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Rabbi Burt's 2012 rosh hashana sermon

02/16/2013 05:39:51 PM


We often think of a New Year as a time for change.  On the January 1st New Year we make New Year’s resolutions.  Many people have told me that on the Jewish New Year they make resolutions.  I really don’t know whether or not the Chinese make resolutions on the Chinese New Year.

Some people say when they don’t or can’t keep their resolutions, “I guess its my fate to be this way - to keep on doing things I’m doing or not doing.  It’s my fate, my upbringing, my limited opportunities, my obstacles and pitfalls … my unlucky stars.”

“Stuck in the mud of Fate.”

“Imprisoned by Fate.”

“It’s my Fate.”

I love dictionaries.  These days you can find online dictionaries like  Fate is defined as something that unavoidably befalls a person.  It is defined as the decreed cause of events.

Unavoidably predetermined.


Sad, hopeless words indeed.  Sad, hopeless — and completely contrary to the spiritual teachings of Judaism and other religious traditions. 

Fate — the inevitable.  The way stars are aligned.  The suffering of a choiceless Oedipus, his inexorable fate spoken by the Oracle.  Now I don’t know much about lucky or unlucky stars or about Oracles.  But I can’t imagine that we are forever the victims of forces outside our selves alone.  “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

In many ways, of course, there are enormous and serious forces that we could call Fate.  As I said at our last Shabbat service, I have read 6,000 self-help books.  I needed to!  And I read more serious books about the mind, about life also.  I needed that too!  Since the Time I was a searching teenager, among the serious booked I started reading were the books of Rollo May — one of the most eminent psychologists of the 20th Century.  He talks of four realities that seem to determine our Fate.

The Cosmic - We are born and we die.

The Genetic - We can’t yet change the genes we inherit from generations ago that have their effects.

 The Cultural - We are born into a particular culture and are thereby born within certain cultural boundaries and beliefs and values.

 The Circumstantial - We are born, perhaps, in a country ravaged by war.  Or we are born for example, in a time of economic depression or recession (and many of you know what that is like in your lives).  So far not so good.

But as powerful as these unavoidable realities are, these circumstances of Fate, our Jewish spiritual tradition - the spiritual traditions of all kinds — affirm that there is another reality in which we live and with which we live.  We live in so many realities at the same time.

One of those realities is Destiny.  Destiny is not another word for Fate.  The word Destiny is related to the word “DESTINATION”.  The word is derived from a Latin word meaning CHOOSE.  Destiny is the destination we see for ourselves on the journey of our lives.

Fate is chance.

Destiny is choice.

In life, Destiny can trump Fate.

The vision of what kind of human beings we want to be is our Destiny.  The kind of life we choose to create is our Destiny or destination.

Fate is chance.

 Destiny is choice.

The greatest, the very greatest, choice we can make - and we really can make that choice - is our response to that which life thrusts upon us - what life throws our way.  How and why do we have that capacity to choose our response to what seems like Fate?  It is a great mystery how, with all reasons NOT to choose… we do choose and we do see in our mysterious hearts, our destination — where we want to be, who we want to be.

And then we can begin to be free.

The understanding that we don’t have to be stuck in the mud of our Fate is what I would call “spiritual maturity”.  From a spiritual immaturity that is so limited and limiting to a spiritual maturity that points toward freedom, fullness and a life of fulfillment.

Spiritual maturity is going beyond Fate and its consequences.  What comes with spiritual maturity is knowing that whatever happens, we have the capacity to respond to what happens in a way that leads to life.  We have that freedom, the mystery of that freedom.

I think if we are able to listen intently to the still, small voice within - the God within - we know, without any doubt at all, that we can, whatever happens, find our Destiny.  The direction we want from life, the direction we want into life.  It will come.


Stephen Hawking

Helen Keller

Stevie Wonder

Michael J Fox

These are famous people who did not succumb to Fate - they knew their destinations!  But a life-affirming response to powerful circumstances has been made, is being made, by millions and million of people.  In this very Shul — in front of you, behind you, on your left and on your right, are people who have said, “NO” to Fate and “YES” to Destiny, to a transcendent destination.  There are people in this room who have found their way out from circumstances beyond control (their Fate, so to speak).  These people have spiritual maturity.

That woman who gives up almost everything to be with her father who is dying of cancer — her response to a life with a destination of love.

The Christians who saved Jews during the Holocaust.  The Christians who hid Jewish children in their homes knowing that they might be found out and killed.  They knew their life was truly a destination of saving lives, a destination of mercy and compassion.

An Eli Wiesel, who out of hopelessness, discovers that we can give each other hope.  A destiny of offering hope.

The woman so hurt by her mother who forgives and becomes a very kind person.  Her destination a kind life.

It’s a mystery.

How……Why…..can people live in those ways?  It amazes me.  They discover their destination and refuse to be victims of Fate.  How can people choose to endure violent storms of life knowing that they will be whipped by winds and almost drowned by floods, knowing they are walking into sacrifice?  It’s a mystery and its about overcoming the feeling “I can’t do that” or “I’m no hero.”  YES YOU ARE!     

Remember Joseph Campbell’s famous words:  “Follow your bliss.”

I go along with that but I would add, “Follow the path you know leads to your unique destination.”

This Rosh Hashanah is that crucial, life transforming time to look within yourself, look into that place where you are born and re-born again and again and again!!!

We are born into conditions beyond choice.  But choosing out of spiritual maturity, we can be born anew.

Look beyond to the very highest, the height of your Destination.  We could read all the books, hear all the learned professors propounding that we have no free will, that Fate rules.  There are hundreds of such books.  I don’t have to read books or listen to the learned professors.  I KNOW we have the capacity to be free ….. FREE of fate, FREE of demons of the past, FREE of thinking it is all outside of us.

I see the mystery just about every day.  I know it’s true because I see it in all of you.  Who you want to be will always find a way.  That is the real meaning of Destiny defeating Fate.

On this Rosh Hashanah please let your knowing of your freedom from Fate well up into your heart, into your heart of hearts.  Your life is a journey of discovering your freedom, a journey of discovering your God-given capacity to choose.  Prisoners of Fate or free people of Destination.   I know what I want to choose and I know what you want to choose.

Thu, July 16 2020 24 Tammuz 5780