Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul
Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are,
born and reborn again.
(Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach)
Mitch Albom speaks to me. Not directly - we've never met. But he speaks to me, and to many, many others too. He is a talented writer, and I have found his books to make some of the deepest experiences and questions about the meaning of life accessible in a way that helps me figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it. This year, my Yom Kippur sermon (which will be posted at our congregational website next week) is framed by excerpts from his new book, 'Have a Little Faith.' The book is actually on shelves on Tuesday, the day after Yom Kippur, but I received a pre-publication copy and, once again, Mitch Albom has written a book that deeply to speaks to me and, I'm sure, will speak to millions of others.
Nine years ago I read 'Tuesdays with Morrie.' As I looked through my High Holyday files, I found a creative service that I had compiled for Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, weaving excerpts from that book with the prayers of the morning liturgy. One excerpt jumped off the page again; the words of Morrie Schwartz, z'l, as a meditation on the 10 days of return:
"The truth is, Mitch," he said, "once you learn how to die, you learn how live." ... Did you think much about death before you got sick, I asked. "No." Morrie smiled. "I was like everyone else. I once told a friend of mine, in a moment of exuberance, 'I'm gonna be the healthiest old man you ever met!'" ... Like I said, no one really believes they're going to die." But everyone knows someone who has died, I said. Why is it so hard to think about dying? "Because," Morrie continued, "most of us all walk around as if we're sleepwalking. We really don't experience the world fully, because we're half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do."
On Rosh Hashanah, the shofar sounded: Wake up, you sleepers! Are we living each day, awake to the realization that the blessing of this moment might not be tomorrow? Are we driving along the highway of our lives in automatic, or are we noticing the scenery, the people we encounter along the way, taking time to explore the side streets and the neighborhoods as we journey on? Have we returned, and tuned in to our innermost essence, who we really are?
"Be compassionate," Morrie whispered. "And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place." He took a breath, then added his mantra: "Love each other or die."
Shabbat Shalom, v'gmar tov - a good fast
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz