September 22, 2015 Sermon Kol Nidrei Th[...]

“The Meaning of Life”
Kol Nidrei 5776. B’nei Israel 2015
Rabbi Dario Feiguin
Yom Kippur is the day when we have no choice but to face the tremendous Mystery of
our Existence. From the first notes of the melody that transports us through Time, we
feel the material clock stop and we walk through a pathway from another dimension. In
just a few moments, we span births and deaths, life crises and moments of Beauty and
We traverse our own Lives, but we go much further, to our roots and to our destiny.
That transcending of the ego is, perhaps, the key towards Meaning.
As Abraham Joshua Heschel would say, “The relationship between the state of being
and the state of meaning becomes visible.” This means that Life is assessed based on
what meaning we can find.
What gives us meaning? Where does true happiness lie? It does not stem from
fleeting and momentary achievements. It is not in the goals we have completed through
rational planning, after which we go back to feeling naked and empty. It is not in our
conquests in space, things, or objects.
It would seem that long-lasting
accomplishments are those that transcend our own being. Those are the goals that
When poverty brings hunger and shortages, only then do we discover how important
some things are, such as the value of work and how it dignifies Life. But there is
another kind of poverty, one in which our refrigerator and pantry are full. Could it be
that in our conscience, things are a little bit over-estimated?
We do not get meaning from fleeting joys either, however necessary and essential they
are. Life is too short and too full of anguish and suffering as to not enjoy the little things
it gives us every day. How good it is to be able to laugh, play, sing, dance, and have
fun! But, is that enough to find meaning for our existence?
During Rosh Hashanah, with the inspiration provided by the work of some of the most
distinguished modern Jewish philosophers, we get closer to the source of this question.
Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and even Najman Krojmal, they all
have something in common: they highlight the individual and his relationship with
It would seem that what gives meaning to our Lives is that which goes beyond
ourselves and our selfishness and somehow reaches and touches someone else.
The New Age idolatry was believing that the meaning of Life would appear and develop
within oneself. And this mistake led us from hedonism to a selfish individualism, leaving
us devoid of meaning thinking we were the center of the World.
Heschel would say otherwise, “The fact that Man is not enough within himself is very
significant; that Life lacks meaning for him, unless it is valuable to someone else; unless
it serves an end that transcends.”
The spiritual onanism is a modern game that places us in front of the abyss of
loneliness. One must love oneself, says the Shema Israel, but to be able to love others
and G-d.
According to Heschel, Life will have meaning for me if I am valuable to others, if I am
valued by others, if I am indispensable for others. From the other, meaning will come to
This begins with the idea of being valuable to society and making your Life leave a mark
on this World. There is a reward in the work of Tikun Olam, which comes back to us in
the shape of meaning. This happens to those who open their hearts and are able to
Many times, most times I would say, one is not left with less by giving. Most times, one
is left with more.
This is possible when we decode the word “society” and we see real people instead of
abstract concepts. People who feel, who are hungry or cold, who suffer, and who
somewhere and in spite of everything, dare to dream.
Our Teshuvah will be a turning point and an answer closer to the Meaning, if we decide
to be valuable to others.
We must also decode the word “Judaism”. Judaism has to be more than an intangible
concept, product of being born from a Jewish womb or trapped in a formal decision of
an almost noble title, many times with little substance.
Being Jewish should be living as a Jew and helping others do the same. This is also
the mission of a Jewish Community: Generating Jewish Life and guaranteeing
“Hemshech”, Continuity, where each person can feel valuable, should he or she decide
to be part of this construction.
Understanding that the meaning of Life is beyond oneself; mainly, it is being valuable to
our loved ones. If there are basic apologies we have still not said in these days before
Yom Kippur, they are likely related with not having said “I love you”, “I need you”, “You
are important to me”, enough for it to be felt.
We will do so tomorrow with our dead at the time of Yizkor; even though the way they
can hear us from the beyond is a Mystery.
This gives us even more reason, in the here and now, to hold those we love and that
are near us, and tell them how precious and necessary they are to us. That is where
we gamble for lasting happiness. That is where we discover the drama of the meaning
of existence.
Heschel asks, “What is long-lasting in our own Lives? What remains as a constant
throughout every change? The body flourishes and withers. Every passion ends up
lost in the river of oblivion. At the threshold of death, when Man looks back, what does
he consider long-lasting of everything that passed and happened?”
Maybe the only thing that lasts is love. Nothing more and nothing less.
When we close our eyes and recite the Shema, proclaiming our faith, we read the text
that orders us to love G-d “bekhol levavkha” = with all our heart, “uvekhol nafshekha” =
with all our soul and being, we add “uvekhol meodekha” = with all our “meod”. “Meod”
in Hebrew means much, very, abundance. What does the text mean when it asks us to
love with all of these?
Perhaps, that living means precisely that: to love and dedicate ourselves fully, giving
everything, and in spite of everything.
Perhaps it means daring to put ourselves out there, for love, for an ideal, for a worthy
Because not putting ourselves out there also constitutes a risk: the risks of having Life
pass us by without anybody caring, not even ourselves.
It is the risk of playing halfway and getting stuck in the middle, without “covering the
center” and paying the consequences of choosing not to decide.
Today, we have no choice but to face our own Existence.
May the tears and emotion of the Kol Nidrei help us to embrace the risk of giving it all, of
putting our heart and soul into everything we do.
May we not be invisible like cellophane, but valuable and necessary to others, and in
turn, may we feel encouraged to recognize how valuable and necessary others are to
May we find some meaning and recover faith and hope.
May we be blessed with a year of health, work, love, and Shalom!
Translated by Tamara Baum