Editor’s Note: Rabbi Greenstein originally gave this sermon on Kol Nidre 5780 (Oct 2019).
Welcome to this sacred night of Kol Nidrei, when we wrestle with words – words and their meanings, words and what we really mean when we say them – or don’t. Welcome. In our Penitential prayers we say, or don’t say – mean or don’t mean – these words:
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your Throne;
Love and Truth go out to greet You.
So let us, together, join in sweet closeness, אשר יחדו נמתיק סוד
Walking together in the House of the Almighty, בבית א-להים נהלך ברגש
Walking together with feeling. (Ps. 89:15 and 55:15. S’lihot)
I am a big fan of walking. I like walking my dog, I like walking with Zelda, and I like walking all by myself. Not long ago I had the great pleasure of walking around with an old friend, whom I had not seen in ages. I like to walk at a leisurely pace. Rushing to a train or a concert doesn’t count. I am grateful that I have this mobility. I am amazed that the air around me lets me walk right through it, granting me the freedom to move along, to take in the outside or to stay with my own thoughts, inside me. Like a super hero or a phantom who can walk right through brick walls, I can walk right through this world, teeming with people and creatures, structures natural and un-.
I love the picture painted by the Zohar, Judaism’s classic mystical text, of rabbis and students walking on the road. As they walk along, they never actually get anywhere, but t hey encounter trees and animals and strangers and discover new words of Torah and new aspects about themselves.
The very prosaic act of walking has, from earliest times, taken on great symbolic resonance. The simple act of walking has been endowed with the ultimate significance of denoting how we lead our lives – how we “walk the walk” in a world with so many “walks of life.” Do we walk toward a destination or aimlessly? Along a beaten path, or over unmarked territory? Do we walk alone or accompanied? Do we walk casually or, as the Psalmist puts it, “with feeling”?
When the prophet Zekhariah had a vision of the renewal of the Jewish people, he was taken up to Heaven and there he heard God promise: “And I shall place for you walkers – mah’l’khim – among these – who are standing.” (Zech. 3:7) And the commentators explain that “these standing” are the angels in Heaven. They are stationary, each placed in their designated position, with their specific, fixed role. But we, human beings, are called “walkers” because we can move about and change our place, our perspective and ourselves. And God is promising that there is no limit to where our walking can take us. We can aspire to join the heavenly hosts. Only, while they are stuck in their positions, we can keep growing. We are the walkers.
So I‘d like to invite everyone to go for a walk together with me. In the words of the prayer from S’lihot, the prayer of and for forgiveness that we recite in this season –
“So let us, together, join in sweet closeness,
Walking together in the House of the Almighty,
Walking together with feeling.”
Let’s take this walk right now. We don’t have to leave our seats. We don’t need any elaborate preparations. We can just start walking together, looking around or not, happy to speak or not. Who knows what or who we will meet ….
Oh! How nice! Look up ahead – there – Faith and Ruthy! You remember them, don’t you? They are two friends of Grace Paley. You know, the wonderful writer and social activist. Look at that. We have just simply walked right into a story of hers. It’s called “Midrash on Happiness.”
Here it is: [story]
Well, we have to turn around now, at this corner.
So long, Faith! Bye, Ruthy!
I like those two. Such good friends. And by “friends” I mean people who are happy to share a space together in loyalty. Because, you know, it’s not just happiness she was talking about. It’s also about being loyal – it’s about loyalty.
By “loyalty” I mean sticking to what and who you care about.
By “sticking to it” I mean always trying to put yourself in a place that upholds and doesn’t diminish what or who you care about.
By “caring about” someone or something, I mean considering, when you act or speak, what that other person or that other cause needs, and doing your share to fill that need.
By “need” I mean the need to feel the connection, and the need to feel worthy of being stuck to.
By “connection” I mean, for starters, the sense that you are not all there is. That there is more – a whole world – that needs to be stuck to. I mean humility.
By “humility” I mean a readiness to be loyal to the right things. I mean a humble loyalty; I mean a loyalty that doesn’t just want to create a sense of “us versus them,” but a sense of being there for those who are ready to care, to care not just for me – that wouldn’t be humble – but to care for everyone who wants to be humbly loyal.
To walk with friends in humble loyalty – that would make me happy…
Oh, my, we’re here already. Thanks for walking with me. Let’s do it again some time. It is such a pleasure to just walk along together, to walk together in feeling. So that together we can remind each other – not to forget the world.
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