Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"What does this service mean to you?" - Rosh HaShanah 2nd day sermon, 2013

No one would ever think of simply not inviting him.

And to his credit, he always shows up, no matter how much complaining he may do once he has arrived.

I’m talking, of course, of one of the most important mythical personalities of the Jewish holiday cycle.  He loves to push our buttons. But you couldn’t imagine a Passover seder without him and his provocative questions.  And in fact, I am quite confident that he is here in the synagogue today -
and how we decide to relate to him will have a dramatic effect on the Jewish future.

I’m speaking, of course, of the רשע - the Wicked Son, one of the four sons described by the Passover Haggadah.

I know some of you are thinking:  is the rabbi confused?  I knew Rosh HaShanah is early this year, but is Passover also early this year?! Quite THIS early?!   (Actually, this is not the first time that I have discussed Passover during a Rosh haShanah sermon. Some of you may remember several years ago when shortly before Rosh HaShanah I was looking for a book in the library and inadvertently found a long-lost Afikoman.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"We are liquid" - Rosh HaShanah evening sermon 5774 / 2013

How can a physics experiment from the 1930's help us prepare for the new year?

Welcome to the most unusually timed Jewish year that many of us will ever experience!  If you are here, that means that you did something a little unusual - you made your plans for Rosh HaShanah even before Labor Day Weekend.  This year, we can expect Yom Kippur to fall in the first half of September, Sukkot and Simhat Torah will be over before the end of September, and Hanukkah will start on Thanksgiving Eve.  

It just seems like everything is happening much sooner than we’re accustomed to.  I know I’ve been told that time speeds up as you get older, but this is ridiculous.

I’m not the first person to notice this.  The world’s very best writer about sports ever -- the late Bart Giamatti, president of Yale University and then Major League Baseball Commissioner, once wrote:  “Somehow, the summer seemed to slip by faster this time. Maybe it wasn’t this summer, but all the summers that [in this summer] …. slipped by so fast. There comes a time when every summer will have something of autumn about it.”

So - with a perception that, for all of us, our experience of the passage of time is accelerating, there is a news story that caught my eye earlier this summer that seems emblematic for the cusp of this new year. This is the story of the longest-running science experiment in the history of scientific inquiry.  Nearly 80 years ago, a physicist at the University of Queensland, in Australia, was studying how some substances which we think of as solids are actually liquids -- that flow very very slowly.  And he said - one example of this is asphalt, or tar pitch.  When it’s hardened, you can strike it with a hammer and it will shatter, as a solid would.  But, he said, it’s actually a very very very slow-flowing liquid, and he devised an experiment to demonstrate this.  He set some pitch in a funnel, put the end of the funnel in a beaker, and set it on a shelf -- to wait.  And the weeks passed by - and the months - and the years - and about 15 years after this experiment had been set up, it became clear that he was right - the pitch was slowly, very slowly, flowing from the funnel into the beaker - approximately one drop every 10 to 15 years.