Day 1: Chasing Daylight

Welcome to 40 Days to a Better You.

I am excited about joining the journey with you. Every day you will receive a brief thought for the day with a couple of trigger questions for reflection. Each day is an opportunity to live in the moment and become a better you. For Day 1, I am sharing a revised version of Chasing Daylight, a sermon I shared on Rosh Hashanah a couple of years ago which captures the essence of our journey. Stay in touch and all the best! Rabbi Cohen

Imagine the following scenario. We receive a call from a friend who tells us he has just won four tickets to Acupulco. He and his wife would like to invite us on the trip. They will be living in the lap of luxury for four days and nights. They will live in a millionaire’s mansion on the beach. He says: I have one question? Can you be ready tomorrow at 8:45 in the morning?

Let me see the hand of those who would respond yes! Then it dawns on us that we are not sure if we can go. We have so much to do before tomorrow at 8:45 AM. We have this and that and we turn to our wives and say we are not sure we can make it. Our wives say- -wait a minute – let’s make a list of all the things we need to get done before tomorrow. How many of us think we will get more done in the next 24 hours that under normal circumstances would take three or four days?

I have one more question? How come we do not go to Aculpolco tomorrow? How come we do not go to Aculpoco every day of our lives?

Imagine if we lived in the moment every day. Imagine if we focused on goals every day, how different our lives would be.

In my mind, Rosh Hashanah provides the ultimate reminder to maximize today, be in the moment and stay focused on our life goals.

We stand today at the beginning of the Jewish new year and if I could sum up our challenge in one word it would be the word – Hayom – Today. Rosh Hashana is described as hayom harat olam – the day of the creation of the word. The final prayer repeats the word – Today – over and over again. The Torah portions of this season – the final words of Moshe before he dies – emphasize the significance of Today. See Today I place before you the opportunity for blessing and curse or life and death.

Imagine one more scenario with me – it is not about a vacation opportunity but a scenario from the middle Ages. A Jew is imprisoned and for some reason the feudal baron decides to show him some mercy. He declares: You will remain my prisoner forever but as act of kindness I will allow you one day of freedom a year. On that day you may return to your family and your community and you may freely practice your religion. Furthermore, I do not care which day you choose. But remember you only have one day a year to practice your religion. You have a day to be a Jew. Decide for yourself which day it shall be.

What a difficult choice. If the prisoner picks Passover, he will be able to observe the seder, eat Matza and drink for cups of win. If he selects Rosh Hashanah, he can hear the shofar and pray in the synagogue. Does he choose Purim to hear the book of Esther or Sukkoth to dwell in the Sukkah? How about Shabbat? Which day would you choose to be a Jew?

This story actually happened in the sixteenth century. The details were exactly as described. The prisoner could not make up his mind and turned to one of the rabbinic giants of his generation the Radbaz (the Hebrew acronym for Rabbi David ben Abi Zimra. The answer is found in his repsonse.

Which day you would choose is really a deeper question of asking which mitzvah is most important in the Jewish religion? Of course, we try to do them all but if we can only do one, which one should it be? A good case could be made for many of the holidays. But as startling as it might seem, the High Holidays or Shabbat were not his answer. The Radbaz answered; the day you must choose is the very first day available, whether Shabbat, a weekday or any holiday.” Choose the very first day. TODAY.

His decision reflects the belief that each day is endowed with the potential for infinite meaning. Each day is composed of 24 hours – each one containing 60 minutes – each moment invested with the possibility of changing your life. Therefore, choose today if you only had one day to live as a Jew.

We all know the power of one moment. Moments are as numerous as the stars in the sky and any one of them could prove to be the most significant of our lives. However, mundane a moment may appear; the miraculous may wait to be unwrapped within. Intellectually, we realize, each of us, that sometimes a moment, when we least expect it, can change our lives. Perhaps the moment comes when we meet a new person or experience the Divine in the world.

The challenge, though, is that we rarely know up front the eternal significance of a moment. We travel through time not a minute at a time but days and years at a time. Life becomes a blur. As time passes, we wonder where has the time gone? What have I accomplished?

Two obstacles stand in our way: Paul McCartney and Annie

We are caught with Paul in the past and captivated by Annie in the future.

As Paul sings, yesterday, all my troubles seems so far away, now it looks as though they are here to stay, oh I believe in yesterday.

We are held captive by mistakes of the past and do not have the courage to move forward. How many of us have not spent many moments reflecting on moments lost in regret and opportunities lost? Time spend in the past are exactly that – moments lost.

On the other hand, how many of us spend time dreaming of the future looking to a moment to come? As Annie sings, tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow; you are only a day away. Every day is focused on anticipating the future.

The moment we must seize right now is the one in front of us. It is not easy. We live in a generation with many distractions. Even when we try to be focused on the day – today – we are affected by CPA – not certified public accounting but a syndrome called CPA – Continuous Partial Attention. We pay continuous partial attention in effort not to miss anything – multitasking, blackberries, surfing the web, answering our cell – yet in the end we gain nothing.

I was privy to a conversation describing a person who was ill and one person commented to his friend – Did you know he had to have two fingers amputated? The listener responded – That is nice. A second later the listener realized he was not really focused and quickly expressed his empathy but this interchange is only one example of many in which we are not focused and living in the moment – Today.

One of the most important life lessons I ever learned was in college from my speech teacher. He spoke about the importance of compartmentalizing one’s mind. If when I am at work, my mind is at home and if when I am home, my mind is at work, I am nowhere. I will accomplish little in life.

Judaism recognizes the power of the present. Most of us recognize that we are charged by G-d with fulfilling our unique mission within the world using our G-d given talents. However, the mystics teach an idea even more extraordinary. We each have a divine destiny every moment of our lives. We are called upon to live out the destiny every moment of every day. King David writes in Psalms – Today, hearken to my voice. G-d calls upon to live in the moment and actualize the once in a lifetime opportunity we face today at this moment. We will never have this moment again!

I believe that we can turn moments missed into moments maximized. We just need to know where to look and what to anticipate. What if we could identify a moment filled with potential and endless possibilities? What if we knew that there was a moment coming when we would meet G-d in a way that would change our lives forever? How would we treat that moment? How would we identify it?

This morning, I will share with you three guideposts to insure that we are not wasting time and burning daylight. I want to inspire you to Chase the Daylight! As Erwin McManus writes, “There are few things more powerful than a life lived with passionate clarity. Every moment is waiting to be seized by those who are chasing daylight.”

How do lead lives with a blazing urgency and harness every moment? We experience the potential within each moment by looking for Peak Moments, Moments of Truth and Defining Moments.

What is a peak moment? A Peak moment enables us to experience the Divine within us and within the world. These moments occur all the time but we often do not choose to recognize them.

Imagine for moment a beggar who has been sitting on the side of the road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walks by. “Spare some change’ mumbled the beggar mechanically holding out his tattered baseball cap. I have nothing to give you said the stranger. Then he asked – what are you sitting on? “nothing” replied the beggar. Just an old box, I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember. “Never looked inside,” said the stranger. No, what’s the point? “Look inside” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.

Today – I am the stranger who has nothing to give you but asks you to look inside. Not inside the box, any box as in the parable, but inside you.

Abraham Maslow the noted psychologist, called these moments – peak experiences. We can experience them not only once or twice a year but every day and every moment… if we put in the effort.

We experience them all the time – every morning when the sky is ablaze with orange yellow rays; at a sunset when the splendor of the moment so dazzles us that our minds give pause and take us to a higher reality. In fact, these are not simply peak experiences but peek moments with an “ee” when we peek into the Divine in the world and glimpse the eternal.

In truth, G-d’s presence is everywhere but is so well disguised that often we miss it completely. In fact, as Eckahrt Tolle write in the Power of Now, ‘if you know where to look, you will find it everywhere. A portal opens up every moment.” I sensed this idea in this morning’s Torah reading.

In the reading, we learn about Hagar and Ishmael who are sent out of Abraham’s home and find themselves in the desert without any food or drink. The Torah records that Hagar began to beseech G-d for mercy for her child and lo and behold she opens open her eyes and miraculously she sees a well of water in the middle of the barren plain. Pay careful attention to the choice of words. The usual word for open is Vayiftach – and she opened but rather in this case the Torah records – Vayifkach. She gained wisdom and understanding. The Torah is teaching a profound idea. The well did not appear out of nowhere miraculously. The well was always there. The water was always there. G-d’s presence was imminent. However, she could not see it. It remained hidden from her. Until a moment of insight when she realizes the blessing right in front of her very eyes.

When I read this passage in the Torah it resonated deeply within me. How many times do we ignore the blessings in front of our eyes – our spouses, children, families, and the world simply because we are not in the moment?

When we are able to discover and feel G-d’s presence in the moment, we soar!

Every day we also experience Moments of Truth. A moment of truth occurs when we make the choice to do what is right. While moments are the context in which we live, the choices we make chart the course and the destination. The most spiritual activity we will engage in today is making choices. Our choices either move us towards G-d and mankind or move us away.

I often think of these moments in the context of the decisions we make that influence our relationship with others. One of the tragedies of wasting G-d given opportunities is that we are never aware of the breadth and influence of our decisions.

A couple of days ago, I shared an article with our ushers entitled “Moments of Truth”. Jan Carlzon, writes “We have 50,000 moments of truth every day.” He defined a moment of truth as an episode in which a customer comes in contact with any aspect of an organization and gets an impression of the quality of service. A moment of truth could be a phone call to the office, a greeting when welcoming someone to shul, or the timeliness of a response to a person in need. A moment of truth can happen at any time.

A moment of truth occurs when we seize a Divine moment to do G-d’s will. We never know at the outset of this act exactly how G-d plans to work through us an instrument of his plan. I would like to share story of a Moment of Truth which inspired me this past summer.

The vignette is about Francis Kobletz and Odessa Ampson. Francis passed away this past summer and I had the privilege of officiating at her funeral. Unfortunately, she had no living family and no financial resources. Odessa was her care giver and was in charge of arranging for her funeral. The funeral consisted of me, Odessa and her daughter.

I learned soon after the funeral that Francis had exhausted her personal funds to pay Odessa so Odessa decided to work an extra job in the evenings so he could earn more money to hire people to serve as care givers for Francis.

Here was a woman who had every excuse to abandon Francis. Odessa herself was not a wealthy woman and needed her own salary but rather than complain about the past – how Francis could have saved more money or had better insurance or live in the future and worry about her financial situation, she seized the moment and live for the day. She understood how to harness a moment of truth and Divine opportunity to make the world a better and brighter place for Frances Koblenz. Her kindness will endure forever. She transformed a trivial moment into a timeless monument for all eternity.

Finally, every day also offers us the possibility of Defining Moments in our lives. Some choices change our lives forever. Some choices can transform the destiny of the Jewish people. Most of us have a handful of fix or six defining moments which changed the trajectory of our lives.

For me, two defining moments were marrying Diane and choosing to remain in Israel during the Gulf War. Another defining moment occurred as a child when I remember vividly holding my father’s hand as he guided me through an alley in Atlanta on our way to a rally for Soviet Jewry. Perhaps for this reason, I feel so passionately about the need to take my children to rallies for Israel. What is ironic is that at the moment when my father held my hand, neither of us realized the impact that night would have on me and my children. Defining moments carry the momentum of the past and fuel the momentum of the future.

This coming year, 5772, contains the possibility of many defining moments on a person and communal level. As a Jewish people, we are faced with Defining moments for Israel. The greatest threat facing the State of Israel today and the world is the looming prospect of Iran possessing nuclear weapons. We are at a pivotal moment in history.

I recently googled the following four words “time, running, out, Iran” and over 5 million results were found. Nobody in the western world questions Iran intentions and Iran themselves speak truthfully about their desires to destroy Israel and yet the world waits and waits. This is our defining moment. It is a moment when we can instigate an atomic reaction and become a Human catalyst to partner with G-d in transforming the destiny of the Jewish people.

Nachmanidies teaches that G-d only guaranteed the existence of the Jewish people and not the land of Israel. The endurance of Israel relies on G-d and us – as partners.

This year, let us not burn daylight but have the courage to chase the daylight. We can experience Peak Moments, Moments of Truth and Defining Moments every day. We are called upon not merely to exist but to live every day to its utmost potential. We are designed by G-d to fulfill a great mission every day.

The Sages teach in Ethics of our Fathers – Im Lo Achshav Eimatay – If not now, when? May we recognize and seize the moments of transcendence today and in this merit be blessed with a year of health, growth and peace of our families, communities and the Jewish people.

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