No, I will not be talking about the court case.

I will not be talking about him.

The reason I won’t be talking about the court case or him is because nothing I say, no matter which direction I go, will change your mind about anything you currently believe.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I do want to talk about. How hard it is to change our mind; how hard it is to change. Not how difficult it is to change our political views. Frankly, they are not that important. But how difficult it is to change ourselves.

I was recently going through some old stuff. I have two small boxes of letters, pictures, and notes from when I was in high school. I found a song I wrote in 12th grade. It was all about trying to figure out who I am. It has the most angsty,


over-the-top lyrics.

In other words, it perfectly captures what it was like to be a teenager. You want to hear the song? Yes, of course you do. Imagine me with a lot more hair, a little split – those were cool back in the day, I promise, and a cheap acoustic guitar with a bunch of political stickers I did not understand. You ready?

I am not really going to sing it. But I will share with you the lyrics:

“I know where I belong, I know where I should be.

Reflection in the mirror, I wonder if it’s me.

All the things that I’ve said, the truth is so clear.

But every now and then the truth just disappears.”

Let’s skip to the chorus:

“Cause I’m torn within my soul. Searching for identity; who I am, who am I.

I’m torn within my soul, feels like I’m living in a lie.”

Can your 18-year-old self relate to those words?

Teenage-hood, young adulthood, are times when we explore who we are, how we are connected and not connected to our family, when we try to figure out what we want to accomplish in this life of ours; “who I am, who am I.” More than that, at that stage in life, we are especially attuned to the raging contradictions that reside in our psyche; “I am torn within my soul.” It’s an age when we are especially attuned to inauthenticity and contradictions around us, but also, perhaps most especially, the inauthenticity and contradictions within ourselves. It’s a time of radical honesty. And that biting honesty propels us to make difficult decisions and significant change.

And then we become adults. And it all stops.

The angstiness gives way to complacency. The exploration of self gives way to the rat-race of our careers. The pie-in-the-sky dreams give way to retirement calculations. We no longer question who we are. We no longer feel like we are living in a lie. We no longer feel torn. We no longer feel our soul.

But the truth is that our soul, our Neshama, is just as angsty as it was when we were teenagers. Maybe even more so. In adulthood, our souls and subconscious are far more aware of our mortality, of the fact that there is a countdown to our existence, and that’s scary, and that thought should propel us to make many significant changes to our lives. But despite the extra angst, the extra urgency, the extra sophistication on how to affect long-lasting change, our souls’ tornness is drowned out by the busyness of life. Who has time to think about such things? I have a job. I have a family. I have a life. Who knows where these thoughts will take me? I can’t afford to make any big changes at this stage in the game. And so, we drown out our soul with our job, with our family, with the real-life stressors that surround us. And we don’t change. Not only do we not change our political views. Far, far, far more importantly, we do not change ourselves.   

This morning, we read something known as the tochacha, a long string of curses that will befall the Jewish People when they do not obey G-d’s commandments. Out of all the sins, the Torah highlights one sin as the primary cause of all these terrible calamities – Shmittah, the Sabbatical year. Every seven years, the Jewish People are expected to take a year off. Why is this Mitzvah singled out as the biggest sin? Are there not so many sins that are far worse?

Rav Kook explains that taking a Sabbatical year is critical to our spiritual growth. Our soul, he explains, is constantly yearning, trying to draw us towards a more elevated life, but the rat-race, the busyness of life, drowns out her voice. We can’t hear her and her dreams and aspirations because the volume of life is just so loud. So once every seven years, we turn down the volume, we slow down the pace, and we listen. We listen to our soul as she reminds what we’re capable of, what we really want deep down inside, of what’s important for us to accomplish in this very short life.

So ladies and gentlemen, it’s been more than seven years since I joined the shul, I will be taking the upcoming year off…

I am kidding. Most of us cannot afford to take a year off for self-exploration. But we can afford to take a few days, maybe even a few hours. To give our soul a little time to breathe, to make her heard, and maybe we could even listen to her and make some changes.

As you know, I spent a few days in Israel two weeks ago. It was an exceptionally meaningful trip, but possibly the most meaningful part of the trip took place on the one afternoon we had off. I had a little bit of time and instead of taking a taxi back to my apartment, I walked. I had a good solid hour of walking. I wasn’t on the phone. I wasn’t listening to any podcasts or music. Silence. Me and myself. Me and my soul. That teenager who I forgot about, you know, the one with the cool hair and all that angstiness, I got back in touch with him.

We just finished Sefer Vayikra. Maybe you noticed when they did Hagbah and lifted the Torah, there was a large empty space between the book of Vayikra and the book of Bamidra. If that empty space was missing, the Torah would be invalid. Taking a break, sitting in silence, creating some mental space is critical to our spiritual growth.

I imagine many of you will be going on vacation over the next few months. Maybe you have a slightly slower schedule. Can we take a few moments during the summer ahead and ask ourselves some real questions; Are there relationships in my life that I need to repair? Are there characteristics I need to work on? Am I happy with what I have accomplished thus far? If not, what do I really want to do?

Who will be the next president of the United States is an important question that’s worth thinking reflecting on. But if you have a few minutes, a few minutes of quiet, it’s far more important to ask ourselves, ‘who I am, who am I.’