Selected Sermon/Article
2000-10-09 Yom Kippur Drasha-Morning by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Smile, You're on Candid Camera
I have some good news, and some bad news for you. But before I tell you of 'the news', I'd like to tell you about a somewhat embarrassing experience that I had recently. I'll tell you about it on the following condition; that you won't tell anyone else about it. Is that a deal? Good!

It happened just this past week, when I was teaching a special class for the 7th grade boys at Epstein Hebrew Academy. It was the first time that I was teaching this class, and I was attempting to be on my best behavior, knowing that my son Chiyya was in the class, and would be observing his father 'in action.' Things were going great, as I spoke with the boys about 'Preparing for Yom Kippur'...until I spied a boy in the back of the class doing something with a bottle of glue. My curiosity turned to astonishment, as I saw a young man gluing the finishing touches on a paper airplane! Now, I'd like you to know that I would have never done such a thing when I was in school, and I'm sure you wouldn't have, either. Boy, was I upset! I strode quickly to the back of the class, ceremoniously snatched the bottle of glue from the offenders hands, while simultaneously snatching the paper airplane, crumbling it with the other hand and tossing it in the waste basket.

Doesn't that sound like a great moment in the annals of teaching, folks? Aren't you inspired to nominate me for 'Missouri Teacher of the Year'? Well, everything went well in my foiling this dastardly plot, except for one small miscalculation; the paper airplane was covered with glue, and when I picked it up -- and in particular, when I angrily crumpled it -- my hand became almost completely covered with glue!

Realizing that I was standing there with a glue-covered hand, I ordered the paper airplane criminal to quickly bring me some wet paper towels. The towels did a wonderful job -- of smearing the glue more evenly on my hand. As I continued teaching, I picked up a piece of chalk to write on the board. The chalk stuck to my hand, and chalk dust mixed quite nicely with some glue that had made it to the tips of my fingers. Was I ever embarrassed!

Later on that evening, I asked my son Chiyya what he thought of seeing me teach for the first time. He said, "It was a nice class, Dad..but boy, did you get mad at that kid!!"

I have to tell you that although I think the class otherwise went well, I was embarrassed how I lost control of myself, and made myself into a fool in the presence of a class of 7th graders. Believe me, if I had thought that the Principal was watching me, or had I known I was being recorded, I would have handled the situation very differently that morning.

The reason I share this experience with you today, is because I have a feeling that I'm not the only one who has had this type of experience. Am I right? The theme of my remarks today is: all of us are on 'Candid Camera' all the days of our lives, and therefore, we ought to live with the awareness that we are.

Let me tell you the most bizarre example of being on 'Candid Camera' that I know. Perhaps you read the story, which appeared in the newspapers a number of years ago.

There was a wedding at a certain catering house in New Jersey. The father of the bride brought a great deal of cash with him with which to pay the caterer, the orchestra leader and the waiters. The money was in an envelope that he kept in the inside breast pocket of his tuxedo. The wedding was freilich. Everyone danced enthusiastically, and as the evening wore on, they began to feel warm. The father of the bride took off his jacket and draped it over a chair. When the party was over, he put on his jacket, reached into his breast pocket....and the money was gone.

What could he do? The father had no choice. He had to sit down and write checks to the caterer, the orchestra leader, and the waiters. And then someone remembered ...that the camcorder had been on all night. Maybe...?

They played it back and looked at the tape. And sure enough, they saw none other than the father of the groom reaching into his mechutan's inside pocket, taking the money out, and putting it into his own pocket...on camera! To put it mildly, the marriage got off to a very shaky start.

Why do I tell you these stories today? Simply to make the point that all of us would behave much better if we thought we were on Candid Camera. The truth is, though, ladies and gentleman, that we are on 'Candid Camera' every moment of our lives. Isn't that what the 'Unisane Tokef' prayer that we'll be reciting today says -- that there is a God, and that this God is a "sofer umoneh va'ed v'yodeah umo'chiach v'kosayv v'chosem" -- that this God sees and hears and records and registers and counts and judges all that we do. That's what the 'U'nisaneh Tokef' says. How do we feel about this prayer? Do we believe it; do we take it seriously?

I confess that when I was younger, I had a hard time picturing God as the great Scorekeeper or Bookkeeper in the Sky, who not only knew everything we did, but everything we said....and even everything we thought. As I became older, and my thinking became more mature, I came to understand and accept the words of the passage in 'Ethics of Our Fathers' (2:20) that says, "The day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, there is much reward to be paid, and the Owner is insistent."

I now know that God watches and records all that we do. I also know that my kids are walking tape recorders, and that they watch and record all that I do. They see me when I'm not 'the rabbi,' and whether I realize it or not, they're 'on' all the time How much tzedakah do we give? They know. Do we complain about our bosses or our workers? They know. Do we make comments behind the backs of our friends? They know. What we do, what we talk about at the table, what we stand for, and what we fall for -- are all recorded by our kids. And it affects them for the rest of their lives. That's the bad news.

Now let me give you the good news. The good news is: the good we do is also recorded by our kids....and it lasts, too. I'm sure that each and every one of you here recorded examples on your 'Candid Camera' recorder about your parents, that have created indelible memories of some wonderful aspects of your parents lives, and the way that they raised you. I remember how my father, he should live and be well, once came home telling us that he gave $5 to a man who he picked up hitchhiking, who said he didn't have enough to eat. Someone suggested that he was a 'sucker.' I'll never forget my father's response, as he said, "So, maybe I am a sucker. But it's better to be a sucker, in case he really did need the money for something to eat."

The bad news is that we are on Candid Camera, and that all of the vain and dumb and selfish and stupid things that we do are recorded, whether we know it or not. The good news is that we are on Candid Camera, and that all of the good and noble deeds we do are also recorded, whether we know it or not.

The very good news is; that if we don't like what we have recorded in the year that has now ended, we have the power to 'edit the tape.' We can go back and not simply splice out the bad things we did, through the process of tshvua, but we can change its meaning. We can turn it from a mistake into a stepping stone towards growth; from an avayrah into a turning point, if we really want to, to make of our mistakes lessons from which we learn. It's up to us to make such a decision, at this time - and if we do, we can live differently in the new year that now begins.

May this be a good year, for each and every one of us. Good Yom Tov.