One of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard in my life was a speech this summer by former NFL great, Curtis Martin. When he was being inducted into the Hall of Fame, he gave a moving speech about how he survived a very rocky upbringing and went on to achieve a great career. For me, the most powerful line in his speech was when he said that as a player his coach once told him: “Don’t mistake routine for commitment.”
Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday that reminds us not to mistake routine for commitment. When we commit to God we have to put our heart and soul into it. We have to commit with both consistency and intensity.
Most people want to do the right thing. But sometimes life gets in the way. On a daily basis, stumbling blocks disturb our path. As the year moves along, we begin to see more and more stumbling blocks. On Yom Kippur, Jews believe that Hashem removes our stubbing blocks.
Normally when someone makes a commitment it comes from a person deciding on their own that they want to commit. But on Yom Kippur, it is different. On Yom Kippur, God comes out to meet us and helps us take that extra step of commitment to Him. As the reading for Yom Kippur says, “God, lift up the stumbling block from My people’s path.”
Yom Kippur is not only a day without stumbling blocks, it is also a day to help us throughout the year. It gives the strength to pass those obstacles and continue on our path.
Yom Kippur inspires us to realize that when we have a goal to serve Hashem, we can surpass our stumbling blocks.
There is an old joke in the rabbinate. Whenever it rains, I say to my kids, “The forecast calls for scattered congregants.”
But this year in our community, we are working to go against the trend.
We have printed up rain ponchos with the synagogue logo. The poncho says: “Shul.Weather or not.” Weather or not! Our commitment to Hashem and to His ways is not dependent on the weather or the obstacles in our path. We commit with all our heart to what God wants from us.
On Yom Kippur, God helps us by removing the stumbling blocks in our path. We have to respond to that help from God by not holding back our own commitment to Him.
Deep down we want to fully commit to Hashem. But we are hesitant. Human nature is to be afraid. To hold back.
You know who taught me this lesson. A thief I never even got to meet. He is the thief who went halfway.
One day this year I went to the gym. I put my stuff in a locker and put a lock on it. I returned exactly 25 minutes later and my lock was gone. So were my smartphone and my wallet. I called the police. We started searching the facility since we thought that maybe the thief had thrown my wallet in the trash. After around 20 minutes of searching, the manager came running up to me and said someone from your house just called and said that your wallet was returned to your home. The policeman looked at me and said, “God is good. No, God is great!”
The thief had taken my phone but he had decided to return my wallet and credit cards. He had gone out of his way and had driven 15 minutes to my house just to return the wallet.
Why would anyone steal a phone but then go out of his way to return the wallet?
A lot of people have shared with me their theories on this one. But I think that this thief felt bad about having to steal my phone. He wanted to do the right thing so he returned my wallet. The thief was wishy-washy. He wanted to return everything, but he only went halfway.
Human nature is to hold back from a total commitment. We often do things halfway.
So Yom Kippur is God’s way of helping us return entirely to Him. On Yom Kippur God removes the obstacles in our path. But we have to respond to God’s help by not holding back and not committing halfway.
Yom Kippur is more than just a day to help us carry out our commitments. Yom Kippur is also a reminder that if we carry out on our commitments, if we commit with all our heart to service, then we can literally transform the world with our actions. We were all created for greatness, and Yom Kippur reminds us that if we take our commitments seriously we will achieve greatness.