(The following is an excerption of a sermon delivered on Sept. 27 at the Yom Kippur service at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall.)

I am a Rabbi only in the technical sense. I am a teacher here at Georgetown, in my 27th year on the faculty. I do not pretend to enjoy a true Rabbi’s grasp of Judaism. It is, however, my distinct honor to have been asked by Rabbi Harold White to speak with you today.

Just the other day, a very thoughtful and conscientious student of mine came to my office to talk about some aspects of her psychology major, but the conversation moved on to recent events. She allowed that she is now more terrified than ever to take a commercial airline flight, that her father, whom I know and respect deeply, had told her that “life will never be the same again” after the tragedy in New York. Well – what does one say? What can one say?

So I commented that, yes, in some ways life will never be the same again, but in other ways it will be as it has ever been. We will rise in the morning, go about our business whatever that may be, we will love and cherish our children, our parents, our spouses, our friends. We will plan for the future and reminisce nostalgically about the past, we will try to find meaning and purpose in our lives and lend a helping hand to those in need. We will mourn, yes, but we will also dance. We will weep and we will also laugh and sing and pray, and we will work to make tomorrow better than today. Indeed, on the other hand, as many students have commented over the years and as I myself experienced as a student, there are courses which change our lives, lectures which change our lives, all for the better. So, as a result of whatever new ideas or concepts we learn today, or as a result of our repentance or new-found forms of charity, life will never be the same as it was before. But not being the same is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, in so many cases, it is more than a good thing … it is a blessing.

One aspect of Judaic thought which has always touched me is the sense of balance which is included throughout our celebrations and observances. We hear it clearly in Ecclesiates:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven … a time to be born, a time to die … a time to kill and a time to heal … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

What we learn in and from our prayers and supplications, and in and from Jewish history must of course be applied to everyday life in order for us to live rather than merely to exist. In light of the unspeakable horror of a month ago, there is much to be absorbed and much work to do as we try to come to grips with what has happened and what continues to happen.

An old friend of mine, in reacting to the tragedy in N.Y., asked, “where was G-d?” And so, this spurred me to think – of course G-d was and is here, but He does not control events here on Earth. Rather, He has given us free will, and so even to His infinite sadness, which we as human beings cannot even begin to fathom, we are free to do harm to each other – to others of His children. Yes, we are free – free to lose ourselves in grief, free to ignore the occasion for grieving, free to do justice, free to become our own worst enemies in the pursuit of that justice. Indeed we are free to lose ourselves in worry about what may or may not be possible in our lives.

An old man, on his deathbed, said to a friend of mine about much of his life, “I worried needlessly.”

So, we are free to become prisoners of worry, to let the joy of life pass us by as a result of experiencing the sides of life which are uncertain, offensive, disturbing, hurtful, grief provoking, numbing. Yet, we are also free to understand that overarching worry never helped anyone, that life is to be lived to its fullest in order that we might honor the gift that G-d has given us by granting us life. We are free to reach out to others with a hand of compassion, of help, and of friendship despite our losses and grief. We are free to dance and sing and laugh, for no one who loves us or who has loved us would want our days and years to be diminished in his or her name. And most certainly, if I may be so bold as to say so, G-d would not want us to miss out on the joy of the life He has given us by our becoming afraid to live and love fully.

And so, on this most Holy day, a day on which we reflect yet again on the past year, we also wipe the slate clean, and pray for renewal so that we may go on to live fully and sweetly and gratefully, all the while remembering what was captured in the last words of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, that, “…here on Earth, G-d’s work must truly be our own.”

Chatimah Tovah – may each of us be written and sealed in the book of life.

Steven Sabat is an associate professor in the Psychology Department of Georgetown Univeristy.

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