A shofar, an ancient musical horn, is usually blown on Rosh Hashanah as part of ceremonies welcoming the Jewish new year. 

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A few years ago I challenged myself to write a sermon in 18 sentences for Rosh Hashanah, one of the Jewish High Holy Days. For readers unfamiliar with them, the High Holy Days consist of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. I chose the number 18 because in the Jewish tradition it is associated with the both the Hebrew word for life (chai) and sin (chet), through a form of numerology called gematria.

During these holidays Jews celebrate the annual renewal of life (Rosh Hashanah) and reflect on our personal and communal sins (Yom Kippur).

What follows is my eighteen sentence sermon.

1) In the Torah it is written: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse: Choose life! (Deut. 30:19)

2) Each of us is uniquely gifted with a life of indeterminate length.

3) Each of us is empowered with the ability to make choices about how we live our lives.

4) In the words of Tom Robbins, one of my favorite writers: The word that allows yes, the word that makes no possible; the word that puts the free in freedom and takes the obligation out of love; the word that throws a window open after the final door is closed; the word upon which all adventure, all exhilaration, all meaning, all honor depends ... in the beginning was the word and that word was Choice.

5) The Days of Awe are a gift from our ancestors, which we may choose to receive, or not.

6) They wisely or perhaps by accident created an annual experience replete with rituals through which we are invited to examine the choices we made during the past year, and the ones we didn’t make — good or for bad.

7) Too often we permit ourselves to remain stuck in little soul numbing cycles of hopelessness and despair.

8) We too easily forget that we have the power to make choices in our lives so that as the Torah exhorts us to do, we may “choose life” over a spiritual death.

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9) Nothing but our failure of imagination and fear keeps us from making life affirming choices.

10) For reasons I don’t understand it seems that despite being offered the gift of choice we too often prefer to not accept it.

11) Instead we live our lives as if our fate was predetermined and is unalterable.

12) But nothing could be further from the truth.

13) This is the essential lesson of the season.

14) The power to choose to make meaningful changes in our life is but a slight turn in a new direction.

15) If the way you are looking at your world does not fill you with joy and meaning then turn and look at it in new way.

16) Life is short.

17) Do not let it slip away.

18) Choose wisely, choose boldly, choose life.

P.S.: Congregation Beth El is collecting medical supplies, e.g. band-aids, tape, gauze, etc., feminine hygiene products, packages of new children underwear, including t-shirts, and personal cleaning products to be shipped to Haiti to assist in people in the slow recovery from the recent earthquake. If you would like to contribute items please drop them off on our porch at 107 Adams Street.

Howard A. Cohen is Rabbi Emeritus at Congregation Beth El in Bennington. 


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