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Erev Rosh Hashanah 5782 ~ Sept. 6, 2021

Have you ever noticed that some TV commercials help us understand life, some poke fun at life, some simply tell us about life as it is, and some and some want us to see the benefits of using their product?  A few weeks ago, Lisa and I were watching one of those commercials and we simply couldn’t stop ourselves from chuckling. Perhaps you have seen it:

Two women are sitting in a car driving to a Sonic takeout restaurant. One turns to the other and says: “My husband says that I load the dishwasher wrong. I didn't know there was a way.”

The friend responds: “Ah, there is a way, apparently.”

The first then continues: “What he doesn't understand is that I load it wrong, so I don't have to do it.”

To which the friend responds: “Oh, that’s smart! From now on I'm just gonna do everything wrong.”

Contrast that with Billy, the oldest child in the Family Circus comic strip.  Billy kneels next to his bed. He closes his eyes, clasps his hands together. He then offers the following prayer: “Make me be good. And if you don’t get through to me the first time, please keep tryin’ ‘till I answer.”

Billy does have a point. It’s not that there is anyone of us who doesn’t want to be good. It is that sometimes we aren’t listening to what it means to be good. We have our own hidden agenda, we have our own set of values, we don’t like other people telling us what is right and what is wrong. We had enough of that as children growing up. Our parents were telling us to keep our elbows off the table, use a napkin instead of our sleeves, treat our kid sister or brother nicely, walk with our hands at our side, stand straight, talk politely and only when talked to . . .. I bet we could all add to the list.

By the time we grew up our parents’ influences had positively and negatively impacted upon us in several ways. The first is that we all have that feeling of guilt that is so familiar to us all. The second is that we all think that we can always do better. The third is that we could hardly wait to forget the rules our parents and teachers made. The fourth is that we created our own set of rules. And the fifth, well the fifth is that we realize how much we are like our parents, and many of our rules are related someway to the rules that our parents and teachers hounded us with personally.

Rabbi David Woznica, asks: “Why does Judaism stress that during the aseret yemai teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance, that we act piously; that we should act in a truly moral way? Doesn’t God know that we are only putting on an act? Can we really fool God?” Here is my commentary. Think of it in this way: Do we really believe that if we start opening doors for other people, that if we go up to someone and say “Hello. How are you?” and actually listen and care, that God will be fooled in to thinking that we have changed our ways? Try it until Yom Kippur. For the next ten days add some act of kindness to that which you normally do. Then see how you feel about yourself, how you feel about people around you, and how the world looks. One day or one act is easy. But for ten days. And if we do this act of kindness for ten days, will it become a part of us for the rest of the year? Can we do it?

One seriously ill man was actually faced with such a dilemma as he lay flat on his back in his hospital room. His bed was by the door. And he shared a hospital room with a man  who was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour a day to drain the fluids from his lungs. The second man’s bed was next to the room's only window. Every afternoon when the man in the bed next to the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed would live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the outside world. The man who could look out the window had said that the window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Lovers walked arm in arm amid flowers of every color of the rainbow. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene. One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man could not hear the band, he could see it in his mind's eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Unexpectedly, an alien thought entered his head: Why should he have all the pleasure of seeing everything while I never get to see anything? It didn't seem fair. As the thought fermented, the man felt ashamed at first. But as the days passed and he missed seeing more sights, his envy eroded into resentment and soon turned him sour. He began to brood and found himself unable to sleep. He should be by that window --- and that thought now controlled his life.

Late one night, as he lay staring at the ceiling, the man by the window began to cough. He was choking on the fluid in his lungs. The other man watched in the dimly lit room as the struggling man by the window groped for the button to call for help. Listening from across the room, he never moved, never pushed his own button which would have brought the nurse running. In less than five minutes, the coughing and choking stopped, along with the sound of breathing. Now, there was only silence-deathly silence.

The following morning the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths. When she found the lifeless body of the man by the window, she was saddened and called 'the hospital attendant to take it away; no words, no fuss. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look. Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it all himself.

He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed ............ It faced a blank wall.

As we reflect upon this day, let us not face a moral blank wall. Let us sit wisely and choose the values that will be our cornerstone of life as we enter the year 5782. And let us be honest with our selves, just as Billy prayed in the Family Circus comic strip: “Make me be good. And if you don’t get through to me the first time, please keep tryin’ ‘till I answer.”

Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784