Three boys were walking along in Regents Park when they heard shrieks coming from a nearby pond. They looked and lo and behold it’s Jeremy Corbyn. The boys jumped in and rescued him. Ever the grateful one, he offered them each whatever they want. The first boy says, “I always dreamed of becoming a pilot. I’d like my own state of the art Learjet challenger 850.” “Done!” “You?” “Well I’m just shy of my seventeenth birthday and about to get my driver’s license. How about a Lamborghini Veneno Roadster with all the trimmings?” “You got it!” “And what can I do for you?” The third boy pondered uneasily for a few moments. “I’d like state of the art health insurance with access to the best hospitals, finest doctors…” “Woo…slow down there son. You’re looking fine and healthy to me. Why on earth do you want all that health stuff?” “Cause my Dad’s gonna’ break every bone in my body when he finds out whose life I just saved!”
Meanwhile Donald Trump is taking a stroll in heaven. Perhaps he’s thinking he could secure more votes up there. He suddenly takes in the scene and notices hundreds of clocks all over the walls. Each clock displayed a different time of day. “Mind if I ask you about the clocks?” he says to the archangel. “Well,” replied the angel, “we have a clock for each person on earth and every time they tell a lie the hands move. The clock ticks off one second each time a lie is told.” Jeremy notices two clocks in a special case. “What’s so special about those two?” he asks. “Well one belongs to Moses. It has never moved, indicating that he never told a lie. The other clock is for Abraham Lincoln, an exemplary American President, which has only moved twice. He only told two lies in his life.” At this point of course he can’t resist. With a smug smirk on his face, “mind if I ask you – where’s my clock?” The angel looked at him somewhat uneasily. “Uh, G-d has that one in His office…He’s using it as a ceiling fan.”
This past year has been gripped with all sorts of election fever. Whether it was the EU referendum, the election for Labour leader, the second election for Labour leader, the appointment of a new Prime Minister – it’s all been quite gripping if not at times also somewhat amusing. At the same time, racial division in the United States is at an all-time high, Anti- Semitism in the UK is an undeniable reality, there is growing economic disparity and terrorism continues to rear its ugly head on an all too regular basis all over the world. It makes us wonder – what is going on? Where are we heading? The waters are increasingly choppy, the crescendo of the waves of anxiety and unease washing over society are threatening to drown out the very fabric of civilization. And we, the hopeless passengers aboard this ship called life, look on in bewilderment, in bafflement and befuddlement and we wonder, “Where is the captain? Who is in charge of this ship? Who will steer us toward calmer shores?”
Do you know why Donald Trump got as far as he did and why Britain voted out of Europe? Because people are fed up with the status quo. By almost every metric, Westerners are losing faith in the institutions of governance. And when you get fed up with the status quo you simply look to blow up the system as is, and strive to rebuild again.
I think this reflects a truism in all our lives. Modern politics has laid bare the reality that the world is essentially made up of two types of people. Those who are complacent, you might say indifferent and simply accept life as it is. This is who I am, this is all that I can be. This is my reality and I just have to learn to accept it. And then there are those who crave change, who believe in change, who are committed to change, and who will therefore do everything, however out of the ordinary to bring about that change.
Which one are you? Are you tired of the status quo? How bad do you desire that change you want to see in your life? Are you willing to go the extra mile in the right direction to bring about that change? Or have you gone so far down the rabbit-hole such that your life is simply destined for dullness and disappointment.
As Jews, we were always fed up with the status quo. We have been conditioned since the beginning of time, not to accept the world as it is but to change the world to the way it is intended to be.
The Midrash describes the birth of Judaism with the following cryptic parable: A man was travelling from place to place when he saw a palace in flames. He wondered: “Is it possible that the palace has no owner?” The owner of the palace looked out and said, “I am the owner of the palace.” So Abraham our father said, “Is it possible that the world lacks a ruler?” G‑d looked out and said to him, “I am the ruler, the Sovereign of the universe.”
Abraham reflects on the world. It’s a beautiful world, a magnificent world. It’s a masterpiece reflecting but a glimpse of the grandeur of its Creator. But alas it’s aflame: Terror, racism, Anti-Semitism, crime & corruption, abuse, the breakdown of the family – society is burning and the Abraham inside each of us is crying out: “Is there no owner to this palace? Dear G-d why have you abandoned us? 2000 years of trial and tribulation! Every time we turn a corner, we seem to hit another brick wall! The storm passes, the sun shines once more, and before long, new clouds gather on the horizon! Dear G-d, where are you?” “The owner of the palace looked out and said: “I am the owner of the palace.” G‑d looked out and said to Abraham: “I am the ruler of the universe.”
Rabbi Sacks observed: Note that the owner of the palace does not make an attempt to get out of the burning building or to extinguish the flames. G-d doesn’t abandon the world. But insofar as He is concerned: “Yes, I made the palace, but you set it on fire, and therefore it is incumbent on you to put out the flames.” Abraham asks G‑d, “Where are you?” G‑d replies, “I am here, where are you?” Man asks G‑d, “Why did You abandon the world?” G‑d asks man, “Why did you abandon Me?”
In that defining moment, Abraham launched on a quest which has become our legacy ever since. To extinguish the flames that engulf us and look to rebuild this world, step by step, soul by soul. To abandon with the status quo – the complacency that has plagued our world for all too long; to step out of our comfort zones and engage in a post-fire rebuilding of faith, trust and confidence. If you are comfortable with where you are right now, you cannot achieve more. You will not be able to get to the next level. All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.
Yes, sometimes change involves pain. But that is an inevitable part of the trek. Pain will be had no matter which avenue the world travels down. It’s part of the growth process. Sometimes we have to go through what the mystics call a piercing of the veil of illusion. It’s the point where we might feel we are hitting rock bottom – but as we actually hit bottom it’s as if we fall through a trap door into a new place – where we begin to explore our connection to life in a whole new way. When we can face our fears and move through any dark night of the soul we are greeted by the dawn of a profound new adventure. Don’t be afraid of the pain. Never be afraid to fall apart. It is an opportunity to rebuild yourself the way you wish you had been all along.
When there are elections for government and the choices are between a bad choice and a terrible choice we find ourselves in a conundrum. You will all have your opinions and your political persuasions. So I am going to give you a serious piece of advice. What you really need to do is vote for yourself. You are the essential. You are a leader. You are the change you seek in the world.
What does it mean to be a leader? Leaders are more than mere visionaries who talk about their dreams. They act upon them and constantly demonstrate by way of example. They have more backbone than wishbone, Leaders are what leaders do.
Abraham was a leader. Moses was a leader. Leaders don’t push, they pull. They don’t enforce, they inspire. Leaders lead, which implies a destination, someplace to be that isn’t here. They attract followers by flashing a light ahead. They never accept the status quo. And they challenge us to each become leaders in our own right. You don’t need the accolade President or Prime Minister. You just need the title Jew.
There were two warring tribes in the Andes, one that lived in the lowlands and the other high in the mountains. The mountain people invaded the lowlanders one day, and while plundering their people, they kidnapped a little baby boy and took him with them back up into the mountains. The lowlanders didn’t know how to climb the mountain. They didn’t know the trails or how to track in the steep terrain. Even so, they sent out their best party of able-bodied men to climb the mountain and bring the baby home. The men tried one method after another – one trail and then another for several days and nights but it was to no avail. Feeling hopeless and helpless, the lowlander men decided that the cause was lost, and prepared to return to their village below. As they start heading back they see the baby’s mother walking toward them. They realized that she was coming down the mountain that they hadn’t figured out how to climb. And then they saw that she had the baby strapped to her back. How could that be? They approached her: “We, the strongest and most skilled men of the village couldn’t climb the mountain. How did you manage to do so?” The woman shrugged her shoulders and said simply, “It wasn’t your baby.”
I love this anecdote because it gently inspires how to be a leader. Those lowlanders, they are great men. They are determined men. They are committed to a cause and they set out on their trek. But they are not leaders. If they were – they would have got the job done. A leader is someone who sees every person they are entrusted to lead as their baby. And like any parent who would risk life and limb for their baby, a leader will do the same.
For others – be they the lowlanders, be they Presidents, Prime Ministers or other so-called world leaders, there is an emotional disconnect; it’s a job of sorts. It will have its limitations. You are subject to failure. For Abraham, for Moses, for each of us – it is your raison d’etre; it is who you are as a Jew, it is what you are as a Jew. It’s not a job. It is your life. Failure is not an option.
Things can change and with G-d they will change. Be encouraged. Keep believing, keep trusting in G-d…your story, our story, the world’s story is about to change for good. All we need to do is make today better than yesterday.
Let’s not settle for the status quo. Let’s be hungry for more together; Hungry for more in our lives, hungry for more in our families, hungry for more in our community and hungry for more in our nation and the world. There is more to life. Can we reach out and aim for that more? Not only is it possible for us to be so much more, that next level is available to all of us. You just need to reach out. Regardless of what is to come, real change is on the horizon for the good, for the better, forever.
On the day of Rosh Hashanah, we pause to reflect on our vulnerability and we know that there is a certain amount of time, a number of years allocated to each of us individually, with the specific intent that we utilize those given moments for the best, to each become leaders in our own right. So when you walk away from these High Holydays, be sure that the inspiration of these days doesn’t walk away from you! Be the change you seek in the world. You are a leader. Vote for yourself! Dance as though no one is watching. Love as though you have never been hurt. Sing as though no one can hear you. Live as though heaven is on earth. Go out there and win your election. After all, G-d is voting for you!
May we all merit true blessings and success in all our endeavors; a happy and sweet New Year filled with only goodness and of and true and everlasting salvation in your personal lives, in our collective lives, in our world.