A cat and a mouse die in an accident and both arrive in heaven. Two angels receive them. “You have been nice animals down on earth” say the angels, “so you can request something here in heaven” each angel says to the animals. The cat says, “I slept on the floor all my life. Here in heaven I would appreciate a nice pillow to sleep on.”
“Ok”, says the angel.
Meanwhile next door…
“You know,” says the mouse to its angel, “we mice have short legs, we spend all our lives escaping from foxes, people, brooms, cats… I would like some roller skates to go faster.”
Next morning one of the angels passes by the cat that was lying comfortable on the pillow. The angel asks: “How was your night?”
“Awesome,” says the cat, “slept like a king, and by the way…”
“THANK YOU FOR SENDING ME THOSE MEALS ON WHEELS.”
Now that you have heard Rabbi Werbin’s joke, the year has officially started. Please remain seated for the rest of the sermon. You may be able to share the joke later on Facebook and Instagram.
Why do I start with a joke?
First, because laughter is healthy.
Second, because it builds community. You can look at the person next to you and see that person laughing, as well. Even if you know the person next to you has different political views than you do, seeing him or her laughing builds community, the common unity. That is community, the common unity.
I start with a joke mainly because it gives me a topic to talk about.
The year that just finished was a great year in many ways.
Before Rosh Hashana I sat down, looked back at it, and I thought I spent the year running too much from one place to another. It seemed to me that with all the things that happened, all the errands I had to take care of, all the places I had been, I could have benefited from some roller skates.
And again, while looking back and reflecting on what happened last year, I realized that I had been to too many places. Each of us knows if we were able to leave a mark in the places we visited or the souls we touched. Sometimes the impact we expected to make doesn’t match the expectations. Sometimes we left marks on the wrong people. I spent a lot of time running from place to place and maybe in that running, I left these places without leaving the mark I wanted.
Leaving a mark, making an impression, in Hebrew is translated as “laasot roshem”.
This morning of Rosh Hashana, I want to share with you a true story that happened right here, in this building and made an impression on me.
A member of our congregation came to services on a Shabbat morning. He put his phone on silent mode so it wouldn’t ring on Shabbat, and placed it, together with his car and home keys, in his tallit bag.
After services, he stayed for Kiddush and lunch, and someone else, let’s call him “Reuben”, took his tallit bag by mistake and left.
The person without the tallit let’s call him “Moishe”, lived alone, so his biggest concern at that moment was that Reuben would be a High Holiday Jew. A person who opens his tallit bag only twice a year!!!
Let me be clear… Moishe’s thoughts were pure and holy. He was thinking that Reuben was a guest at Beth El that day, because we all know here at Beth El there is not such a thing as people who come only twice a year…
So Moishe was desperate. He called his phone but it was in silent mode. He could not go home with his car, and even if he went home, he could not get in…
So at that moment, our friend Moishe, was in the process of losing and searching, but he knew the synagogue was the place to start and continue searching.
At Beth El, the building was almost empty and who knows in which drawer in Reuben’s home were Moishe’s keys and phone.
“I know a way I can help”… I said.
I knock on my heart and admit my sin now. I was helping Moishe in a particular way on Shabbat. I asked Moishe to open my computer in my office. I asked him to go to www.me.com and log in to his Apple account and, then use the application Find my Phone.
And there it was!!! A green dot on a map. From above we could see the exact location of the house where the phone was.
Someone rushed Moishe to that address and got his phone and keys and most importantly, his tallit back. Happy end to the story.
Meanwhile, I went home and started thinking of the Rosh Hashana sermon.
How would the world look if, we made an impact everywhere we went?
How would our map look from above, if we left a green dot every place we made a difference?
How would our map look if every time we were thankful, mindful, thoughtful?
How many green dots would we have in our kitchens, our bedrooms and our playgrounds? In our phone calls or in our comments?
How many green dots when visiting our parents?
On the other hand, how many red dots when we forgot to greet properly, or when we took credit for something someone else did, or for not being fully present?
How would our maps look, filled with green and red dots?
Can you imagine that map? Can you envision it? Can you see from above the places you left a mark, you made an impression?
Green dots and red dots.
Did we leave marks or are the marks only on our skate board, because we run a lot?
Let me tell you another story, this time a personal one.
My family and I went for a six day vacation to Florida this summer. We drove, so 2 days going there, 2 days coming back, ten days total.
As we arrived in Florida, close to 9 PM, we unloaded the car and we discovered we had left Naomi and David’s luggage in Bethesda.
As you may imagine, at that moment, a small argument broke out between my wife and I.
I can tell you for sure she was right and also she read this sermon in advance…
In any case, after the argument we went to Target to buy some clothes for the kids.
And there it was, in front of our eyes, at the store, a big red dot, the Target logo, telling us we had just left a red mark. We argued in front of our kids and we left a mark.
We thought about the reason we left the luggage in Bethesda and it was none other than we were making decisions while riding a skate board; we made a decision without taking the right time. That is one of the reasons we can leave an unwanted mark.
Missing the mark. In Hebrew when we miss the target, we use the term, “leachti et hamatara”. To miss, “leachti”, has the same root as the word “chet”, a sin, a wrong doing.
Picture your own map.
How many times have we missed the opportunity of leaving a mark, a green dot?
There is a nice story of a king who went out, on his horse, to the woods. When he was deep inside the woods, he started seeing many trees with an arrow exactly in the center of the target.
Amazed by the aim of the archer, he started to ride faster on his horse trying to see if he could find this genius.
Sure enough, there he was, ready with his bow and arrow, ready to shoot, when the king saw him.
The archer looked at the king, relaxed his armed and put down the instruments.
The king approached him and told him how amazed he was by his extraordinary aim.
-“What is your secret” asked the king.
-“It’s simple, I shoot the arrow and then when the arrow is on the tree I paint the target around it”.
Dear friends, that, is not how it works.
We all know what impressions we made and we cannot paint around them. Sometimes there is not time to remake, to draw the target around the arrow.
Please, picture again the map of your year, the map with green and red dots.
Now that you have that colorful map in your head, I want to present to you a “what if” question: What if God is looking at the same map you have in your brain right now, but your God is color blind?
Would you feel relieved or frustrated?
Would you say: “phewwww lucky me, my map looked like the Chinese flag and nobody noticed”, or would you say “it’s unfair, my map was green like a soccer field and nobody realized it.”
We are here to review our map and to make sure our actions matter; therefore our presence is saying: “I cannot imagine divinity that is color blind”.
And I have a proof. Every morning we start our prayers with a series of blessings, Birkot Hashachar, the morning blessings. We praise Gd for making the rooster aware that morning started, for belonging to this heritage. The first blessing in which we praise Gd’s actions in the morning goes as follows: Baruch Ata Adnai Eloheinu melech haolam Pokeach Ivrim.
The first action that Gd makes every morning is to give sight to the blind.
Every morning we discover once again that Gd watches over us and that every dot, every mark we put in our map matters.
It matters to you, to the person sitting next to you and to Gd as well.
We gather as a congregation to ask God to inscribe us in the Book of Life. In Hebrew “be inscribed” is lehirashem, the same root of roshem, leaving a mark, making an impression.
How can we be inscribed if we are on roller skates all the time?
How can we make an impression if we run, if we are never leaving a mark?
How can we ask to be inscribed, lehirashem if we do not make an impression, roshem?
Lehirashem ve lo lehajti.
To leave a mark, and not to miss the target.
Leave your mark. Fill your map with green dots. Stop running. Get off the roller skates and make a difference, in your life, in your family, in your community.
May God inscribe us in the Book of Life and may we make a good impression this year.