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Rosh Hashanah - Fiasco

09/30/2015 10:28:04 AM


           Over the past few summers, I have had the absolute pleasure of seeing my children perform in musicals. Their shows are the outcome of the blood, sweat, and tears they shed over two weeks of rehearsals at their theater camps. It’s so great to see the kids up on stage doing their lines, singing their songs, and performing with great panache. Of course, at every performance, there are the little moments when the fake tree doesn’t move the way that they wanted it to or the King’s crown falls off at the wrong moment. Regardless of any bump in the road, the kids in the production still go on, and we in the audience, accept all of the flaws and foibles as being part of the heartwarming experience of seeing your kid’s show.

           But what if the performance was not filled with minor flaws and mishaps but was inundated with one, grave and painful, mistake after another. Would the kids still go on? Would the audience still accept the experience as being heartwarming? The story that I’m about to tell is absolutely true. Before I go on though, I just want to apologize to John Moore or anyone else who works in the theater. I hope that you will see this story in the humorous way that it is intended.

Just like when I heard the story, I want to tell all of you that this is not only a story about a college show, but it is also a story about an absolute fiasco. This story takes place in a small college town. The show is directed by a woman that has never directed a show before but she convinces the local theater department of the college that she can direct the production of Peter Pan. So opening night comes. The place is packed as everyone is watching the opening scene, with the children at play in the bedroom. At the point when Peter Pan comes into the scene, he announces to everyone, “Anybody can fly. Why with just a little magic dust, one can fly.” As Peter sprinkles the magic dust in the air, sure enough the kids suddenly just lurch into the air.

And yet it becomes clear right at that moment to everyone in the audience that the people hired to run flying apparatuses really are not quite clear on how they actually work. Instead of the kids sailing gracefully to and fro, they sort of hang in the air like puppets, just dangling there, stationary, sort of like spiders coming down on a web. Eventually, the people working the lines were able to get the kids moving, but they started to travel in circles in the air and it’s clear to everyone that their courses are spiraling farther and farther away from the stage. People in the audience start to get a sense of fear on their faces. And the actors, of course, start to show their lack of confidence. At this point, everyone in the audience starts to feel a little embarrassed for the kids in the show and they’re gripping tightly to their chairs, hoping that everyone will be okay and the show will go on just fine.

           But it doesn’t end there. In the next scene, where Capt. Hook is introduced, he comes out all dashing and prepared. He is singing well and the audience thinks that the ship is in good hands. And then, at a certain point, as he makes a grand gesture, his hook flings off his hand and flies into the audience, punching an elderly lady in the stomach. And this is bad because the whole point of his character is that he has a hook. I mean he is Capt. Hook. His entire motivation as a character is the fact that his arm is eaten off by an alligator and that in its place is his hook, which now happens to be sitting in someone’s lap.

           This goes on and on during the show, and people seem to lose their sense of forgiveness. They just give in to their laughter. But it just didn’t end. The high point of the entire show was when the tornado siren, which sits above the theater, goes off and the firemen come into the show all decked out in their firefighting garb. At this point, the audience is cracking up hysterically, with the general feeling being that the firemen were there, not only to put out a fire but to save the show.

Clearly, this is an absolute fiasco. From the cast members being flung around to Capt. Hook’s hand landing in someone’s lap to all the rest of the shenanigans, I think all of us would have eventually given in to the reality that all of this craziness is more than just your average foibles.

When we compare my children’s plays and their mishaps to the Peter Pan debacle, we clearly gain a sense of perspective. We learn to love and appreciate not only seeing our sons up on stage, our daughters singing their hearts out, but we even learn to embrace the little missteps and bumps in the road. A show is never perfect, but bumps and all, it is still a wonderful experience.

And in many ways, life is exactly like that. Life is not perfect. We plan, we plan, and we plan, but things never go exactly as we want them. As the saying goes, “Man plans, and God laughs.” We can desire to have a perfect life, but it is truly unattainable. Each of us has flaws, each of us has problems, each of us has mishaps that we did not plan, that we do not want, but they are a part of our journey.

And yet, sitting here we might think this is a pretty easy thing for us. But it is not. In this congregation, we have divorce, we have cancer, and we have Alzheimer’s. We have people whose parents are in great need and we have people whose children suffer. We have spouses who have lost their soul mates and children who lost their mothers too soon. Life is not perfect; it is far from it. Life is not easy, nor is it always filled with joy. But it is our life.

Just like how the Peter Pan story helps us put the mishaps of my children’s plays into perspective, so too, can someone else’s life put our life in perspective. My wife jokes with me all the time about those crazy reality shows. She tells me that many people love to watch these shows because they see these insane individuals yelling and screaming at each other, and the viewer responds with, “Well, my life is not that bad.” With that awareness, the viewer feels better. Well, in one way or another I think our Torah portion this morning is giving us the same type of lesson.

You think you have it bad, think for a moment about Abraham. Here is a guy who is almost 100 years old and he has a young child. And it is not like he has some 20 something year old wife to take care of the child. No, he married someone who is even older than he is. To make matters worse, he had to leave his home and go on an extremely long walk around the Fertile Crescent. He had to kick out his first son, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he now has to kill his only remaining son. How should we respond to that life? After we read all of that, many of us sitting here might say, “I think I have it bad? At least my life is not his.”

I recently saw the movie, “This is where I leave you.” Filled with an amazing ensemble cast of Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, and others, it tells the story of  what happens to this family when they come together for Shivah after the death of their patriarch. I see the movie as my generation’s version of the “The Big Chill.” It is filled with the same style that tells of life’s disappointments and joyous occasions. The character’s lives are filled with the bumps in the road that the modern family experiences: divorce, infertility, drug addiction, and adultery. Yet, during the most important scene of the movie, the main character teaches us that he is done being upset. He realizes that though his life is filled with sadness, betrayal, and great difficulty, he is no different than anyone else. He realizes that he has been upset because he spent the earlier part of his life working towards perfection, but that is an impossibility. He finds happiness in the impurities of life.

On the High Holy Days, we are supposed to reflect on our lives. In looking back, though Ellen and I strived for the perfect lives, each of us has a life that contains some pretty big bumps. My life’s journey encompasses a previous divorce, an uncle who died from ALS, and a mother who died of cancer. Ellen’s journey also contains a previous divorce, a father who died of unknown causes, and a brother who died way too young. And if life didn’t have enough bumps for us, we have three children, all of whom have some level of special needs. However, our life is not a fiasco, but it’s not perfect, either. We find blessing in the glow of each other and the glow of our children - bumps and all.

So, if you haven’t figured it out yet, life is not about creating the perfect life. It is about enjoying the journey, especially with someone you love. Life is about accepting its flaws. It is about realizing that we all, every one of us, will experience tragedy and great difficulty. For, none of us is immune to such things. So instead of us obsessing over how our lives are not perfect, perhaps our energies and our souls should be directed towards accepting the downturns and truly celebrating and embracing the blessings.

My favorite story is the one that tells of Moses walking on the seashore with God. Moses asks God, “How come you weren’t with me my whole life?” God tells Moses, “What are you talking about? I have always been there with you.” Moses has God look back at the seashore where they see two sets of footprints. Moses says, “See these footprints? One set is where I walked and one set is where you walked. But all the way over here, you will see there’s only one set of footprints. That was the time that I needed you most. And you left me all alone.” God turned to Moses with a calm, nurturing voice and said, “You were not alone at that time. Those footsteps are not yours. Those footsteps are mine. I am carrying you.”

I want to end my sermon, this morning, by asking you to do something different and a little personal. I hope you will indulge me. If you have battled cancer, please stand up. If you have or a family member has MS or ALS/Lou Gehrig's disease, please stand up.  If you have a loved one who is dealing with alzheimer's or dementia, please stand up. If you have children on the Autism spectrum or have children with any special needs, please stand up. If you have lost your job or been out of work for a period of time, please stand up. If you have ever lost a loved one or a dear friend, please stand up. If you have ever experienced any bumps in your journey of life, please stand up.

So while you travel on your journey during these High Holy Days, I hope that you will accept the imperfections in your lives, and I also hope that you will be challenged to embrace all the beautiful things that you have in your lives. Many of you here might feel like life has beaten you down. That might be true, but that doesn’t mean that you are alone. Everyone here has a life that has beaten them down. And we also have lives that have raised us up. Please allow me to bless you, because all of your journeys are blessed - bumps and all.

Please place your hands on each other’s shoulders and say “Amein” after each line of the blessing:

May God Bless you and keep you. Amein

May God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. Amein

May God be with you on your journey, you travelers in imperfection, and may God grant you peace. Amein


May we all have a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year.


Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780