09/09/2013 04:33 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2013

Choosing Your Legacy

We all wear masks. We wear a mask to hide our self-perceived faults and weakness: the mask of certainty when we are shaken, the mask of gregariousness when we might be shy the mask of humor when we're hurting, the mask of a victim when we're not.

We wear masks with friends, classmates, business associates, and even spouses concerned that for them to know the truth about us would be for them to think less of us. Not all masks are destructive or wrong, and some of them may be essential and indispensable if we are to make it through. But to be unaware of them is treacherous and dishonest.

The nineteenth-century Swedish theologian Søren Kierkegaard wrote, "There comes a midnight hour when all people must unmask." These days are, for us, the midnight hour, the time to take honest account, and to confess what we know about ourselves at least to ourselves and hopefully to those about whom we care the most. We who are not perfect, or blameless, or faultless love our children always. When they fall short of our aspirations we will not love them any less.

Last week, a friend wrote to his circle of friends, "Plan well and think about the things you wish to change about yourself and your world. Dig deep. Be honest with yourself. Find a confidant (or two if you're lucky) and talk about it... This is the time of year to plan your Ten Days of Awe. Some of us need more than ten (God knows) but ten is what we get so make the most of it."

Let us be truth-tellers. And let us be tender.

Abraham Heschel, a pivotal Jewish thinker of the twentieth century, died in 1972 at age 65. He was not old by today's standards, yet his fabulous shock of white hair and signature beard provided an aura of wise elderliness. Reflecting on his life, Heschel said, "When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I'm old, I admire kind people."

In this meritocratic society of ours, we've become enamored by the measurable standards of success. We talked about it a great deal as we made our way through the financial downturn that struck us on Rosh HaShanah Eve in 2008. The survival of our spirit depended on chesbon ha-nefesh, a reappraisal, and we were compelled to affirm that our self-worth was not equal to our net worth.

Read the full sermon and listen to an audio recording on Central Synagogue's website.