Selected Sermon/Article
2001-09-26 Yom Kippur by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Kol Nidrei Sermon
I recently heard about a young unmarried couple that had been living together for several months. Their relationship was less than satisfying, so they sought help from a psychotherapist.

Once the couple was seated in her office the young man said, "I guess what we're looking for, Dr., is a way to prove we can trust each other -- you know, to reinforce our faith in the relationship. Could you give us a psychological test?"

The therapist responded by saying, 'Such a test would only show what you're feeling now, not how you'll feel about each other at some time in the future. I can, however, give you another type of test," the Doctor said. "A very simple test. It consists of a single question, and your answer to that one question will tell you everything you want to know about your trust in each other and faith in the future of your relationship. Are you game?"

The couple fixed their eyes on the doctor's face, as she said, "Here's the question: Are you willing to get married?"

For a long period of time, the young couple sat so quietly and rigidly, that the doctor felt that she was in the presence of two figures from a wax museum. The young man said, "We never thought of it that way." As they rose to leave, the young woman said, "Well, you've certainly given us something for us to think about."

Last I heard, doctor hasn't heard how things worked out, but she's been watching the mail for a wedding invitation.

When a couple in love wants to demonstrate commitment, they make a contract that we call 'marriage.' When two businessmen want to commit themselves to mutual obligations, they draw up a contract and then sign.

I'd like to suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that over the course of Yom Kippur, we'll also be 'negotiating a contract' with the Almighty. It's a contract in which we want certain things from G-d, and G-d wants certain things from us. In the past, you might not have thought about Yom Kippur in this sense, so let me explain to you, if I may, how it works.

We do we ask from G-d?

"HaShem, give me a contract for the coming year, in which You obligate Yourself to give me life and to maintain my health. I'd like two more grandchildren this year. You may also say -- 'My business is doing quite well, but my competitors are catching up. Can You help me there, too? And G-d, while you're at it, can You help me out with my portfolio? The market has taken a real beating lately. And perhaps, HaShem, you can send a nice shidduch for my son or daughter, niece or nephew?

What does G-d ask from us?

"You're asking for many things from Me, and all in one year! But let me ask you for some things too! I want you to be a little more Jewish this year. I'd like you to start putting on tefillin, and coming to the minyan regularly. Is your home kosher? If not, it's time to start. Where is your child or grandchild going to school? Are you sensitive to the feelings of others? Are you refraining from yelling at your wife and kids? Are you attending any Torah classes? And how is your own tzedaka portfolio?"

We began negotiating the first draft of our contract on Rosh Hashanah. Didn't we say 'BeRosh Hashana yikasayvun' (it's written on Rosh Hashana)? The negotiations and modifications went on through the past week and up until today. At Neila, when we say "Chasmaynu b'sefer ha'chaim' (seal us in the book of Life), the contract is signed. When Yom Kippur is over, and the shofar is blown, each one of us walks home with a contract. We might not have received everything we asked for. But I suspect that the Almighty isn't getting everything that He asked for from us, either.

On the whole, however, we hope it's a pretty good contract.

Dear God, this contract is life itself! One doesn't play with such a contract! It is health; it is children and grandchildren! It is their future, as well as ours. It is the love of a husband and a wife, a child in danger of going wrong. There's so much at stake here! God forbid that the contract should fail to stand because on Motzai Yom Kippur the Almighty will examine our contract, and see that while we asked for a number of things, we haven't offered anything in return!

A contract or covenant, by definition, involves mutual obligations. Have we arrived for Kol Nidrei this evening without having committed ourselves to changing the way we'll be doing business in the coming year?

If we haven't come with a 'plan in hand', I have some good news, and I have some better news for each and every one of you.

The good news is we have one more 24 hour period in which to make and present something that we'll commit ourselves to in the coming year. That's what Yom Kippur is about -- confirming our plans. The better news is, is that for those of you didn't come to shul this evening with a plan in hand, I have a suggestion that I'd like to run by you that you're free to use in whole, or in part.

In this coming year at NHBZ, we'll be embarking upon an ambitious program that will extend for a twelve month program. This coming year will be dedicated to a theme, where we'll attempt to integrate many of our sermons, classes, programs, youth activities and guest speakers under one banner. The theme for the coming year is titled 'To Pray as a Jew,' based upon the book of the same name by Rabbi Chaim Donin.

I'd like to briefly tell you why I believe this program is needed, before describing some of the details to you.

Tefilla (prayer) is one of the three pillars upon which the world stands. And while I have no doubt that throughout a given year all of you daven, it's clear to me as your rabbi that NHBZ is an orthodox shul with many members who aren't entirely comfortable with davening. We have members who can't read Hebrew but would like to know how. We have members who would love to be able to put on tefillin or receive an aliya to the Torah, but are embarrassed because they don't know how. There are many of you here this evening who don't feel at home in the synagogue, don't feel home in the siddur, and would love to be more knowledgeable and observant so that you can truly 'Pray as a Jew', and 'Participate as a Jew.'

Let me tell you some of the components of the program:

1) This book 'To Pray as a Jew' will be used as our reference guide and resource, and will be offered free of charge to the first 75 families to enroll.

2) Special Shabbos sessions for girls will be offered in the Chapel where Tehillim (Psalms) will be read, learning about davening will take place, and personalized tehillim books w/ the girls name engraved will be available to all girls who enroll.

3) Special Shabbos sessions for boys, to learn how to lead the congregation at the end of davening. Each young man will receive his own 'Junior Talis'

4) Sunday morning before davening, tefillin will be available, and knowledgeable members available to help men learn how to put on tefillin.

Our program begins the Shabbos after Simchas Torah. You can call the office tomorrow to reserve one of your books, or you can speak to me tonight after davening -- but I can't write it down.

We'll be offering many other components of our 'To Pray as a Jew' program throughout the year -- these are just some of them. Please consider making a commitment right now to increased participation in learning and davening in some way this year so you'll be able to state at least one solid obligation in your Yom Kippur contract.

I'd like to close my remarks this evening by sharing with you something that one of my children gave me before Rosh Hashanah. It's a 'contract' -- a two page contract -- that says the following.

Dear Tatty

Have a happy Rosh Hashanah and I hope you forgive me for everything bad I did.

Love, Dodi The second page says

Check yes if you forgive me for everything bad I did, check no if you don't.

May the Almighty grant all of us mechila and slicha on this Yom Kippur. May we be inspired to seek to purify our souls, to make at least one commitment that we'll put down in our 'contract,' and may we, our families, Klal Yisrael and the world have a year of brocha and shalom.