The Lost City – Rosh Hashana 5776
My granddaughter Leah, who is now 1 11/12ths, loves a TV show called Dora the Explorer, which is an upbeat and actually very educational show that teaches children about map skills and math skills, not to mention Spanish. I have spent many happy hours binge-watching several seasons of this show with Leah.
My favorite episode is Episode 7 of Year 3; it is called “Dora the Explorer and the Lost City.” The crisis is that Dora has lost her teddy bear, the teddy bear she’s had since she was a toddler. She really needs to find him because she misses him so much. She learns from a character named Map that the teddy bear can be found at the Lost City. The Lost City is a place filled with the toys and treasures that everyone has lost. Dora’s best friend Boots, a monkey who wears boots, has lost his blanket. So Dora and Boots take Map’s advice and decide that they should go to the Lost City.
They set out on their journey. They meet a train who is sad because he’s lost his whistle, a cow who has a baseball and a glove but has lost his bat, a dinosaur who has lost the wheels to her scooter, a squirrel who has lost the keys for his car and a fox who has lost one of his gloves. Dora tells them all not to worry, because she is going to the Lost City and she will find all of their lost things. After many adventures, Dora and Boots reach the Lost City and find everything that everyone has lost.
I really don’t know how much of this Leah’s getting, but for me, this story is quite symbolic.
When you’re an adult, you think all the time about what you have and what you don’t have,
about what you’ve found in your life and what you’ve lost.
Let me try it this way. I bet you had a moment recently when you couldn’t find something.
You couldn’t find your keys and you were late for work.
You couldn’t find that form and it had to be in that day.
Or it was something important and you had left it right there and somebody must have moved it, and you start accusing everyone of doing something with it. I once left my debit card in the ATM machine and accused my grandson Avi, then two years old, of taking it out of my wallet. I’m glad he can’t remember that. It was a new low for me.
But that’s how we get, don’t we, when we lose something? We can’t stand that feeling of incompetence, of not being “together.” It’s a bad feeling.
Now expand that momentary feeling to your life. In a general way, everybody has lost something.
You’re a train without a whistle, you’re a car without keys; you’re a scooter without wheels.
You’ve lost your inspiration, your direction; the very reason for your life. There’s a Map to guide you, but you never look at it.
You’re a responsible person and you don’t hurt anyone but you’re just going through the motions. You’re good at planning the “what and the “how” and the “when” but you’ve lost the “why.” You’ve lost the “why.”
In your life you may have made and lost fortunes, but what’s worse is that you’ve lost your sense of fortune, you’ve lost the feeling that you may have good luck, and so you’ve stopped even putting yourself in a position so that you can make your own luck by being in the right place at the right time.
You’ve lost your zest for life.
You’ve lost your “it” factor, your mojo, your edge.
You’ve lost your idealism, your patriotism, your activist streak.
On these High Holidays, one of the things that I want to talk about is the journey we should go on this year, to find what we’ve lost. And I want to separate what we’ve lost into two categories, what we’ve lost in what the rabbis of the Talmud call “the public domain,” and what we’ve lost in what the rabbis call “the private domain,” our personal lives and hearts and minds, our inner selves. What have you lost in the public domain and what have you lost in the private domain? Today I’m going to emphasize what we’ve lost in the private domain and on Yom Kippur I’m going to emphasize what we’ve lost in the public domain, especially as it pertains to our feelings about America.
Think about it this way: If you could go to the Lost City, what would you want to find again?
A lot of what we’ve lost has to do with the people in our lives.
I don’t mean the people who have passed away. I know that we use the expression “I lost my father” or “I lost her five years ago,” and we say it so often that sometimes I slip and say this, too.
But if you really love someone, I don’t think you ever lose that person. That person is still with you and there are things you can do to make their presence alive in your life.
On Shark Tank, Kevin O’Leary will sneer at people and say, “You’re dead to me.” I’m at the opposite pole: Even those who have died are very alive to me. So I don’t believe that we ever lose the people we love.
Instead, I want to talk about the people we’ve lost who are alive.
For many of us, we’ve lost a lot when it comes to our families. A lot of us have seen our once united families divided by arguments and feuds and fights and grudges. We’ve been divided by new logistics caused by divorce.
What we’ve lost is the sense of belonging to a real, dynamic, happy, united family and it eats us up so badly that we pretend that we’re okay with things as they are now – but we’re not okay.
We’ve lost the photograph in our heads of sitting around a table and everybody is there, happily passing the matzoh balls.
We’ve lost the photograph of everyone standing there at the party loving each other as they say “Cheese.”
And then we see these other families and they seem to have it all. And we’re happy for them but it only makes us feel worse because it means that they have what we’ve lost.
What you don’t know is what I know, that those apparently united, happy families have their share of problems, too. You don’t know who isn’t there saying “cheese” when you see their family portraits. You don’t know what’s really going on. So don’t be jealous; we all have our family problems.
So what do we do about this?
One of the best things I’ve learned about dealing with the loss of people in my life is from a conversation I had with my beloved brother David. David is a good-looking, taller, smarter version of me. He’s one of my favorite people in the world. And after a wrenching family crisis that divided our once united family, and I continued to be agonized over it, he said to me: “We can’t spend any more time on people who don’t love us. We have to spend all our time on the people who do.”
He was so right. We can’t spend any more emotional energy on people who, despite all our best efforts, don’t want to be in that photograph. Life is short and we have to devote ourselves to the people who want to be in our lives. We have to cut our losses.
And we can apply David’s simple but wise principle to a lot of the people who have hurt us.
It’s true that there are people who have betrayed your trust, but there are people who have proven themselves to be worthy of trust. Focus on them.
It’s true that there are people who have abandoned you and neglected you. But there are also people who have had your back, who have been there when you needed them.
They may not have said everything you needed them to say exactly when you needed them to say it,
and they may have not done everything exactly right, but they were always there, trying to help. Focus on them.
There is a place where the private domain meets the public domain and it’s the community.
A community can’t solve all of our problems, but it can help with some of them. A community is made up of people who care about each other and do for each other.
A woman I know, not in this congregation, seems to have it all. But she confides in me and tells me how lonely she really is. This woman who everyone else thinks has it all / says that the only time in the week that she’s not lonely is on Shabbos when she’s in shul with her friends. She says that the community saves her from loneliness.
A community can’t stop your loved ones from dying, but it can be there for you if they do.
A community can’t stop your family from breaking apart, but it can give you some measure of family if it does.
Some of us get this. We know that a community can be a very important part of our lives. For some of us, Judaism is the city we live in every day. And when we get lost, or we lose something, it is our Map.
But for others who are here, Judaism is the Lost City. We don’t even visit the city unless we have a ticket or an invitation. The good news is that the city that you think is lost, that maybe you haven’t really lived in since you were a child, is still here, and the doors are wide open, all the time, literally, every day of the year.
There is the private domain, our personal lives, and there is the community that we can become a part of.
And then there is the public domain, the world out there.
On this new year, how does the world look to you?
It looks terrible to me, filled with refugees fleeing from violence. Do you see what is going on in this world, what a brutal, inhumane world it is? In the midst of this horrible world filled with tyranny, genocide and hatred, there are some islands of strength and hope for humanity, and they are America and Israel.
Again, I’m going to talk about what we’ve lost in terms of America on Yom Kippur, so today I want to talk about what some of us have lost about Israel.
Some of us have lost our passion for Israel.
It’s been beaten out of us by all the haters.
We’ve begun to believe some of the horrible falsehoods that the world has thrown at one of the great democracies in world history.
Just as my brother David said we have to protect ourselves from the people who hate us but we have to focus on the people who love us, America and Israel should always be completely united in the face of the horrors of this world.
And that’s why the tension between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, especially in the last year, has been so painful. If you’re a Jewish American who loves America and Israel, the tension between the two leaders has been unbearable.
I can understand, to a certain extent, how it happened. Prime Minister Netanyahu felt compelled to stand up against a deal that would endanger Israel’s survival by adding to the power of a country that is spreading violence and terrorism and hatred through the region and has sworn to destroy Israel. If someone threatened your family’s survival, you would stop at nothing to try to end that threat.
President Obama wants to make a better world and he thinks that the deal with Iran will help make this a safer world. Prime Minister Netanyahu fundamentally disagrees because he knows, as history has taught us, that when you negotiate with evil people, they take all your best intentions and get stronger and then attack you when you are least prepared.
My brother David was right: We should be focusing on the good people and helping them. If there are moderate governments or groups or movements, we should focus on them, giving them everything they need to fight against the evil around them. Somehow, our country is so busy negotiating with enemies that it does very little to help our friends.
So the debate raged and it was very difficult for those of us who love both of the great countries involved. But don’t let this very political and very personal debate change your head about Israel.
The relationship between Israel and the United States will stay strong but we have to be a part of making sure it stays strong, by making sure that our leaders don’t put politics and personalities above this sacred relationship.
Above all, don’t let Israel become a Lost City in your heart and mind. As Jewish people, we must never lose our passion for Israel. Israel is a miracle. Israel is a creative, democratic, vibrant nation.
Since I was completely against the Iran deal, and I found all of the games, secrecy, strategy and divisiveness absolutely excruciating, what I am about to say will sound very strange. But in a sense, the debate was one that we can learn from.
Obama and Netanyahu represent two different ways of thinking about the world:
The optimist who believes in always giving peace another chance;
The realist who trusts no one.
Since in our personal lives we’re not risking the lives of millions and millions of people, we can try to balance the two attitudes of optimism and realism.
In our lives, we should never be naive about the bad people. I am as realistic about people, as skeptical about trusting people, as anyone you know. But I also know that if I go around bitter and angry with everyone, I will have an unhappy life.
And someplace inside us is someone who wants to trust people,
who wants to believe that everything that has been lost, can be found.
And maybe that‘s what religion is about: It’s praying for an ideal world
Maybe that’s what Rosh Hashanah is about, hope for the future
Maybe we gather here together every year to remember our hope, our trust, our faith, because these are things that we’ve lost.
We come here to this City to be renewed on the new year.
A few years ago, when I was with the Mitzvah Committee at one of our visits to The Arden House, a local nursing home, I casually said that I still had my teddy bear from my childhood. And before I knew it, we were preparing a Bear Mitzvah celebration to which the residents and our committee members all brought their teddy bears. What amazed me is that the residents, many in their nineties, still had their stuffed animals. It was the one thing from their childhoods that they had held on to, somehow, through all the years.
Some place inside us, deep inside us, we’re that innocent child, that good child who had very simple needs and who loved life.
One time, a man was in really deep trouble, and was beset on every side by anger and criticism. And I looked at him and I said, “Oh my G-d. You’re just a nice Jewish boy and nobody understands you.” And this really tough guy wept like a child.
On Rosh Hashanah, a new year begins. And maybe we’re here, good Jewish children, the Children of Israel, who just want to be understood by other people and by G-d.
And maybe we’re here to try to find all the things we’ve lost. In the coming year, I hope you find at least one of those things.
I wish I could be Dora, who could go to the Lost City for you and bring you back something that each of you has lost.
But you have to go on the journey yourself. Still, you must not just go on the journey for yourself.
You see, there’s a Map, and it’s called Judaism. It tells you how to get there. And Judaism teaches you that in order to find what you’ve lost, you also have to be looking for what others have lost.
If you’re lost, the Jewish map says, it’s because you’re lost inside your own head; you only think about yourself, your needs; your wants.
Dora understood that her journey could not just be for herself. So she listened to all of her friends and they told her what they’d lost, and when she got to the Lost City, she also found what they’d lost.
Your journey cannot just be for yourself. If you only care about yourself, you’ll never find anything.
Judaism is the Map to guide you back to the life you should lead. Judaism teaches that the journey of our lives, lived inside a community, is to help each other find what we’ve lost.
This city, this community, is all about what we can do, through concrete caring projects, for other people.
A lot of people have lost their whistles and their scooters and their baseball bats, and we have to help them find them.
This is the city where we can find who we were when we were kids, looking out at life with excitement and expectation and the highest hopes.
Maybe we can find some of the spirit of that wonderful child inside us. On this Rosh Hashanah, be like Dora the Explorer, who sees life as an adventure, who sets out for the Lost City to find what really matters.