Praying Bold Prayers - Yizkor

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This speech explores the question that confronts us on Yom Kippur: How shall we define our own ambitions in the year to come? How shall we pray? How large do we dream?  We often don’t realize that the boldness of our prayers and the breadth of our vision, actually determine the quality of our life, our success, and the impact we have on the world.

That is why our High Holiday prayers ask each of us to think big: They are about seeking knowledge and wisdom, not just a new Tesla, a glamorous vacation, or expensive clothes. The High Holiday prayers remind us to return to G-d when, as happens so often, we drift away, carried by the tides of daily pressures and cares. They teach us to seek spiritual strength, as well as physical health, and to seek the best not just for ourselves but also for our people and, ultimately, for all humanity. They drive us to grow, to reach beyond our present limitations, to stand on spiritual tiptoes, to expand our horizons.

Today we think too of our responsibilities to our children. What are our goals and vision for them? That they succeed, that they get good grades and achieve success and wealth and status? That is all good and well, but we all know there are higher, more important aspirations — ones that will give our children the greatest gift of all: empowerment to live bold and meaningful Jewish lives! The ability to overcome challenges and fears. The ability to exercise empathy and kindness. The ability to learn Torah, daven and do mitzvot. The ability to be truly happy human beings — ones that create, and contribute, and give back to humanity. Are we asking for little things for our children, or are we asking like Jewish royalty? Our future demands nothing less.

The speech begins with a seemingly inexplicable Midrash on one of the most famous and moving verses of Tanach. We learn about a Biblical hero who buffeted by strife, hunger and homelessness, did not become jaded, who did not become a spiritual cynic, and instead remained elevated and bold even in the face of prolonged, gnawing challenges. He maintained a yearning for horizons far beyond the petty daily ambitions that plague us all.

We continue with another Biblical prophet who asked for big things because he believed in a big G-d who blesses us in a big way. And guess what? He got his request! Why? Because he wasn’t asking for himself. He asked because he wanted to serve his people, to help others. He wanted to amplify and magnify the good he could do for the world.

We share the remarkable story of the man who reinvented himself after speaking with the Rebbe and the uncanny “coincidences” that helped him reach his goal.

We hear the story of the mystic who was able to hear the song of a small creature amidst the din of busy metropolis and who demonstrated how the right sound, no matter how low, can rise above the din. It all depends on what we’re listening for. Our frequency determines our focus.

The speech is peppered with anecdotes and aphorisms, including:  

  • An interesting tidbit about Beethoven serves as a brilliant moshol from what we achieve with prayer.
  • A witty comment by Elie Wiesel underscores the Jewish ability to dream big.  

There is so much that cries out for improvement in the world, and so much that needs mending in each of us. We must attack these fractures courageously. So pray bold prayers, be fearless in what you ask for, and trust that when you ask, the resources will be there.

Friends, in a few moments we will recite Yizkor, during which the souls of our beloved parents and grandparents will join us in this room.  

No greater tribute can be paid to those loved ones whom we memorialize on Yom Kippur than our prayer and our resolve and our determination that Judaism will never perish, that Torah will never die, that the vision and long, golden chain of the Jewish tradition, of which we are the latest link, will not come to an end with us. This year, and this moment, is a new beginning.  The greatest Yizkor of all, the kind of remembering that builds the future, is to pray bold prayers, to dream big Jewish dreams.

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