Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon by Rabbi Bass

This sermon was delivered at Erev Rosh Hashanah services on Wednesday, September 20, 2017.

The Buddhist teacher Ajahn Brahm tells a story about his early days as a Buddhist monk, when he joined a Thai monastery. He had to help physically build the monastery. He had no experience with building materials whatsoever. At first, he thought, how hard can it be to lay a brick? But soon he realized that it was much more complicated than he imagined. He would lay a little bit of cement, and it was just not enough. He would add what to his mind was just a little bit more cement, and end up with a mess. After he learned the correct amount of cement necessary for the task, he would lay the brick over the cement and tap the sides. He would tap one side, and the other would be out of alignment. Then he would tap the other side, and the first side would get out of alignment. Through trial and error, he learned how to lay bricks. After the course of a few weeks, he learned how to lay the cement, tap the bricks, and his movements became more and more fluid, until he was done with the wall which was his responsibility to build.

After he finished the wall, and looked back to admire his hard work, he noticed that two bricks were out of alignment. They were sticking out. All he could see were these two bricks. Out of the hundreds of bricks he had laid, his eyes focused, again and again, on the same two bricks. He was so upset with himself! He tried to push the bricks, but now that the cement was set, the bricks would not move. He contemplated getting rid of the whole wall and starting again. The Head Monk came over and exclaimed: What a perfect wall! The young monk said: “Master, I see that it is not perfect. I will re-do it immediately. I see the two bricks that are sticking out, and I see that this wall is not perfect, and I will immediately correct my mistakes.”

The Head Monk asked: “How many bricks have you laid?” The novice replied, “Hundreds, maybe even more than a thousand… I’m not sure, I really lost count.” The Head Monk said: “I saw that there were two bricks sticking out, and I saw that this wall was perfect. There is no need to re-do it. It is perfect as it is. Hundreds of bricks were laid correctly, and two of them remind us that we are perfectly human.”

As we begin the Yamim Norayim, the Days of Awe, let us approach it this year with compassion for our handiwork. We have laid hundreds, maybe thousands of bricks correctly. We have made beautiful creations that embellish our lives and the lives of the people around us. We have worked hard on relationships, on projects, on the infinite details of living life in the 21st century. And I am sure that there were at least two bricks that were not perfectly layered, that are sticking out, the bricks that claim our attention at all times. This year, let’s forgive ourselves for the two bricks that were laid incorrectly, and focus on the hundreds of bricks that were laid perfectly. Let’s focus on the beautiful final creation. Let the two bricks that are sticking out remind us that we are human, that we make mistakes. In life, we must acknowledge the crooked bricks — but there is always time to do teshuvah, always time to change, and move.

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