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Light is Sown for the Righteous (Kol Nidre Night 5780 – 10/08/19)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Light is Sown for the Righteous
As our past and current synagogue presidents begin the service with the Torah processional, the Cantor chants this tune:
אוֹר זָרֻעַ לַצַּדִּיק וּלְיִשְׁרֵי לֵב שִׂמְחה
Ohr Zarua LaTzaddik, U’leYishrei Leiv Simchah
Light is sown for the righteous (the Tzaddik), joy for the upright in heart.
These are beautiful, elegant words, and the melody is delicate and a little eerie, but why start Yom Kippur with this song in particular?
What’s its relevance to a day that focuses on forgiveness and renewal?
In fact, what’s all this babble about “Light is sown for the ’Tzaddik,”
the righteous person? Are there really any righteous people about nowadays?
I mean just the other day, I was in the sauna at the Y, when one of the more prominent rabbis in our area comes in.
He’s got a big congregation and a large following. Some people consider him a Tzaddik, a righteous person. Some even say he’s divinely inspired and can read minds.
So I ask him, R’ So and So, what’s the difference between you and me? We both studied a lot of Torah, we both have been rabbis for over two decades. Why do people say you’re so righteous, and can you really read minds?
If so, tell me what I’m thinking right night now.
So he takes a moment to contemplate and tells me that right now I’m thinking exactly what he is thinking, that we’re both pondering the greatness of G-d, and of how we’re basking in G-d’s unconditional love.
I tell him, “Ha you’re wrong, that’s not what I’m thinking!”
I knew he was a phony! And they call him the Tzaddik!
So why do we begin the service the service talking about the righteous and upright in heart? I’ll get back to that, but for now, I’d like to change the topic.
I think we’re all cognizant of an increase in antisemitism in America. Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and Poway are just a few of the more egregious incidents that we can name.
But I wonder, is this representative of a new wave of antisemitism, an increase in more people feeling anti-Jewish, or just a part of the increase in gun and racial violence in general in our country?
As many of you know, on January 11th of 2012, two anti-Semitic, anarchist teens threw Molotov cocktails into my bedroom window at about four in the morning, for my family lived on the second floor of the old wooden synagogue in Rutherford, NJ. It seemed they were targeting me directly, but it could have been that they were just trying to set the synagogue on fire.
Thankfully, no one was badly injured and we were able to squelch the fires quickly. Nonetheless, it was a shock to me and my family to be the target of such virile hatred. I thought we fled the flames of rabid antisemitism when we left Europe after the war, but here it was following me, us, again.
However, immediately after the attack I received overflowing amounts of love and support from all across the country. Phone calls, requests for vigils, random donations, gifts of food, written letters, emails from all over the world, and most touching, hand-drawn cards from children at Christian and Jewish parochial schools.
All of them were saying basically one message: “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
I then came to the conclusion that the attackers were just extremists, not representatives of our country. If a nation is composed of millions of people, even if one percent are sick or are haters, they can do damage.
After all the love and support I and my congregation received, I felt that these people were the exception, not the rule.
Likewise, think about what we’ve seen recently in our area.
The Y gets a prank call from a lunatic halfway across the world, and we have a major vigil where hundreds of people show up in the freezing cold from all religions and ethnicities.
A synagogue in Pittsburgh gets attacked and vigils and interfaith gatherings sprout up all over the country. In this building, nearly 3000 people of all faiths and backgrounds came to show sympathy and solidarity with America’s Jewish community.
So who’s representative of our country, the minuscule number of haters, or the masses of supporters? I go with the masses.
Anti-Semitic acts are increasing across the country, but so are acts of violence against Muslims, Latinos, and Gays. Maybe what we’re experiencing is not an across the board increase in antisemitism, rather an increase in the entitlement of the haters to express their hatred.
I’d like you to consider…that perhaps the opposite is true, that there might now be more supporters of Jews in America than ever before. It’s a development some have called Pro-Semitism.
In 2007, Mark Penn wrote a book titled “Microtrends.” He has a chapter there call Pro-Semites.
He says, “Today in America, Jew loving is a bit of a craze. Jews are in demand everywhere. Whatever in the past seemed to trigger envy or rejection of Jews now seems to be triggering admiration and attraction.”
He writes:
“It used to be the Jews who often sought out relationships outside their faith, hiding their religion in the process. But now there is growing evidence that the opposite trend is happening: non-Jews are seeking out Jews.”
Some of you might be aware of this.
“Jewish women, long stereotyped as making reservations for dinner (his words, not mine), are now highly sought-after, looked up to by a new generation. It may be because Jewish women are at the forefront of the professional revolution of the last several decades, racking up unparalleled rates of college graduation, graduate degrees, and high-power jobs.
Sounds like my wife!
68% of Jewish women age 25 to 44 have a college degree, by far the highest percentage of any religious group in America.”
“In today’s service-oriented, education-based economy, lifestyles that were once seen as out of the mainstream are now highly popular. So Jewish spouses of both sexes are right in the sites of people looking for successful well-educated mates.
In fact, again in 2007 numbers, according to J-Date, nearly 11% of its members were non-Jewish. That means that something like 67,000 non-Jews worldwide, and nearly 40,000 non-Jewish Americans are paying monthly fees for the privilege of proactively seeking out dateable, marriageable Jews.
Just the opposite was true not so long ago.
In 1939, a Roper poll found that only 39% of Americans felt that Jews should be treated like other people.
53% believed that Jews are different and should be restricted.
10% actually believed that Jews should be deported.
In the 1940s, several national surveys found that Jews were considered a greater threat to the welfare of the United States than any other national, religious, or racial group.
Compare that to the Gallup poll taken in August of 2006. When Americans were asked how they feel about people of different religious or spiritual groups in the United States, Jews rated the highest of any group in America, with a net positive 54%.
No one, not Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Evangelical Christians, fundamental Christians, Mormons, Muslims, atheists and Scientologists scored higher in the view of Americans nationwide.
Just ask Madonna, of all the New Age and Eastern spiritualities that she could have gravitated towards, she chose classical Judaism’s, Kabbalah. In fact, during her 2004 Reinvention tour, she apparently refused to drink anything but “Kabbalah water” and she wouldn’t perform on Friday nights out of respect for the Jewish Sabbath.
Many of you have heard of Matisyahu. He is no longer a Lubavitcher Chasid, but he became famous when he was. This Jewish reggae artist used to wear his long coat, yarmulka, and tzitzis in concert. He’d rap about the power of God to lift us up, and exclaim “we want Moshiach now.” His overt Jewishness didn’t stop his second CD from reaching number 2 on the Billboard charts.”
That was 2007, what about today?
Well, today the president’s beloved daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared, are Jewish, and while the press has rarely something good to say about them, I’ve never heard any anti-Semitic remarks about them.
It’s well known that Bernie Sanders is Jewish, so much so that if you tied his hands up, he wouldn’t be able to speak, and yet, no one makes this an issue in his campaign either.
That Gallup poll about religion in 2006 was repeated by the Pew Research Center earlier this year.
Again, it was revealed that Americans are continuing to admire Jews more than any other religious group in the country.
In the study, “What Americans Know About Religion,” nearly 11,000 respondents were asked to rank religious groups on a “feelings thermometer” (zero is coldest, 100 is warmest). Jews topped nine religious groups at 63 degrees; Catholics and mainline Protestants followed at 60; Buddhists, 57; Evangelicals, 56; with atheists and Muslims bundling up at 49.
These were just the average numbers. But from those Americans who actually knew Jews, the warmness rose to 70, again the highest number in the survey.
What’s behind this admiration?
Is it our dedication to and reverence for education, and the side benefits thereof?
Is it our famed commitment to social justice and Tikkun Olam, helping repair the world?
Is it that Israel is now an esteemed peer nation in the world, respected for its military strength, intelligence agency, and its leadership in the high tech and medical fields?
In his farewell address, Moses tells us (Deuteronomy 4)
5. Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord, my God, commanded me, to do so in the midst of the land to which you are coming to possess.
Certainly, this refers to Israel, but could it not mean any country where we end up living?
6. And you shall keep [them] and do [them], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the gentiles, who will hear all these statutes and say, “What a wise and intelligent nation are these great people. “
Perhaps now, after 2000 years of the diaspora living, we’re finally being appreciated for being a wise and intelligent people.
Penn actually polled Pro-Semites. He says the number one reason they gave for desiring a Jewish spouse was a sense of strong values, with nearly a third also admitting they drawn to money, looks (I can’t blame them!) or a sense that Jews “treat their spouses better” (I’m feeling 50/50 on that one!).
When we made our initial covenant with G-d, it was an agreement to play a special role in the earth (Exodus Chapter 19)
3. Moses ascended to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the Children of Israel,
4: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and [how] I bore you on eagles’ wings, and I brought you to Me.
5: And now, if you listen to Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth.
6: And you shall be to Me a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
“A nation of Priests, and a Holy nation” – מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּֽהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ
Priests serve the populace; we’re meant to be a Holy nation, a distinguished people that will teach and serve as a role model for the nations.
Maybe now, after 3000 years of peoplehood, we’re finally achieving what we were meant to globally.
We’re acting as leaders and role models in many fields and are finally being appreciated for who we are.
אוֹר זָרֻעַ לַצַּדִּיק וּלְיִשְׁרֵי לֵב שִׂמְחה
Light is sown for the righteous, joy for the upright in heart.
Who’s the righteous and upright in heart?
We are!
Think about it, even if you’re the Jew that only goes to synagogue 2 or 3 times a year, you go when it’s a time of introspection, purification, and spiritual renewal.
You take a day from your vacation time to pray in a synagogue all day and fast.
Do you not think this makes a positive impression on your coworkers and friends?
Anti-Semitic acts have increased in our country, but unfortunately so have acts of Islamophobia, homophobia, and latinophobia (I checked, it’s a new real word).
On the other hand, pro-Semitsim has developed and grown as well.
As far as we can tell, pro-Semites outnumber the anti-Semites by great orders of magnitude.
אוֹר זָרֻעַ לַצַּדִּיק וּלְיִשְׁרֵי לֵב שִׂמְחה
Light is sown for the righteous, joy for the upright in heart.
Enter this day knowing that you are part of this Righteous, Wise and Intelligent People, that we are making our mark and making a difference in the world.
May today’s prayers help us to bolster our relationship with our Creator.
Maybe that Rabbi is right, perhaps we should imagine ourselves being surrounded by G-d’s unconditional love, and may the day inspire us to continue to do our work acting upon our strong values and improving the world.
Shana Tova

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