High Holy Day Sermons


Rabbi Mark Joel Mahler




Cemetery Meditation

I begin with a question. As you were coming here this morning, did the thought of happiness cross your mind?

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Rosh HaShana

Alice and I had been dating all of two weeks. Young and newly in love, we were sharing our hopes and dreams for the future when Alice said to me, “I can hardly wait to be a grandmother and have big flabby arms like my grandmothers had.” For me at age twenty-five, the vision of a grandmother’s big flabby arms did not exactly entice me. As for my being a grandfather, it stirred only vague images in my mind. Where grandfathers comprise beautiful chapters in so many people’s biographies, grandfathers were all but a blank page in mine. One of my grandfathers died when I was six and the other died when my father was four.

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Kol Nidrei

A habit among countless public speakers before they begin their presentation is to take off their watch and place it on the lectern to keep track of time. Fortunately for me, I never had to develop this habit because every time I begin a sermon here at Temple, especially a High Holy Day sermon, I see people glance at their watches to keep time for me.

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Yom Kippur

The Talmud tells the tale of Choni the Circle Maker in Tractate Ta’anit. Ta’anit deals with Jewish fast days, six all told, Yom Kippur foremost of all. Additional fast days and prayers were invoked in the event of drought. In the Middle East, then and now, the prospect of drought is as fearsome as the prospect of hurricanes here. The tale of Choni the Circle Maker begins in the midst of a drought.

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Yizkor Meditation

Last February, Ana Swanson, a reporter for The Washington Post wrote an article entitled “What people around the world mean when they say that they’re happy.” The article begins with the account of an 86-year-old Chinese woman who has purchased all the articles of clothing she wishes to be buried in, from shirt and pants to purse and earrings. The woman actually bought this funeral garb ten years ago. Not only is she perfectly healthy today, but she is also perfectly happy that all these details are in preparation for her death.

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