Yom Kippur Morning 5777: 1...2...3...Smile!

My father loves photography. He would lug out his 35 millimeter camera and insist on taking pictures of my mom and me on vacations, hikes, even sometimes just going out to lunch. Now that he has a DSLR, it's even worse; Emily and I joke that we have to build dad's camera time into our activities due to the number of times he asks us to stop in front of this or that tree, bridge, flower, sunset ... you get the idea.

Photography isn't a process of simply capturing a moment. Photography also creates a moment, as we choreograph our snapshots - Stand over here. Put your arm around her. Move 2 inches this way. Stop hitting your brother. And once everything is positioned just right, we often say, 1 ... 2 ... 3... Smile!

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Judaism teaches us that we should recite 100 blessings a day. As we know from Fiddler on the Roof (which I hope you've seen since Rosh Hashanah), there is a blessing for everything. We say a blessing when seeing a rainbow, for lighting the candles. There's a blessing for being at the ocean if you haven't seen it in more than 30 days. And when you say a blessing, it's similar to taking a picture - you take a kind of snapshot of a moment. But, in addition, you create something. When you say a blessing, you create an attitude of happiness, and of appreciation. Baruch Ata Adonai is the Jewish version of 1, 2, 3 smile.

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AJ Jacobs wrote a book, The Year of Living Biblically. For one full year, Jacobs tried to follow the laws of the Bible as literally as possible. He didn't mix fibers of wool and linen. He walked around New York City dressed only in clothes from the Biblical period. He even tossed pebbles at someone that admitted to committing adultery, so that he could follow the Biblical law to stone an adulterer!

I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a conference several years ago. Someone asked what most surprised him during this year-long religious experiment. He spoke about the Biblical injunction to give 10% of your land away to the poor. I'll paraphrase what he said, Because of my experiment, I had to follow this law, even though I didn't want to. It's in the Bible, and I committed myself to obeying all of its commandments for one year. So I did it. And I found that when my year of living biblically was over, I was more generous and giving. I actually wanted to give 10% of my belongings away. I used to think that my thoughts are what influenced my behavior, but I discovered the opposite. My behavior influenced my thoughts and feelings.

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If you can remember back to some of your childhood photographs, I'm sure there were times when you were in a bad mood, and the last thing you felt like doing was putting your arms around people and smiling really big. You didn't feel like smiling for the camera, but you did it anyway. And I bet that after some of those pictures, you were actually happier, all because someone forced you to smile.

Last evening, I talked about doing the power of now. This morning, the challenge for each remains the same. But added onto the power of this present moment is something else; we must act even if we don't want to. Yom Kippur tells us that we can not wait until we are inspired to say a blessing, or to perform t'shuvah, or fight for religious tolerance, or argue for equal pay for equal work, or advocate for pluralism in Israel, or give tzedakah, or yes, even smile. We must do it even if we don't feel like it. Especially if we do not feel like it.

Rabbi Hillel said, Say not, 'When I have free time I shall study'; for you may perhaps never have any free time.' This makes me think of Lorne Michaels, the creator of Saturday Night Live. He tells people, SNL don't go live because we're ready. We go live because it's 11:00 pm on Saturday.

Forcing yourself to smile, making yourself recite 100 blessings a day - these behaviors change our way of thinking - they change our way of feeling. And they change our way of doing.

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And make no mistake - Judaism is meant to change us. Yom Kippur is our catalyst.

We all know that we should do t'shuvah. We all know that we should repair our relationships and ourselves. But Yom Kippur changes the good intention of 'should' into the urgency of 'must.' Today, each of feel as if we must do certain things. This urgency pushes us to become the change that we want to see in the world.

The urgency is there regardless of your desires, beliefs, or feelings. In fact, Judaism cares much more about what you do than what you feel or believe. This is even true for belief in God - a Talmudic passage quotes God as saying, Better they forget me than forget my laws. The performance of the Mitzvot is more important than the theology or belief behind them. Going back to our photography analogy, Judaism doesn't care if you want to smile. Judaism insists that you do smile.

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Yom Kippur is such a serious day because it reminds us of these behavioral responsibilities. Each of us sitting here today needs to be more righteous, more caring, more understanding, less selfish. Each of us confesses these things out loud in the presence of our community so that we can bear witness to each other's vows and hold each other accountable.

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There's a teaching that each of us should perform acts of t'shuvah one day before we die. Since we do not know the date of our passing, each of us should perform t'shuvah each and every day. This can create a habit within us, so that we don't only think about t'shuvah in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It should become a part of our every day lives. Once that happens, we won't just pray about our values, we will live out our values, setting examples for others to follow. We will not only recite blessings - we will create blessings. This is the challenge of Yom Kippur. It's not about the inspiration we feel today as we gather and pray and sing and listen to words from Torah. It is about our daily lives, and whether or not we will continue to see blessing, whether or not we will make a habit of t'shuvah, whether or not we will constantly fight for the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the homeless, the stereotyped, the bullied, the stranger. Yom Kippur begs us to make the right choice, and to make it consistently. Imagine for just a moment, imagine what would happen if we are able to do that ... that would be something to smile about.

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Yom Kippur Evening 5777: Now is the Time ...