The 10-Minute Challenge D'var Torah

The 10-Minute Challenge D’var Torah
Rabbi David Benjamin Fainsilber
1 Tishrei 5778 // September 21, 2017
Rosh Hashanah Day 1

I have an ask for each of you.
Each one of you.
Yes, our whole congregation.
But hopefully even more than our congregation.
As you may already know,
I am asking you for less than .7% (.00694) of your overall time
from this Rosh Hashanah until next Rosh Hashanah.
That’s 10 minutes a day for one year.

Now let me backtrack for a moment.
Have you ever had one of those moments,
when you feel that you are part of something greater,
a transcendent moment, a peak experience,
when time slows down and everything fades away?
You are in the flow. You are in the zone.
You are fully present in the moment. There is neither past nor future
(or perhaps past and future are so wrapped into the present).
You become one with all that is reality.
What makes the peak transcendent moments possible in our lives?
How are we able to connect to something greater than any one of us?
And more, what can these moments offer us individually and collectively?

I’ll tell you, for most of us, reaching those moments is no easy task.
Sometimes they come easily but often not.
Sometimes they are fleeting moments and other times
they are sustained over time with work.
What if we could do something to have more of these experiences?
What would it take?

18 years ago I had a hard-won peak transcendent experience.
Having grown up in a family that loved to eat,
I took eating very seriously.
I was 5’9″ and 265 pounds
and not physically healthy.
Then one day, something clicked,
and I came into some flow.
For the first time in my life,
I put together a plan to exercise, to eat healthily and to lose weight.
I had a realistic outcome and a steady practice.
Over two years, day by day, slowly and patiently,
I lost over 80 pounds.

I tracked my weight each week on a hand-scratched chart.
Recently looking back at that chart,
there were weeks where I lost weight,
and weeks where I gained weight.
It was a struggle to practice daily,
especially in many long, difficult months
where my weight stayed stagnant.
My commitment to that practice
has waxed and waned throughout the years.
Yet this difficult practice of healthy living and practice has remained
one of the most defining and enduring aspects of my life.
Through it, I have been left with the feeling that anything is possible.
Through this experience, I have paradoxically both found myself
and touched upon something greater than myself.

I share this with you on the cusp of Rosh Hashanah,
because now is our time to reflect on the seminal moments in our lives,
the successes and the seeming failures.
It is a time to set new goals and kavannot, new intentions for the year.
This is one of my peak experiences.
What is one of your peak experiences?
How and when have you connected to something greater than yourself?

Perhaps it was hard-won or perhaps it came without warning.
Perhaps it was on your wedding day,
or when a child was born,
or a momentous event in history.
Or perhaps it was less grandiose,
a time when you were on your bike or a hike
out in the hills of Vermont,
or perhaps it was offering or receiving a simple smile
when passing by a stranger,
and for a brief, fleeting moment, time no longer exists; time falls away.

Maybe you are an arborist,
tirelessly cultivating a forest, one tree at a time,
seeing each tree as part of the whole.
Or you are a teacher in the first days back at school,
teaching on a topic you are deeply passionate about,
with a particularly engaged group of kids.
Or you are watching your grandchildren play on the playground,
wondering: How did I get so lucky?!
Or perhaps it has happened to you right here
in the structure of our beautiful sanctuary at JCOGS,
in the sanctity of this holy place.

Our tradition calls all of these G-d moments.
Whatever you call them, they are truly amazing.

Sometimes these moments come to us, as out of thin air,
we find ourselves in awe of the moment.
Often it is our own efforts that have brought us into that flow.
Yet, these moments are so fleeting.
For a moment, we feel connected to something greater than ourselves.
And the next moment we are caught up in the trivialities of life.

Now, while these kinds of experiences come and go,
Jewish mystics have long understood that
we don’t have to sit around and wait for these moments.
We can cultivate ourselves
to be more receptive and ready for those moments.
But in order to reach that kind of flow state more regularly,
we need to cultivate a daily practice.

You know the old joke.
A pedestrian on 57th Street in Manhattan
sees a musician getting out of a cab
and asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
Without pause, the artist replies………..
(“Practice, practice, practice.”)

This is where The 10-Minute Challenge comes in.
We all have practices, daily, weekly, monthly;
things we do for ourselves and others.
Here I’m asking for something different.
This is a call for a collective experience, to get beyond ourselves.
To be in relationship with something greater.
Practicing in community brings us together,
out of the personal practice into the collective.

Consider for yourself:
What do you want to cultivate in your life?
Is it focus? Is it greater empathy? Perhaps gratitude? Deeper relationships?
Start by identifying an Outcome you are looking for more of in your life.
I invite you to consider working your weakness;
whatever you are not so great at, pick that outcome.
The benefits will be that much more rewarding.
Let’s take a moment right now for each of us
to set an intention for an outcome you hope for this year……………

Next, pick a Practice:
Maybe its biking or meditation or art or prayer or poetry or journalling.
Pick something that motivates you.
Pick something you absolutely love doing
Or maybe something you are excited to do more of.
You could centre your practice on a place you want to spend more time in,
like your wood bench or a cozy couch.
Pick a practice that is fulfilling for you.
It can be something you already do everyday or often.
The practice can also change daily or weekly or by season.
Let’s take a moment right now for each of us to consider
a practice for the year……………

Isn’t this great? Now we are on a roll…
So let’s put the Outcome and the Practice together.
Let’s say I want to cultivate more focus while I hike.
For 10-minutes of a hike or walk or bike each day,
I’ll stay hyper-focused on the nature around me for those 10 minutes.
Or, maybe you want to cultivate more spiritual growth in your life.
Pick a prayer or a powerful poem that speaks to you each day:
read it, digest it, contemplate its meaning.
The practice could also be a process,
like cultivating a spirit of inquiry and curiosity,
by journaling about the kinds of questions that are on your mind each day.
For me, I have been meditating everyday.
Focusing on my breath, I try to cultivate presence in the moment.
Putting the Outcome and Practice together should
stretch your sense of self.
You should move towards something greater than the self.
Let’s take a moment right now for each of us
to put our outcome and practice together to start out the new year.
You may revist this during the year. Take a moment……………………

It’s important to carve out the time somewhere that your schedule allows.
And to find that right balance of both consistency and flexibility
so that the 10 minutes works both for your schedule and your soul.
And through the process, it is important to cultivate self-reflection:
Was I disciplined today?
What can I improve upon in this practice so that
I might touch on something greater than the self?

This may be challenging and even with all of our efforts
we may not achieve exactly what
we had hoped for ourselves or for the world.
In the new Hebrew College High Holiday Companion,
Rabbi Ebn Leader shares these words:
“With all my being I long for G-d.
This sentence is not yet a descriptor of my life;
Rather, it sets the parameters for a life of practice.” (p.41)
We set the parameters and outcomes of what we hope to cultivate.
And then ultimately, it is the practice that shapes our lives;
it the practice that makes us grow and realize our potential.

In the small but powerful book
Pirkei Avot, Ethics of Our Ancestors,
Shimon the Righteous One was known to say
that the world is founded on three things (1:2):
עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד,
עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים:
“On wisdom, on service and on acts of lovingkindness.”
Later we learn that another sage, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel,
offers yet another option:
עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד,
עַל הַדִּין וְעַל הָאֱמֶת וְעַל הַשָּׁלוֹם:
“On three things the world stands:
On discernment, on truth and on peace.” (1:18)

Today, we stand at the Birthday of the World, Rosh Hashanah,
to consider what principles this world stands on,
what foundations guide us,
what our world asks us to strive for,
as a community and each of us individually……..

Our world surely wants us to come closer
to wisdom, service and acts of lovingkindness,
discernment, truth and peace.
The world as we know it is changing at an alarming rate,
with need of repair, with need of returning to our best selves.
Our world needs us to be centred.
Our world needs us to have the capacity to reach beyond ourselves.
Our world needs us to set our intentions and to practice cultivating them.
Let us share together in community by gathering our strengths.
And let the practice centre and guide us.
Let the practice change us, as individuals and as a community.
If all 200 or so of us here today did the 10-Minute Challenge,
that would be 2000 minutes in a day,
many more minutes than there are in a single day!
That’s 730,000 minutes over the course of the year,
which is the equivalent of one person practicing straight without stop
for about a year and a half.
Imagine that impact.
Take a moment to think about what that impact could be
for you and for our greater community and world……

This is a 10 minute challenge for a reason.
It is only 10 minutes a day.
Everyone can do it, on the one hand.
On the other hand, from first hand experience,
keeping that commitment to a practice can be a huge struggle.
All I’m asking of you is that you enter into
that struggle with me and with your community, in relationship,
one day at a time,
opening to the possibility of growth and a better world.

Shana tova umetukah,
may this new year be filled
with many sweet blessings of outcome and practice and reflection.
And may we reach beyond ourselves
to something greater, 10 minutes at a time.