“Who Am I This Time?” Yom Kippur Morning 2014

Please allow me to introduce myself. Most of you know me as Audrey, or Rabbi Audrey, or simply Rabs. But my “old person” name is Ruby. And, because I love nature and the cool, breezy weather of this season, my hippie name is Windshine Moonflower.

My aura is yellow, a sign of my rational, intellectual nature.

If I were a character from the Bible, I would be Abigail – King David’s first wife and a woman of strength and integrity.

If I were a super-hero, I would be Iron Man – outgoing, charming, studious and a little full of myself. But my ideal superpower would be telepathy, which would allow me to connect with the feelings and thoughts of others. And if that’s just a fantasy, well, my real-life superpower would be the ability to make random things explode.

I know the state of Pennsylvania in general like the back of my hand but score only 93 percent in my knowledge of Pittsburgh. Although that’s really not so bad, considering I’m from Philadelphia.

If I were a past US president, I’d be the bold, brainy and witty Thomas Jefferson. And of course my canine companion would be Einstein from the movie, “Back to the Future,” since there’s nowhere in time or space that Einstein cannot go.

I’m a maven when it comes to the English language but my German needs work.

My alter-ego in the world of witchcraft is Albus Dumbledore (duh). And my archnemesis is Justin Bieber. I suffer fools not at all.

I didn’t know any of this about myself until recently. But it’s amazing how much self-awareness you can gain just by taking a handful of on-line quizzes.

If you’re on Facebook or some other social networking site, it’s hard to ignore them. They’re so tempting. They’re fun, they’re quick. They’re sharable.

The questions are sometimes way too easy. I mean, who can’t tell the difference between something attributed to Terry Bradshaw the quarterback and Carrie Bradshaw the character from “Sex and the City”?

Sometimes they’re way too pandering. When it comes to being a powerful woman of the past, of course I’d love to have been Mata Hari. But I’m guessing Tokyo Rose was not an option. And I don’t think anybody got US presidents Calvin Coolidge or Franklin Pierce, or a Biblical character like Korach or Lot.

Sometimes they’re just plain silly. I mean, I got a perfect score on my knowledge of cooking terms, scoring a ranking of Top Chef. But as you all know by now, I have no idea how to cook and should not be trusted near sharp knives. Or even dull ones.

And sometimes they’re just plain wrong. There is absolutely no way that the NFL I really should be rooting for is the Denver Broncos. I mean…no way.

But we all stop and take them. Why? Maybe we’re intrigued by the fact that we can so vividly remember that character from a TV show we haven’t seen in 40 years. Maybe we are curious about what aspect of our personalities make us more like Jefferson and less like Lincoln. Maybe the color of our aura really represents the way we express our attitudes and emotions to other people.

And so maybe these quizzes are an appropriate thing to ponder on Yom Kippur morning. After all, this is the time we take to ask ourselves: Am I really the person I think I am? Am I the person other people think I am? Am I capable of being person I think I should be?

Sometimes the person we end up being is the result of a seemingly random mix of the people and places and events that we bump into in life.

Don’s late friend Toby Balding was a horseman all his life – and a good one – in part because he came from one of Britain’s oldest, most famous and most respected racing families. But his son Gerald used the family’s interest in horses very differently. His great-great grandfather sold horses to all the circuses in Britain. Gerald ended up in the circus as a career. “Circus is a thing of magic,” Gerald wrote recently. “I realized that for two hours you could take people away from their lives and give them something totally joyful, without any angst or depression.” He could have said that about an afternoon at the racecourse. But his life just took a different direction.

Sometimes the person we end up being, is the result of other peoples’ expectations about who we should be.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Who Am I This Time?” a hardware-store clerk named Harry Nash becomes a local sensation as an actor in community-theater plays. But that’s because he doesn’t just act as the character – he becomes the character. He stays in character every hour, every day, for the run of the play. And then does it all over again for the next one.

Truth is, Harry Nash is a boring guy living a boring life. Once he shakes off whatever character he is this time, he reverts to his own nervous, socially awkward self. He lives for the characters he plays. He lives in the characters he plays. Stanley Kowalski. Faust. Paris. Romeo. And since that’s what people expect him to do, he seems to think himself unworthy of having a life of his own.

But sometimes we have enough faith in ourselves, enough trust in the way God made us, that the person we end up being is the person we aspire to be.

The philosopher Martin Buber shared this short Hasidic tale:
“A rabbi named Zusya died and went to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had done. He began to imagine that God was going to ask him, ‘Why weren’t you Moses or why weren’t you Solomon or why weren’t you David?’ But when God appeared, the rabbi was surprised. God simply asked, ‘Why weren’t you Zusya?'”

Each of us has a bit of Zusya (and maybe a little of Harry Nash) in us: Capable of goodness, maybe even greatness, but limited in our self-confidence.

Maybe we think our lives up until now have been only a random jumble of people and places and things. But it’s possible that, if we look back, we might actually see that we’ve been traveling on a path all along, and that these interactions have been part of a plan to make us what we are. To put us in this place, at this time, for some particular Divine purpose.

Maybe we think our lives up until now have been all about other peoples’ expectations. But it’s possible that, if we look at where we are now, we realize just how much we have learned from our parents and teachers and mentors. And it’s possible that, by soaking in and synthesizing all that knowledge, we are now ready to make choices for ourselves.

In the end, that’s all God expects of us. That’s what God teaches us in this morning’s Torah portion. We are put on this earth to learn, to grow, to do – and to choose.

Rabbi Judah the Patriarch said: “Which is the right course for a man to choose? That which is an honor to him and gains him honor from men.”

We just need to have enough faith in ourselves, and enough trust in the way God created us. So that when we ask ourselves, “Who am I this time?” we can answer: “I am the person I aspire to be.” Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in a month or a year – but sometime in our lifetime.

May we live each day with this aspiration. May we make the choices that lead us to this aspiration. May this be God’s will and our own. And let us say together: Amen.
©2014 Audrey R. Korotkin


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