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On Yom Kippur this year, Rabbi Matthew Soffer of Temple Israel of Boston taught the meaning of Yom Kippur, the holiday where penance is said for errors of the previous year. His sermon, “Apology: The Conjunction of Yom Kippur,” gives an explanation. Some words have been altered to avoid the first or second person. This sermon is broken into four parts, to ease readability.
Rabbi Soffer begins by telling a story of a man who lay sprawled across three entire seats in a fancy theater. When the usher came by and noticed this, he whispered to the man, “Sorry, sir, but you are only allowed one seat.”
The man groaned but did not move. The usher started to lose his patience. “Sir, you need to get up or I will be forced to get the manager.”
Again, the man just grunted, which maddened the usher, who left and walked briskly up the aisle to grab a manager. Within a few moments both the usher and the manager were standing over the man.
Together the two of them tried repeatedly to move him, but with no success. Finally, they summoned the police.
The cop examined the situation momentarily and then asked, “All right buddy, what is your name?”
“Sam,” the man moaned.
“Where ya from, Sam?”
With pain in his voice Sam replied, “the upper balcony.”
OOPS. Welcome to Yom Kippur. This is the day when congregants see themselves as every character in this story.
Each person may be both the usher and manager. No one is exempt from making harsh assumptions about what is going on in others’ lives – why other people are slow, or different, quiet, or angry. Rather, people instinctively take quick guesses and jump to conclusions. They may say “that guy is nasty, she is so annoying, that rabbi is the worst…”
Each person can be seen in Sam. Everyone is here with some kinds of problems, some brokenness. Everyone has “stuff” that others might not understand—sometimes not even family and friends.
It could be a disability, or mental health struggles, which are really hard to put words to. It might be a mistake that the person is just trying to get rid of, that is weighing them down—or that threw them down from the top balcony.
The good news is that each person is also the Officer. What does the officer do that makes him special in this story? He asks a question! “What is going on, Sam? Where are you coming from?” On Yom Kippur, people come from a lot of places, and ask a lot of tough questions.
BUT… The story is missing something. It does not have a Yom Kippur ending. It speaks of how nasty people can be to each other.
BUT… On Yom Kippur people do more than that. People actually apologize.
At this point, the Rabbi asked congregants to raise their hands if they thought that Sam deserved an apology. A large number did and he said he was glad everyone was “on the same page.”
Rabbi Soffer revealed that in college he studied English. He said that the most boring and the most important subject that he learned about was grammar.
He continued that on this Yom Kippur, the congregation has a grammar problem. He said that it sounds like this:
(one word at a time)
The sermon will be continued in Rabbi Teaches Meaning of Yom Kippur Without the but (Part 2 of 4).
Sermon by Rabbi Matthew Soffer
As relayed by Fern Remedi-Brown
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