Rosh Hashanah - 5783/2022 Rabbi David Eshel

  • 5783/2022
  • Rabbi Eshel
  • Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah 5783
Rabbi Eshel
Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles

Family drama…am I right?! Kardashians, real housewives, the bachelor… lies, deceit, deception, secrets, …the list is endless…and… they have nothing on the Torah and our ancestors. 

Meet Issac…I have a complicated relationship with my father… I mean, I love him, I think… and I hear from others that he loves me as well though he’s never actually said those words to me. I guess the hardest part for me to reconcile was his willingness at one point in my life to actually sacrifice me for what he believed was a higher purpose. He never talked to me about it before it happened and we never spoke about it after it happened, yet it still lingers with me to this day… my mother had no idea what was going on… their relationship was rocky to begin with, based on deceit, and I was the manifestation of all her dreams. But when she found out about what my father was going to do to me, she never spoke to him again. They lived together, but never uttered a word to each other. The most messed up thing about my relationship with my father was how he would say I was his only son when in fact that was not true. He had another son from a previous relationship, my half brother but he kicked them out of his life because my mother didn’t get along with them, maybe felt threatened. 

Meet Sarah…I have a complicated relationship with my husband… I mean, I love him, I think… though we have never shared those words with each other. The truth is I do not trust him. He has actually on more than one occasion asked me to lie about our relationship to save his own skin, even putting my life in danger but what was I going to do? He is my husband so I swallowed my words and buried my feelings. But there are some things I cannot forgive. He knows how much our son means to me and yet he was willing to kill him and never even mention a word about it to me…not one word. When I found out, that was it… I didn’t leave… I just haven’t spoken to him since…not one word.

And now the one and only Abraham!... I have a complicated relationship with my wife and my son. I am not proud of asking my wife to lie on my behalf early on in our marriage, but I had no choice…and she didn’t seem to mind since she never said anything to the contrary. My son? I hope he knows I love him. He’s my one and only, well…not really… but we don’t talk about that… OK it is true that I almost sacrificed him but I wasn’t really going to do it..at least I don’t think I was… my wife was so angry when she found out and she hasn’t spoken to me since…

Not such a functional family are they? Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac really could have used the book club I was a part of this year. Our very own Rabbi Joel Nickerson and Associate Executive Director Jodi Berman created an opportunity for your temple staff to study together, introducing me to Dr. Brene Brown and her book, Dare to Lead, a professionally focused  version of her earlier works, and specifically on the idea of vulnerability. 

A researcher and a storyteller, Brené delivered a game-changing TED talk in 2010 about the power of vulnerability which has since been viewed more than 58 million times. I am sure the majority of us here today are part of that 58 million. In her talk, Brene speaks about how her desire to research human connection led her on a personal path to embrace her own vulnerability.

Dr. Brown says that we think of vulnerability as a negative emotion, the “core of fear and shame and uncertainty.” Our response, then, is to resist our vulnerability by developing armor, or coping techniques to avoid that vulnerability. We say, I don’t do vulnerability, I can go it alone, and how can I be vulnerable without trusting the other first? And finally…vulnerability is weakness.

Vulnerability is weakness?… Dr. Brown writes, “It used to take me a long time to dispel the myths that surround vulnerability, especially the myth that vulnerability is weakness. But in 2014, standing across from several hundred military special forces soldiers on a base in the Midwest, I decided to stop evangelizing, and I nailed my argument with a single question. I looked at these brave soldiers and said, "Vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Can you give me a single example of courage that you've witnessed in another soldier or experienced in your own life that did not require experiencing vulnerability?" Complete silence. Crickets. Finally, a young man spoke up. He said, "No, ma'am. Three tours. I can't think of a single act of courage that doesn't require managing massive vulnerability.”

Now let’s talk about what vulnerability actually means. Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, joy, change, longing, forgiveness, and love. It is eventually what gives up purpose and a sense of wellbeing. Pretty much all of our emotions come from a place of vulnerability: feeling happy risks the possibility of disappointment, loving opens us to rejection.
“Vulnerability is…Standing up for others….Standing up for ourselves… It’s asking for help… Sharing an unpopular opinion…Saying no….Opening ourselves up to love and to be loved… Admitting we are afraid… Being accountable… Asking for forgiveness… Admitting we are wrong.

Vulnerability is about courage, authenticity and faith. Being vulnerable is being real, showing up, living our own truth. It’s also about reciprocity. It is breaking down the walls, the barriers, the facades between us. Imagine how different our collective story would be if Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac were vulnerable with each other. Talked to each other, shared their fears, their dreams, their thoughts, shared their love openly, shared their pain openly? We would have a very different story.

So why vulnerability on Rosh Hashanah? Because this holy day is the Jewish day of vulnerability. It is us opening ourselves, showing our truest selves to God in humility and all of our failings, seeking to mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, seek forgiveness and work to become better. We do this outloud, standing together in community as we proclaim Hineni, Here I am, this is me, all of me, no walls, facades… even our flawed Abraham does this before God answering God’s call with Hiniei…here i am… However… just like our petitions on yom kippur grant forgiveness between us and God and NOT be between us and other human beings… only real personal work does that… so too is our vulnerability… the hineni prayer allows us to be vulnerable before God… but our real growth, our real change happens when we say hineni, here I am to others… to our family, our friends, our community, those whom we love.

I have a really large family on my birth father’s side. My great grandparents Shamriyahu and Sarah Kosover, came with their then 3 children, from Russia to pre-state Israel in the late 1800’s. They would have four more children born in Israel for a total of 7…three girls and four boys, one of which was my grandfather tzvi Kosover. Each of the 7 children married and had multiple children of their own, including my father elchanan… and they all married and had multiple children who are all my cousins… in total, over 100 people all related to me… and I don’t know any of them. My grandfather tzvi didn’t talk to his 6 siblings…from what i understand it was over a disagreement about land and business… he held this grudge to his dying day…never really knowing or developing any kind of relationship with his nieces and nephews and therefore my father never really developing a relationship with cousins. This was the example my grandfather set for my father who had a rocky relationship with his parents and siblings at best. So when my birth-father died, it was just me and mother left to figure out our path. So many potential support systems, so many potential relationships, and warmth, and love, and celebrations, and hugs and laughter not only destroyed but worse…never even given the opportunity to exist all because of the walls and hardened hearts and the stubbornness. All of that denied me and now denied my children. If only my ancestors had joined my book club. I know things would be different if they had been vulnerable with each other. I am sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me. Let’s try again. Can we talk? I need your help. How can I help. Let’s do this, let’s figure this out together. Any of these words…these simple and powerful words would have created worlds upon worlds of relationships and connection. But instead…no… only walls and loneliness. But this story, my story does not end here. I have a choice. Will I continue down this same family path of closed off walls and sealed doors? Or will I find the strength and courage to be vulnerable… Three years ago I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts when a strangely familiar story came on. It was a story about a deaf couple raising hearing children. The children would say their home was always filled with music because their deaf parents wanted their children to experience the beauty they could not. As I’m listening I vaguely remember a similar story my father used to tell of his deaf cousins… and at the end of the episode as the host was thanking the producers, I froze. My body, warm and yet chills all at the same time. The producer of this story? Maya Kosover. Could it be? Was Maya my family? I desperately wanted to reach out but I was so scared.  Would she reject me as part of a long standing family rift? Would she believe me that we were related? Would she even care?  I was petrified of the possible pain it would cause me to be dismissed like my father and grandfather before me. And just as quickly as my curiosity peaked I felt the walls building up around me… I don’t do vulnerability, I can go it alone, there is no trust, vulnerability is weakness… No… I would not give into this path like those who came before me… So I did some research, found her email address as well as the addresses of the producers of the podcast and poured my heart out. Maybe it was too much all at once… as months passed with no response…and just as I was about to build up my walls once again… an email in my inbox… Hi David, I got your email forwarded to me from one of my producers…you had an old email of mine that I no longer use… So, I understand we are related? I am sorry it has taken me so long to answer. My partner and I just had a baby, so you can imagine we are not thinking straight…Here is my number… call me… maybe the next time you are in Israel we can meet…(pause)  I’m going to Israel this December with our temple’s bnai mitzvah trip… My son and I are going a little early…So, I’ll keep you all posted.

Real growth and real change happens when we say hineini here I am, this me, all of me… We cultivate our best selves when we allow our most vulnerable selves to be seen, to be known. Not only does it affect us, make us better, make us stronger… it directly affects our families for generations to come!  In this new year of 5783 may we grow by opening and sharing our real, our true selves with our family, our friends, our community … through joy, connection, fear, hope, love, courage… vulnerability. Shana Tova.