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Yom Kippur 5782 - A time for planting, a time for uprooting the planted

September 16, 2021

This year, in this congregation, many of us are moving, retiring, or starting a new career path. For some of us, we know it is time to plant our roots, to build up what we have right here. And for some of us, we know it is time to go, to uproot what we have planted and to disassemble what we have built in this place. 

Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) teaches: Eit la’ta’at v’eit la’akor natua. There is a time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted. Eit lifrotz v’eit livnot - A time for tearing down, and a time for building up (Ecclesiastes 3:2-3).

Taking the step to uproot or tear down what has been built can be challenging, even terrifying. After all, the Rabbis of Genesis Rabba teach why God gives Avram three blessings, when God tells him, Lekh L’kha, “Go yourself” (Genesis 12:2):

Traveling is the cause of three things[, the Rabbis say]: it breaks up being fruitful and multiplying, reduces one’s wealth, and lessens one’s renown. [Avram] therefore needs these three blessings: that God should promise him children, wealth, and a great name. 

Traveling, in Avram’s case, means leaving the town in which he was born, in which he married Sarai, and in which he first found God. Even today, thousands of years later, moving somewhere different or taking on a new job brings challenges to family priorities, brings a great deal of expense, and brings a whole slew of people we do not yet trust. Roles around the house might change with new schedules or with a change in living space. Tuition, rent, mortgage, and new vehicle registration can be costly. And of course, it is no easy task to find new friends, let alone a new hairdresser, petsitter, and doctor. Sometimes, it may seem that changing location or career path is too risky a choice to make, and yet, we must realize that staying in place is just as much of a risk.

This is the time of year we reflect on who we were, who we are, and who we wish to be. With our Vidui - that confessional we repeat five times in 25 hours - we lay out all of the ways we may have erred in the past year. Perhaps we have misstepped through empty confession, through denial and deceit, through selfishness, or through stubbornness. In the coming year, if we choose to stay in this job, this home, and this lifestyle, we risk making the same mistakes we did last year. At the same time, if we choose to run, we risk leaving behind the good we have accomplished alongside the ugly. In our choice of whether to stay or go, we must ask ourselves whether the settings in which we plan on living, working, and learning will support all the growth to which we have committed throughout today’s prayer.

For those who are planning on moving or shifting this year, we ask ourselves today, “What parts of my previous life have sustained me up until this point, and can I bring those to wherever I am going? How can I make sure that I do not lose my intention towards Godliness in the hustle and bustle of change?” For those who are planning on staying put, we ask ourselves today, “How can I use the resources in this location or job towards becoming my holiest self? What in this place serves me, and what prevents me from choosing the good?” At the end of the day, some of us may have to ask the questions, “Can I stay in this place and still avoid last year’s wrongdoings? Is it really possible for me to be my best self here?” We cannot live or work in a place or culture in which we find ourselves continually blaming career, peers, or setting for our own misdeeds. On this holiday in which we sing of our existence as dust, withering grass, a vanishing dream, impermanent, we cannot stay in a place deleterious to ourselves or our loved ones one moment longer than what is necessary in our short, fragile lives. This Yom Kippur, amidst hours of reflection on active repentance, we have plenty of time to name our wrongdoings, to decide how we will overcome them in the future, and to figure out how, where, and with whom we can best keep ourselves accountable. 

This may be the last Yom Kippur we at Agudath Achim see some of you (including some who are watching from home). Some of our most devoted community members are choosing to leave because you know the mitzvot you can accomplish in a new setting. You are leaving in order to honor parents or children, to pursue a career where you know you will have more of an impact, or because you know that you have done enough planting and building in Shreveport for a lifetime; it’s time to reignite passion elsewhere. Thank you for everything you have contributed to Agudath Achim. Thank you for teaching us, for letting us celebrate with you, for raising your voice in meetings, and for supporting us as individuals and as an organization. Please know that retiring, leaving the city, or pursuing something new does not mean that you will get rid of us so easily. You are welcome back to this sanctuary whenever you choose, and your input is welcome when you read our bulletin and have opinions to share. We will miss your presence, and I hope you don’t mind if we check in now and again to see how you are doing.

Even without all who are leaving, I expect that I will see most of the people in this room next Yom Kippur and many times before then. Together, we will sing, laugh, cry, and brainstorm what this place can become. As a community, we hold the responsibility to make this synagogue and this city places that encourage the kind of growth and self-confidence towards which we strive on this Day of Atonement. We host Shabbat and holiday meals in our homes, find ways to get more kosher food to Shreveport, welcome kids and families, and keep reevaluating ourselves in this synagogue space, so that we can become that Jewish community that people seek, that people move to. We think back to the reasons so many of the people in this room have stayed in Shreveport for so long, and we work to expand those reasons. I know we have people in this room who are active in local government and nonprofits, and I thank you for sharing your projects with our Agudath Achim community. On Yom Kippur, we must look at our past year’s communal deeds in the same way we look at our personal deeds, as we aspire to become a city that is more confident in the good of who we are and how we run. 

Regardless of whether we are physically staying or leaving in the coming year, we will not be staying entirely in place. If we have learned anything from today’s prayer and fasting, we will be embarking on multiple journeys of active teshuvah, and soon. It is up to us to decide the best location for us to turn our downfalls into opportunities for mitzvot. For wherever we choose to go, whether it is to a different state, country, career, or mindset, I offer a traditional Traveler’s Prayer:

May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, to lead us to peace, direct our steps to peace, guide us to peace, and bring us to our desired destination in life, joy, and peace. Rescue us from any enemy or ambush on the way, and from all the afflictions that trouble the world. Send blessing to the work of our hands, and let us find grace, kindness, and compassion from You and from all who see us. Hear our pleas, for You are a God who hears prayer and pleas...May Adonai guard your going out and your return, from now and for all time. G’mar hatimah tovah!

Mon, January 17 2022 15 Shevat 5782