A grandmother decides to skip Yom Kippur services and take her grandson to the beach.. While the two are playing, a giant wave comes up on shore and washes the little boy out to sea.  Panic stricken she looks around for help, but there is no one in sight.  So the grandmother does the only thing she knows to do and looks to the heavens saying "Dear G-d, please bring my grandson back to me.  I'll never skip services again, I'll repent from all my sins, I'll never ask for another thing.  But please, please bring my baby back to me."  With that another wave washes up on shore and there is her grandson, laughing; he had the time of his life.  Shocked and traumatized, in disbelief she touches the little boy.  She calms down, pulls herself together, looks to the heavens and says "He had a hat."

While we laugh at the chutzpadik of the grandmother, the relevant message is how soon we forget, or abandon, the promises we make to do better in the coming year.  After 10 days of self reflection, confronting our faults and flaws, and confessing through deep prayers of atonement, we believe G-d has forgiven our sins, and we begin the new year with the best of intentions.  We are inspired and motivated to behave more righteously yet, as the adage goes, old habits die hard.  We travel a short distance on a return pathway to G-d, teshuvah as it is called in Hebrew, then we take an abrupt u-turn on this road to life and revert to our errant ways.

We know that changing bad behaviors into noble deeds is a destination, a journey with many stops  along the way:  among them, admittance to our failures and weaknesses, and having the genuine will to change.  We are not alone and, thankfully, have a Divine navigator who is with us, lovingly encourages us, and guides us at all times if we only listen.

More than three thousand years ago The Almighty gave us the Torah, G-d's book of laws, and our ancestors of old were taught them by Moses and reinforced by the elders of the tribes.  One of my roles as your spiritual leader is to teach you and remind you of these laws.  Those of us here tonight are following some of these commandments, these mitzvot, by our very presence:  the commandment to observe Yom Kippur, a full twenty-four hours of atonement; the commandment to afflict ourselves during this time by not eating or drinking; we fulfill the commandment to honor our parents, for in being here we bring them honor.  I periodically discuss the laws of kashrut, of keeping Kosher, with the hope that perhaps just one among us might desist from eating foods which are traif, desist from mixing diary and meat within the same meal, in order to follow Hashem's laws more nearly, in order to reach a greater purity of self.  I teach and preach against gossip, lashan harah; to speak of others behind their backs.  Please think twice before sharing words which perpetuate rumors such as "I heard that so and so did this and that."

I teach and preach about what I consider today's greatest violation of all of The Lord's commandments.  We confess to it tonight and again tomorrow, the sin of causeless hatred, sinat chinam; irreverent words, insensitive words chosen purposely to provoke anger.  In our country the sin of causeless hatred is increased during an election year.  It stems from the very candidates themselves, who believe it more effective to strike down their opponent than espouse their own virtues.  Last week I was told a joke belittling members of a political party.  Afterwards the woman was laughing, expecting to see the same reaction from me.  I asked her how she would feel if someone told her the same joke belittling her favored political party.  I shared that everyone on earth has a part of their life which they don't want to hear people make fun of.  For Jews it's the Holocaust.  It is impossible to find levity, and only serves to provoke ill feelings, when one demeans through humor the millions who went through fire because they were Jewish.  What begins as a seemingly harmless joke to us can quickly transform into a volatile situation when told to someone whom we had no idea felt so sensitive being the brunt of the joke.  And that's exactly why I believe it is the most offensive and unpunished sin in the world today.  The United Nations, after a decade of debate, may finally concur and pass laws and/or sanctions against nations which act in such a debasing and provocative manner.  Halavi, we should live to see the day when justice is brought to instigators, such as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who deny the Holocaust and hold forums to make a mockery of it.  Our Supreme Court should make such a ruling.

A person should not have the right to do or say something that they know is blatantly false or irreverent just to get a reaction from people.  Instead of tolerating such rubbish under the protective guise of freedom of speech, the perpetrators should be made to pay consequences appropriate to the damage incurred for their thoughtlessness and cruelty.  This sole act, played forward, would bring a greater peace to the world a lot sooner.  One might believe that it was easier to follow G-d's laws in the Biblical time of post Egyptian slavery. G-d scare the Israelites to keep them from sinning, roaring like a lion and thundering in thick clouds as they crossed the wilderness.  In those ancient days G-d also provided practical ways to follow the laws.  The Lord commanded our ancestors to wear visible reminders; bind the remembrance as a sign upon thy hand, they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes.  Today men and women lay tefillin in keeping with those commandments.  In ancient days who knows what the practice was; perhaps a piece of twine wrapped around a finger or one's wrist, as we see red ribbons tied today in a like fashion to remind us of various causes.  Perhaps a mark was made on each Israelite's forehead, like Christians make on Ash Wednesday, like the bright red dot, the bindi, worn by many in Southeast Asia.  Perhaps a like mark was made so the Israelites would be reminded of G-d's commandments each time they looked at one another.

There were additional reminders.  The Almighty commanded that fringes be attached to the corners of their garments.  Why this commandment?  Were the latter two not sufficient enough?  I liken this additional sign of remembrance to car manufacturers continually redesigning red warning lights on cars, creating different shapes and locations on the vehicle, in an effort to make the lights as effective as possible to vehicles following behind.  I believe this to be the thought behind the wearing of the fringes; the Israelites would see them and realize they were attached to their clothes for the very purpose of following the laws.

And as if all of these rminders were not enough, G-d gave the strongest directive possible to the Israelites, one that would insure they would never forget the laws.  G-d instructed our ancestors to actually write each one on the doorposts of their homes, so they would be visible when leaving the home and upon returning home.

What can we do to remember the vows that we will make this Yom Kippur?  What can we do to keep us on track?  We don't walk around with marks on our foreheads; there is no visible reminder between our eyes.  From time to time I do see red ribbons or multi-colored bands worn on one's wrist as a reminder of something important.  Ultimately the answer lies in strengthening our relationship with G-d.  The Almighty, our Creator, will help us if we do our part to help ourselves.  Place G-d before you as much as possible, and you will see a change in your life.  I challenge everyone hereto start each day with a prayer spoken aloud.  When you wake up, thank G-d for renewing your life this day and state that you understand that the purpose of living today is to help yourself in order to help others. If you wake with a loved one and you feel embarrassed, say the prayer when you have moment alone, but the key is to say it out loud.  To help you remember your resolution so that you are able to help others to the best of your ability, I challenge you to do one more act on a daily basis as well.  When you leave your home and upon your return, at the very least, look at the mezuzah on your door; touch it if you will.  Some then put their fingers to their lips.  Inside of that mezuzah are some of the most important passes of our Torah - Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad - Listen, you listen, The Lord our G-d, The Lord is One.  And the next passage:  Love G-d, love G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.  Love G-d as much as possible by showing G-d how grateful you are to be alive.  As you look at the mezuzah, as you touch the mezuzah when you leave your home for your daily activities, remind yourself of the resolution you so desperately want to maintain.  Remind yourself of those vows looking at the mezuzah when you return.  Do this for a week, do  this for as long as you can, do this throughout your journey until, as your gps says, "You have reached your destination."

After a week assess where you are.  How well have you stayed on course?  Can you describe in detail what your mezuzah looks like?  Did you recall the promise you made while looking at it?  The mezuzah is the most visible sign that Hashem has given us to remember the holy laws.  Remember that.  In this Jewish New Year let us strive for a greater sense of self love and self pride, and let us reap the bountiful harvest of joy that, B'ezrat Hashem, with G-d's help, our earnest efforts will bring.  Let us say "Amen".