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835 Darby Paoli Road
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Kami Knapp Schechter

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High Holidays 5780 Erev Rosh Hashanah-Sermon-Awareness

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5780- Rabbi Kami Knapp

The Shofar Awakens Our Awareness, What Do You Need to Wake Up To?

Welcome! For those who I have not yet met, my name is Rabbi Kami Knapp and I recently began my work here as the rabbi of Congregation Or Shalom. I’m honored to be a part of this community as we begin our first High Holidays together. For those I have not met or our guests, welcome, thank you for being with us, and I am eager to get to know you. 

In my short time here at Or Shalom, the community has been welcoming, inclusive, and heimish (a warm, comfortable, and family life feeling). The rich, deep history of this community is profound and the intense dedication our members exhibit is beautiful and a testament to the successes, dreams, and hopes that began in 1974 and continues to this day. I know that this drive will continue and we invite you to be a part of it. 

For those I have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know, thank you for being here, I value and care for you deeply, and look forward to continuing our work together.

My hope for us over the course of the next ten days and beyond, is that we begin to build and enrichen relationships, live out Judaism both here and in our daily lives, create meaningful opportunities for prayer, and blossom as a community.

My sermons during the High Holidays of 5780 will center around the theme of renewal, repair, and regrowth. Each sermon will address an essential question, a question that has been pondered by our sages for centuries and a question that many of us continue to grapple with today. I want to thank you with deep gratitude for going on this journey and exploration with me.

The shofar awakens our awareness, what do you need to wake up to?

Thirteen years ago, I had my most profound spiritual experience. I had never attended High Holiday services and it was my first Rosh Hashanah. I sat amongst 100s of people, surrounding me left and right. A massive bimah stood before me with chairs filled with presidents, board members, founders of the synagogue, the rabbis, and the cantor. The room was semi-circular and above us, which felt like miles above, was a round stained glass skylight. I didn’t know the prayers, I didn’t know the service, I knew three people in the entire congregation. As I sat absorbing the melodies and as we moved along in the service an energy began to stir, both outside of me and within. It grew and grew until finally the shofar rang out and the silence after was heavy. I heard my breath and the breathing around me. I felt warmth on my arms and I looked to the ceiling. When my eyes reached the colorful stained glass skylight the sun burst forth brighter through the glass. The heads of the congregants appeared to have light emanating from their heads. And in that moment, I woke up. In that moment my own voice registered in my head and said G-d is here, G-d is here in each of these people, wake up, the gates are open. By the conclusion of the service my head felt clear, there was an inner peace, and the realization that I had just awoken became rooted in my memory. 

I share this story because the shofar woke me up to an awareness unlike any I had experienced before. Along with feeling the presence of G-d, when I heard the shofar that day it woke me up to an awareness that my life had shifted from one state of being to another. The core of me remained the same but a tremendous amount of change had naturally occurred which I had not been awake to while in the process. I realized that I had moved from a place of trying to understand who I was as a person, to knowing who I was at that moment. I moved from a person insecure in many ways, particularly in religion, to a person grounded and centered in spirituality. The shofar awakened me to the importance of the process of cultivating deep awareness. To not just notice one state had transformed into another but to be aware throughout the transformation.

Awareness, the dictionary defines awareness as: knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists.

Have you ever been for a walk on the same path you have taken time and time again, but one day you notice the different calls of the birds, the running water, the rocks underneath your feet? This is awareness. The term mindfulness may be a word people are more familiar with or perhaps even practiced. 

Have you ever heard your children laugh time and time again but this time it resonates in your heart, this time you see how their smile changes their face, you hear the uniqueness of your child’s laugh, unlike all other children? This is awareness.

But awareness is not so easy. It takes practice like any other skill. We become bogged down by our daily tasks; the dishes need to be washed again, there is yet again more laundry, time to get up and go to work. The tasks of our lives can lead us to numb the awareness in our minds. Awareness is a cultivated practice in which you must encourage yourself to truly connect with and understand that which exists in front of you. Especially in this modern world, with technology everywhere, with packed work days, schlepping kids, hosting guests, volunteering in our communities, just the desire to get things done, awareness is even more difficult to cultivate.

And God appeared to Moses, because he had turned aside to look.” Exodus 3:4

Adam Greenwald states, the miracle of the burning bush– a little thorny desert shrub that smokes and smolders but, strangely, is not consumed– doesn’t seem particularly impressive. At first glance, Moses himself doesn’t even recognize the miraculous quality of what he sees. Only when he turns aside and goes in for a closer examination does he realize that he is witnessing something quite extraordinary. Only then does he hear the Voice of G-d calling his name.

Only when he turns aside, when Moses looks from a different perspective, perhaps when he calls upon his awareness, he realizes he is witnessing something extraordinary. And not only does he witness, but his awareness enables him to hear the Voice of G-d calling to him.

Not only does our Torah teach us awareness, but with the natural rhythms of our Jewish calendar we are reminded year in and year out that awareness is important, that we must wake up to cultivating it. There is a reason why as we prepare for a new Jewish year, a time of intense prayer and repentance, a time when we must confront prior behavior and create a plan for change, that our tradition sounds the shofar bringing forth deep awareness. Why, because awareness adds something to our life and that it helps us both heal the past and look towards the future.  

Wake up the shofar yells, wake up and prepare yourselves for the process of repair and change. Wake up to that which has happened over the course of the past year and wake up to the present surroundings in which you find yourself. Wake up and channel your awareness! As the shofar blasts tomorrow, I ask: what do you need to wake up to?

דכתיב (ויקרא כה, ט) ביום הכפורים תעבירו שופר בכל ארצכם מלמד שכל יחיד ויחיד חייב לתקוע

Talmud Rosh Hashanah speaks of our obligation to hear the shofar- As it is written: “On Yom Kippur you shall proclaim with the shofar throughout all your land” (Leviticus 25:9). This teaches that each and every individual is obligated to sound the shofar. (Talmud Rosh Hashanah: 30a)

מיתיבי היה עובר אחורי בית הכנסת או שהיה ביתו סמוך לבית הכנסת ושמע קול שופר או קול מגילה אם כוון לבו יצא ואם לאו לא יצא וכי כוון לבו מאי הוי היאך לא קא מיכוין אדעתא דידיה

if he focused his heart to fulfill his obligation (of hearing the shofar), he has fulfilled his obligation, but if not, he has not fulfilled his obligation. (Talmud RH 29a)

Therefore, our sages tell us that just as we have an obligation to hear the shofar, we must also focus our hearts on hearing it, focus, awareness, with awareness we tap into our hearts and only then do we truly hear.

And here we are, in that moment. Tomorrow is the shofar blast. I urge us all to use the sound of the Shofar tomorrow to wake us up to an awareness of that which we may have slept through this past year, those moments when we hurt someone or ourselves because our awareness was not forefront.

Not only does our Jewish tradition emphasize the benefits of awareness but science and psychology advocate for it as well. Positive psychology concludes: “So many humans are walking around this planet unaware of the impact they have on the people around them. Within each of us is a tremendous capacity to affect change. Yet, too many of us simply react to the creations of others.

Being self-aware and practicing daily reflection and introspection allows each of us the opportunity to find what we really want out of this precious life.” The psychologists who discovered positive psychology provide five benefits of awareness:

  • 1. It provides interaction with the environment
  • 2. It requires self-control and self-regulation
  • 3. It improves relationships and connections with other human beings
  • 4. Those who are more aware have an increased creative achievement
  • And they also possess 5. higher self-esteem and pride

Exercises of cultivating awareness are relatively simple, but pushing ourselves to do them is difficult. To cultivate awareness take time every day to be aware of everything around you. Focus on gaining as much knowledge and understanding of that which exists in and around you. Make a list in your head or write it down on a piece of paper. Do this exercise with others by sharing your observations with one another. 

And what are some things we should wake up to, especially during these ten days of awe? 

Do I love myself?

How am I living out my values?

There are papers in the lobby which have even more questions to focus on throughout the next ten days. I urge you to focus on cultivating your awareness and then answer these questions from a place of deep awareness.

As the shofar sounds tomorrow, let this be a call to us all to commit ourselves to cultivating awareness. So that we may acknowledge the amazing things we have done and continue to do, what needs repair or change, and what we dream of for the future. We each have the gift of awareness within us, we must only awaken ourselves to it as our tradition teaches. Let us use these next ten days to really focus on this work and ten days from now may we have begun to fine tune this skill so that next year only brings more happiness, joy, healing, and connection.

Shanah Tovah!

 

Worksheet:

The shofar blows, what are some things we should wake up to, especially during these ten days of awe? Take these ten days to cultivate your awareness and begin to ask these questions when fully aware:

 

Cultivate awareness of Self-Love and love of others. Ask yourself:

Do I love myself?

Do I want to be loved?

How can I love myself more?

How much love do I have for this person(s)?

Do they know how much I love them?

Do I know how much they love me?

What can I do to show more love to people?

What can I do to cultivate love for those I am challenged by?

 

Values:

What are my values?

How am I living out my values?

How can I defend my values yet be in relationship with others who may think differently? When have I done this? When have I not?

 

Repairs in my life:

Where am I feeling a void in my life?

When am I aware that I’m feeling triggered by someone?

When am I aware that I’m feeling angry with someone?

What does holding a grudge look like?

 

Facing fears/ challenges:

What challenges/ frightens you?

How to react in these times?

 

Growth:

How do I know I’m growing?

How do I acknowledge my growth?

How do I remind myself to keep growing?

What do I feel when I realize I’ve grown?

Where do I want to continue to grow?