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How many of you are familiar with the children’s stories of Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel? Frog and Toad are favorites of my kids. I have a hunch that Lobel drew some of his inspiration for them from the stories of the city of Chelm in Jewish folklore. They are humorous and usually reveal a moral lesson by way of something a little bit absurd.

One of my favorite Frog and Toad stories is called ‘Tomorrow.’ It goes like this:

Toad woke up. “Drat,” he said. “This house is a mess. I have so much work to do.”

Frog looked through the window. “Toad, you are right,” said Frog. “It is a mess.”

Toad pulled the covers over his head. “I will do it tomorrow,” said Toad. “Today I will take life easy.”

Frog came into the house. “Toad,” said Frog, “your pants and jacket are lying on the floor.”

“Tomorrow,” said Toad from under the covers.

“Your kitchen sink is filled with dirty dishes,” said Frog.

“Tomorrow,” said Toad.

“There is dust on your chairs.”

“Tomorrow,” said Toad.

“Your windows need scrubbing,” said Frog. “Your plants need watering.”

“Tomorrow!” cried Toad. “I will do it all tomorrow!”

Toad sat on the edge of his bed.

“Blah,” said Toad. “I feel down in the dumps.”

“Why?” asked Frog.

“I am thinking about tomorrow,” said Toad.

“I am thinking about all of the many things that I will have to do.”

“Yes,” said Frog, “tomorrow will be a very hard day for you.”

“But Frog,” said Toad, “if I pick up my pants and jacket right now, then I will not have to pick them up tomorrow, will I?”

“No,” said Frog. “You will not have to.” Toad picked up his clothes. He put them in the closet.

“Frog,” said Toad, “if I wash my dishes right now, then I will not have to wash them tomorrow, will I?”

“No,” said Frog. “You will not have to.”

Toad washed and dried his dishes. He put them in the cupboard.

“Frog,” said Toad, “if I dust my chairs and scrub my windows and water my plants right now, then I will not have to do it all tomorrow, will I?”

“No,” said Frog. “You will not have to do any of it.”

Toad dusted his chairs. He scrubbed his windows. He watered his plants.

“There,” said Toad. “Now I feel better. I am not in the dumps anymore.”

“Why?” asked Frog.

“Because I have done all that work,” said Toad. “Now I can save tomorrow for something that I really want to do.”

“What is that?” asked Frog.

“Tomorrow,” said Toad, “I can just take life easy.”

Toad went back to bed. He pulled the covers over his head and fell asleep.

As I said, what makes these stories wonderful is that they remind us of something deep and true, in a way that highlights some of our own lesser traits. Many of us here today are like Toad. We put things off for tomorrow. Clean the house? Tomorrow. Do the dishes? Tomorrow. Get the oil changed? Tomorrow. We procrastinate. We make excuses. We try to evade what we know we have to do. Like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, our mantra seems to be, ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.’

Macbeth is instructive, and it is worth pausing to recall the full text of his lines upon hearing of his wife’s death:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Macbeth V, v, 19-28)

When tomorrow becomes all we have to live for; when we aim to evade today, when we try to escape what the world has called us to do, then life is but a walking shadow, a brief candle, a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. Why? Because to make life meaningful means living the life we are meant to be living, present in the moment. A meaningful life is a life of calling, a life of purpose, a life of responsibility. It is a life of hesed and emet, a life of faithfulness and truth. And being faithful, being true, means living today.

‘Hayom’, Today, is a keyword of Rosh Hashanah. “Hayom harat olam, Hayom yaamid bamishpat kol yitzurei olamim.” Today is the birthday of the world, we say. Today every living creature stands in judgment. Today, not tomorrow. Today, here and now. Unlike Passover, when we try to recreate the historical event of the Exodus, on Rosh Hashanah we are not commemorating someone else’s judgment. We are standing in judgment. Not them in the past, but you and me, today.

For us, life is far from ‘a brief candle, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.’ Sure, it can be. We can live lives of insignificance. But the fact that we are here on Rosh Hashanah, the fact that we are holding ourselves to account, means that we know our lives to be so much more. Our light is part of the “Or Olam,” God’s ancient and everlasting light. Our voice is part of the kol shofar, the voice of the shofar, the shofar present at the Binding of Isaac, the shofar that blew at the revelation at Sinai, the shofar that will blow in the days of the Messiah. Our light and our voice reverberates throughout history, and makes our lives not a brief candle, but, to use George Bernard Shaw’s phrase, a sort of splendid torch which we have got hold of for the moment, and which we want to make burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

But all of that lofty talk hangs by a thread, and that thread is whether we actually do it.

Every Rosh Hashanah we tell ourselves, “I’m going to spend two hours a week volunteering for a cause that helps end poverty,” but we go home, get lost in our lives, put it off for tomorrow.

Every Rosh Hashanah we tell ourselves, “I’m going make all those changes in my lifestyle so that I’m healthier and a better steward of the environment. I’m going to grow my own fruits and vegetables. I’m going to bike to work. I’m going to install a programmable thermostat in my house.” But we go home, get lost in our lives, put it off for tomorrow.

Every Rosh Hashanah we tell ourselves, “I’m going to be better about calling the White House once a week about an issue I care about, so that I’m actually participating in our democracy.” But we go home, get lost in our lives, put it off for tomorrow.

Every Rosh Hashanah we remind ourselves of how short we have come, and we resolve to do better. Every Rosh Hashanah we think back to last year, and recall the resolutions we failed to enact. Every Rosh Hashanah we think of how many things we have put off for tomorrow.

Well my friends, tomorrow is here. Tomorrow is today. And what I think we can all sense on this Rosh Hashanah is that in our Toad-like culture, in our humanity-wide evasion of responsibility, we are running out of tomorrows.

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, David Barash of the University of Washington put it exactly right. The title of his article was “We Are All Madoffs.” Our relationship with the world, wrote Professor Barash, is a giant Ponzi scheme. What did he mean?

Modern civilization’s exploitation of the natural environment is not unlike the way Madoff exploited his investors, predicated on the illusion that it will always be possible to make future payments owing to yet more exploitation down the road: more suckers, more growth, more GNP, based—as all Ponzi schemes are—on the fraud of “more and more,” with no foreseeable reckoning, and thus, the promise of no comeuppance, neither legal nor economic nor ecologic. At least in the short run.

In a Ponzi scheme, Professor Barash reminds us, everything works as long as tomorrow never comes. But as we in the Jewish community found out the hardest way this year, tomorrow eventually arrives. The bills eventually come due. And we all eventually have to confront the truth: We have to take responsibility for ourselves today. Hayom, hayom. Today.

Cherished friends and students, I want to leave you with the message that this Rosh Hashanah is different. This is not the day to go through the motions. This is not the  day to read a magazine during shul. Today is the day to pray. Today is the day to do serious work on our souls. Today is the day to commit to changing our behaviors to be responsible citizens of our communities and the planet.

And today—and this is perhaps the most important thing—today is the day to tell someone else about your commitments. Today is the day on which we ask God to remember God’s covenant with us, and so it is the day when we must remember our covenant with God and God’s creation. Today is the day when we must make our commitments more than just good intentions, we must make them sacred obligations, we must make them covenants. And a covenant requires witnessing, a covenant requires a public. If we do not want to return next Rosh Hashanah to be judged and found wanting, we have to make our commitments explicit. We have to say them out loud, we have to put them in writing. We have to begin real change, today.

We cannot afford another year of promises deferred for tomorrow. Now is the time. Today is the day. In the words of the liturgy:

Hayom t’amtzeinu, Hayom t’varchenu, Hayom t’gadlenu: Let us be strong today, let us be blessed today; let us be as great as we are called to be, today.

Thank you, and ketiva v’chatima tova, may we all be inscribed in the book of life today.

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