Drawing on a fascinating social experiment, this sermon addresses the plague of self-doubt. Many of us undervalue ourselves. We are blind to our soul’s splendor and don’t see ourselves as we really are. But G-d, who is our beloved, does. Today we are meant to look harder at ourselves and to recognize the holiness that each of us carries within us.
An otherwise deeply enigmatic Yom Kippur prayer turns out to reveal a profound truth that strikes a chord in the depths of our hearts, because it tells us that our real “self,” our true identity, is not dark and evil, but actually pure and sacred. Inside our heart burns a sacred fire, which is why we stand before G-d and say: despite all our sins - which we are embarrassed by and regret - You can see that precious kernel of holiness, love, and kindness, which lies within each of us. There is greatness worth redeeming.
With this message of possibility and hope, we gain a deeper understanding of a celebrated biblical tale, one that tells us the majestic truth about the Jewish soul. Even if we have run away from G-d, the soul never runs away. We can always begin anew. No Jew, no matter their belief or disbelief, no matter how alienated they have become from the Jewish people, can ever be written off.
The sermon contains a good share of stories and anecdotes, including: Sir Arthur Doyle (creator of the famed Sherlock Holmes) and his revealing practical joke; the moving tale of the proud Jew in the non-Jewish cemetery and the emotional story of a shul under the nose of the SS.
We conclude with a powerful call to carry on the chain of our past. As we gather on the holiest night of the year, we witness the miracle of Judaism as it continues to flourish in the world today. Now all of Jewish history rests upon our shoulders. It is as if a hundred generations of our ancestors were whispering to us that same question: “Who are you?”
Let us remember who we are. Let’s live the life of our true identity, of compassion, of justice, of the inner spirit that each of us has received as a gift from G-d: the Undefeated Soul!