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Rabbi Burt's Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon

10/01/2018 11:28:23 AM


Rabbi Burt's sermon delivered on Erev Rosh Hashanah 5779 (2018). 

The theme for this year's brief talks and reflections is repentance. Rabbi Eva asked me to share my ideas about it on this eve of Rosh HaShanah. I will, as best I can, address such a very complex subject, but to get to it I'll first mention the medical adventure I had this year – had -- and am still dealing with to some extent. Many people have asked me to explain just what happened that prompted Rabbi Eva's several reports to the congregation as well as her loving prayers and the loving prayers of many of you.

As many of you know, a flesh eating bacterium caused a body-wide infection that brought me to the brink more than once, but that was vanquished by very great doctors. It was an infection that severely disrupted kidney function -- a situation still requiring dialysis three times a week for four hours. It was an infection that doubtless encouraged a second bacterium to cause serious pneumonia. An infection that resulted in significant breathing difficulty because my trachea somehow got narrowed during a life-saving hospital procedure. An infection that pinned me on my back for two months, resulting in muscular atrophy so profound that I could not walk or adequately use my body for many long weeks. Walking is still not easy. I thank God for every step I take. An infection kept me in a hospital and then in hospital-like rehab for, altogether, four months, April through July.

I'm not disappointed or indignant. It happened. There is no why or reason beyond the obvious physical facts. My spirit throughout all this has been strong and positive and affirmative. I'm lucky.

During rehab I had a lot of time to think. I tried to look at all that happened in a positive way. At first I was going to write an essay telling how the time of illness was beneficial and transformative and how I gained a host of better qualities. But I changed my mind. I figured I'd just be making things up because those thoughts were coming mostly from my head. My heart wasn't ready.  I realized I'd have to wait, to see what good and gain might come from living more fully from my heart. So I just kept living from my heart...and finally felt myself changing. The deepest truth is known from the heart.

Now, from my heart, I live with acceptance. I learned that whatever happens to us we have to accept. I deeply and even mystically learned that we have to joyously accept and embrace the times when we cry along with the times when we laugh. We have to accept health and we have to accept illness. We have to accept all the experiences, events and ordeals of life just as we have to accept death as the inevitable and inexorable end of life.

There is no other choice. But I'm sure that along with this radical acceptance comes the only peace we can know and the only freedom from anger or depression that can deplete our soul. I accept all that happened to me, and I do feel peace and freedom. Of course many of you who have suffered from illness, heartache and sometimes agony, have discovered the same transforming knowledge.

Within the profundity of true acceptance, authentic acceptance, acceptance becomes repentance. We accept that people are not angels. If God needed more angels, God would not have created people. Being people with all kinds of set-in-stone defects that the psychologists and psychiatrists have discovered, we will sometimes be unable to avoid hurting ourselves or others. We accept that — and that's a form of repentance. And we accept that other people will sometimes cause us pain. It's the way it is. And with that acceptance of the immutable defects of us all we can easily forgive. We all wrestle with our defects. We are all broken-hearted on a level of our being and we are all broken. The world we live in is certainly broken. Our holy task is, as much as we can, with a sense of moral obligation, to heal the brokenness.

My illness has brought me to confront the brokenness of my heart, my being and my relationship to the people and the affairs of the world. Illness makes vivid the brokenness all around us and within us. Repentance is taking the obligation to do our best to heal the brokenness very, very seriously. We're all in the same boat.  We're all stuck in the same human condition. No one is better. No one is worse. We are all holy souls that come from God. One of the prophets of our time, Leonard Cohen, sang the words: "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." So let's accept with delight our brokenness and the crack.

May the coming year bring light that endlessly streams into us to illuminate our pathway and to enlighten our darkness.

But we can be less hurtful to ourselves and less hurtful to others if we really try and really want healing. We can do that. That is a redeeming truth.

Time compels me to conclude, but not before I thank God for all that happened to me. I even thank God for the illness. As the Lubavicher Rebbe taught: “Will you allow pain and illness to debilitate you, or will you see it as a catalyst to delve deeper into yourself and your beliefs?” I thank God that I am alive. I thank God for the true friends and for the troops of medical strangers who gave me so much. Especially my former wife and true friend, Karen, who is lovingly with me every day; and Elian, another true friend who, with unbelievable devotion, still takes care of me in a hundred ways. He is an angel. I thank God for your prayers that God surely heard. I thank God who taught me acceptance; who taught me that true acceptance is true repentance.

Boruch ata Adonai; shehecheyanu v' keemanu v'heegeeanu la-zman ha zeh.

Blessed are you, God, who has kept me in life, and has sustained and supported me, and has enabled me to be here. To be here with you.


Fri, May 29 2020 6 Sivan 5780