Rosh Hashanah 5764 / 2003 First day, September 27, 2003 It Is Never Too Late RABBI MOSHE P. WEISBLUM
There is a well-known story about the famous Talmudical sage, by the name of Hillel, which I would like to share with you this morning.
It is the story of Hillel and Shamai, great Post - biblical scholars, who lived during in the era of the Talmud - 2nd Century C.E.
Shamai, on one hand, was well known as a very stringent teacher. Hillel, however, was known to be lenient. Both of them taught many thousands of disciples. The story goes that once an uneducated elderly man came to Shami, and said, "Teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one leg." Meaning, teach me the Torah, so that I shall get the knowledge without hard work and without years of study and dedication; just one, two three, automatic knowledge. Shami was quite offended, and he promptly had him thrown out of his house of study. The man then proceeded to the Academy of Hillel and asked Hillel the same question. "Rabbi Hillel," he said, "can you teach me the entire Torah, while I am standing on one leg?" Hillel looked at him, and said, "My son, it is very simple. The entire Torah is: ‘do not do to others what you would not do to yourself, the rest is commentary". This means that the essence of the whole Torah can be summed up: "love thy neighbor as thyself--it is never too late."
My dear friends, I am always trying with all my heart to deduce the feelings of each and every one of you. I know that for some of you, it is not always easy to come to the House of Worship, from 8 am to 1pm, for five hours. Some of you enjoy the services, others enjoy the English part, others like to sing together, and for sure not all of us fully understand each and every Hebrew word and phrase. But, just think about it, if Hillel were alive and standing here today with us, he would tell us that what is important is that we make the effort to come here, to pray together here, to participate with singing and sharing these feelings as one connected Israel and extended family. In doing so we already have taken the first step to be connected to G-d.
The intention and desire to be together and pray as one extended family is very important. The only part we need to add is the notion and the message that it is really never too late. It is never too late to do so many new things in our lives. We hear about people who make successful career changes and accomplish a great deal late in their lives. We need to understand that it is never too late for us to make changes for the better in our lives. It is never too late to reconcile differences and bad feelings in the family. It is never too late to make peace with spouses, siblings, parents or other relatives. It is never too late to pick up the phone and reconnect with long lost friends. It is never too late to say I’m sorry.
Hillel would tell us that we can make a u-turn with our actions and it is never too late to improve ourselves in some small way, it is never too late to go to Israel to experience our culture and see what there is to see. Hillel’s message is that it is never too late.
This uneducated man who came to Shamai and Hillel had a feeling that he was not young anymore and consequently did not have the time for the traditional training and learning and all that it entailed. So he asked for a shortcut. Every one of us should feel that it is never too late to do the right thing, because, we can never wrong when we are doing the right thing.
Today, on the Jewish New Year, let us take the opportunity to learn something new. It is never too late to make a commitment to spend five minutes to learn about ourselves, our faith and to study our roots.
I wish that every one of us receives the message of Hillel and feels good about being here. We are here today to pray together to G-d ask him to bless us with a good New Year. We have made the first step, we are here, we are praying together, listening to the words of G-d, singing together. What we need to do is just to add one new good deed, one thing in which each of us could improve, just one step at a time.
Today, the first day of Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the New Year. As we look back at the past year let us each look inwardly and reflect on areas of improvement. This is a time for reflection, a time that we should inspire each other. The past year was not an easy year. There were so many events throughout the world, so many lives were lost, so many brokenhearted people, so many people suffering, so many tears…so many problems, the War in Iraq, the Blackout, the reality of the evil of terrorism. So many families have been torn asunder, never to be the same again. The dreams, hopes and aspirations of young and old people, people of all colors, creeds and religions, have been shattered. The question that we ask ourselves is, what can we do at this time, at this moment in history.
The main commitment that we have to take upon ourselves today is the commitment to really care for each other, to conduct a personal soul search, to learn to share, to understand that we need each other, one for all and all for one. As Barbara Streisand sang in her classic song, in her farewell concert a few days ago in Madison Square Garden, "People, people, who need people, are the luckiest people in the world". You see, each of us here gives the others strength, but most importantly, each one of us has to think today that it is not too late. There is always time to be better. Let us search our souls and think about what we can do that will improve the quality of our lives and of those around us.
From my heart to your heart, from my house to your house, from my family to your family, best wishes for a happy and healthy new year. May G-d hear our prayers. As we start the new year of 5764 today. May G-d accept our prayers and grant us fulfillment of all of our wishes and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life. Amen. L’Shana Tova.