at green lights, of the equipment for artificial respiration and feel the buzz of their mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of my approaching death looming over me.

Only now do I understand that once you accumulate enough money for the rest of your life, you have to pursue objectives that are not related to wealth.

It should be something more important:

For example, stories of love, art, dreams of my childhood.

No, stop pursuing wealth, it can only make a person into a twisted being, just like me.

God has made us one way, we can feel the love in the heart of each of us, and not illusions built by fame or money, like I made in my life, I cannot take them with me.

I can only take with me the memories that were strengthened by love.

This is the true wealth that will follow you; will accompany you, he will give strength and light to go ahead.

Love can travel thousands of miles and so life has no limits. Move to where you want to go. Strive to reach the goals you want to achieve. Everything is in your heart and in your hands.

What is the world’s most expensive bed? The hospital bed.

You, if you have money, you can hire someone to drive your car, but you cannot hire someone to take your illness that is killing you.

Material things lost can be found. But one thing you can never find when you lose: life.

Whatever stage of life where we are right now, at the end we will have to face the day when the curtain falls.

Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse, love for your friends…

Treat everyone well and stay friendly with your neighbours.

These words are incredibly powerful.  Jobs says it’s all about love, and yes love and love of family are central in Judaism, however I would say that he is on the right path, but there is more. I would add that we need to stay focused on meaningful acts of service, serving the Almighty and fixing the world, these are also the main things that we will look back upon as having been meaningful in our lives.  Bill Gates can be used as example of someone who did what Jobs did not do, he quit at the peak of his career and wealth, and is devoting the rest of his life to giving away his wealth and helping others.  As we enter into the final stretch of Yom Kippur, let’s think about the things we do not want to look back upon and regret not having done.  Let’s look forward to the coming year as a year when we do not lose sight of the spiritual values in our lives.   Let’s think about how we can make changes and how we can stretch ourselves to encompass the things that we know will live on as important in our lives.

The first scene in the Torah of the first Jew in history was an act of personal stretching.  Avraham Avinu, Abraham our forefather was asked to leave his home, his birthplace and even his family to follow G-d to an unknown land.’  The Torah is giving us a profound message about spiritual growth.  It is telling us that in order to grow spiritually we strive to go beyond the limitations of what we know.  We strive to expand ourselves, our Jewish lives into areas that we may not have been before.   Most American Jews view their Judaism as a side hobby that they visit occasionally.  The High Holidays, a demonstration on behalf of Israel, a .  And if we look at it that way, then the satisfaction we derive from our Jewish lives will be the type of satisfaction we derive from a hobby.  It is nice, but it is not going to touch me or my world deeply.  If we want our Judaism and our relationship to G-d to touch us deeply, then we need to allow it to infiltrate into the fabric of our lives.  And that involves change, and change is not always comfortable.  In fact, change is usually not comfortable.

Interestingly, there is one day of the Jewish year when many Jews allow Judaism to lead them to a place beyond their comfort zone, and that day is Yom Kippur.  One of the most basic ideas of fasting is that we stretch ourselves to nullify our physical drives, to show ourselves that we are not subject to our physical urges, but that we are master of our physical wants and desires.  Now fasting is not something we would normally do, although I did once have a student who used to love fasting, would go on three day cleansings and talked about the spiritual high he would attain.  When I first started fasting, it was excruciatingly difficult, I had never fasted before in my life, I would count the hours, and I could not really get into the prayer. But as the years went on, I started to get into the swing of it, and now I find it fasting to be a vehicle to feel cleansed and elevated.  I must admit that when I sat in a service it was more challenging; I was more likely to count the hours.  When I run the service I am totally engrossed, and even though it is extremely exhausting, I am able to absorb myself completely.

So let’s think about what areas of our Jewish lives we want to stretch ourselves.  It can be making a commitment to Shabbat.  Keeping Shabbat, whether it is by lighting candles, doing Friday night dinner each week, and here at MJE we have weekly opportunities to do so, not shopping and using money, or not using electricity at all, is stretching ourselves into a mode that can bring us a day of peace and harmony, a day of freedom from our weekday pressures and harried lifestyles.  It can be a commitment to a Torah study once a week.  After work we are tired and just want to go home and veg out in front of the TV, but we know we will derive so much more satisfaction and growth by motivating ourselves to learn.  It can be getting involved in Israel advocacy and putting ourselves out for the Jewish people, lobbying in Washington, or getting informed so we can be spokespeople on behalf of Israel.  Or it can be volunteering to visit an elderly person through Dorot, going on hospital visits on Shabbat afternoon, or giving blood at a blood drive.

The more I invest, the more I put in to my Jewish and spiritual life, the more satisfaction I will derive, and the more I will feel that my life is one that I will not look back upon and feel like Steve Jobs, that I missed what was truly important.

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