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Rabbi Amy's High Holy Sermons

09/27/2018 03:50:53 PM


Seth Leventhal

Rabbi Amy provided us with a plethora of fascinating, thought-provoking and useful insights in her High Holy Day sermons this year. Provided below are short summaries along with a link to the full texts.

In her Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon, Rabbi Amy cited the oft-stated notion that being Jewish is like belonging to a family – along with all the dynamics that come with belonging to a family. On the one hand, it’s a safe haven where you can be yourself. On the other hand, it’s a space of high expectations, buttons that get pushed, defensiveness and arguments. Rabbi Amy asked us all to take a moment and think about our own families. What blessings have we given and what have we received? As we enter a new year, we must recognize that our families have undergone and continue to undergo many changes. Do we make room in our hearts for these changes? Rabbi Amy asked us on these holy days o take seriously the blessings we recdeive as well as the wounds we suffer from our families, and to take concrete steps to start the healing process by gently articulating those wounds: “To take stock like this is putting your Judaism into action.” To do this, you must be present, that is to be actively engaged, with both our immediate families and our larger Jewish family.

On Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Amy engaged us in a wide-ranging discussion of our Torah portion, the story of Sarah and Hagar. Whereas last year, when we studied the sibling rivalry between Esau and Jacob, we had the comfort of seeing that they were able to reconcile their differences, the relationship between Sarah and Hagar is left unreconciled. The reconciliation is up to us. What does this story from 3500 years ago, lacking in any satisfying resolution, where even the redemptive aspects are clouded by shame and regret, say about our own lives today? We can only hope that future generations, looking back on our lives, will see through our cruelty, meanness and immaturity, and see the redemptive moments of goodness, integrity and kindness, and see in that “God’s presence and blessing, clouded, but right within our reach”.

The Kol Nidre sermon focused on the uncomfortable feelings of remorse and shame which are the key distinguishing feature of Yom Kipuur. As Rabbi Amy stated, one of the obstacles to teshuvah is the feeling of shame that is central to the act of admitting fault. Shame is so powerful that it is enlisted as a tool for policing society’s standards. While we’ve come a long way from the days of dunce caps or scarlet letters, parents. Teachers and even rabbis all agree that “instilling a little shame in one’s teens, for example, can help prevent their making some bad choices.” In fact, a healthy dose of  shame is considered in Jewish tradition to be a moral virtue called boshet. It can serve to help us patrol our own actions and to act in a virtuous way. But shame is a double-edged sword: sometimes when societies set standards, they consciously or unconsciously single out people who are in some way ‘different’ for shaming. Rabbi Amy advises us to be cautious and use shame positively, not as a negative force. For without feeling shame, we can’t effect teshuvah, and then move beyond that to forgiveness.

On Yom Kippur, Rabbi Amy discussed the meaning of Zionism. In fact there are a plurality of Zionisms, which form competing visions of the kind of society Israel was and is to be. She cautioned us about the growing tendency in today’s world, where many people are taking the historically inaccurate ‘colonizer’ narrative as the only legitimate, true story. This is something that the international media is often complicit in, when they constantly push the narrative of Israeli culpability and Palestinian victimhood, unable or unwilling to see the other side, to see the complexity of the Israel-Palestine story. Rabbi Amy concludes that it is her Yom Kippur prayer that we “have enough breath and courage to set the record straight before the world, and that Jewish teens and any teens will not only be secure in knowing their own humanity when they support Israel, but that they also never forget the humanity of those who don’t.”

Click below for full texts:

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