It’s Erev Yom Tov. Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment, is hours away, and it’s not traffic court. In the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah I have been sharing some stories and sermon ideas that will not make it to the big time. Last Wednesday it was my colleague who goes from room to room in his house, thinking about the sins he committed in each of them and how he can do better in the coming year.
A wagon driver was once taking a rabbi from town to town. They came upon an orchard and the driver said, “I’ll climb up one of the trees and get some apples for lunch.” Before the rabbi could say anything the driver climbed up in the tree, whereupon the rabbi yelled: “He’s watching! He’s watching!” Nearly falling out of the tree, the driver scurried down and ran off, fearful that the farmer would catch him. The Rabbi took the reins and continued on. A while later the rabbi caught up with the wagon driver. “Rabbi: why did you yell he’s watching? The farmer was nowhere to be found.” The Rabbi said: “I wasn’t talking about the farmer. I said, [pointing upward] ‘HE’S watching.’”
Over the ark in many synagogues are five Hebrew words: da lifnei mi atta omed – “Know before Whom you stand.” Traditionally, these words were also placed on a placard in front of the cantor’s stand to help him concentrate during prayers. They were a reminder: “Cantor: don’t get distracted, know before whom you’re standing – and we don’t mean the congregation!”
These are very important words. They will help us make the most of these holy days. Every time we get distracted during the services, every time our mind wanders to something trivial, every time we get annoyed about something somebody nearby is doing or saying, we should repeat to ourselves these five words: da lifnei mi atta omed, “Know before Whom you stand.”
These words will be helpful not only in synagogue but out in the world. If every time we’re tempted to do something dishonest or hurtful – more than stealing apples from a tree – if we said to our self, “know before Whom you are standing,” I believe it might make an enormous difference in our lives and make for a better world.
What if we don’t believe in God or aren’t sure that God is actually watching what we do? It doesn’t matter. Just imagine that somebody/ Somebody of great strength and moral character is observing our actions – that should be enough to inspire us to be even better people. That goal is what these holidays are really about. Enjoy your family, join up with your community at shul, say hello to somebody you don’t know, raise your voice in song and prayer, and remember before Whom you stand.
Speaking for my clergy colleagues and the shul leadership, let me offer you best wishes for a ketivah v’chatimah tovah, may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year in the book of life. Bill Rudolph
P.S. Service times are listed under Spiritual Life on our renovated website as well as on your tickets. To hear some of the prayer music that will get you in the mood before you stand before Whom you will be standing, go to Hazzan Klein’s postings on Sound Cloud.