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All in the Same Boat

Delivered by Rabbi Dan Slipakoff on Yom Kippur 5781 at Temple Israel of Boston

Not too long ago, and not too far away, there was a small kingdom.

The kingdom was once regarded as one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Not because of the landscape, but because of the way people treated one another.

In this kingdom, if a friend needed something from a friend, someone always stepped forward to help—without even being asked! If a neighbor needed something from a neighbor, someone would respond cheerfully and graciously without ever asking for anything in return. If a stranger needed something, people came forward to help with hospitality, generosity, and kindness.

But things started to change in the kingdom, it’s hard to say exactly when or why, but you could see that people started to treat one another differently.

In the market place there were hungry farmers whose crops had not grown due to drought.

They pleaded the successful merchants for food!

“I have plenty of food, I’m sorry but that’s not my problem” said the owner of the fruit stand as he chomped on an apple.

At the well, the people from the river banks approached, complaining that the water from the river had become tainted, and they had nothing to drink.

“We have plenty of water here” said a woman drawing up her bucket

“I’m sorry, but that’s not my problem”.

The kingdom was turning into major trouble, society started to shut down as people continued to be greedy and cruel to one another. And the people did not recognize being a part of the problem, in part because no one seemed to remember how things used to be.

One day a Fisherman returned to the kingdom after many years away at sea. He was stunned to see the change in the people, and devastated by the impact it had on the land.

But he had a plan to get things back on course.

He set to work turning his fishing boat into a yacht. New sails, new paint, it was beautiful.

People would come down to the docks to see him work, and asked

“Hey, Fisherman,” they’d say, “when you’re done, will you take us for a ride on your yacht?”

“Sure!” he said. “Everyone will be invited!”

When the day came, people flooded on to the Fisherman’s yacht to go for a ride.

It was a splendid, clear day. The sun shone warmly, and the sea was calm.

Fisherman guided his yacht away from the coast.  He dropped anchor and invited everyone to enjoy themselves. His guests brought out their picnic baskets and fishing poles, and everyone had a wonderful day. Late in the afternoon the wind picked up, and waves rocked the boat.

“Fisherman, can we head home now?” his guests asked.

“Sure,” said Fisherman. “There’s just one thing I need to do.” He opened his toolbox and brought out a large hand drill. He walked to the exact center of the boat, positioned the drill on the hull, and began to drill.

“Say Fisherman,” people asked, “what are you doing?

“I’m drilling a hole.”

“But why are you drilling a hole?”

“Why? Because it’s a nice day for drilling holes!” he responded nonchalantly.

“But, Fisherman, if you drill a hole in the boat, water will rush in, the boat will sink, and we’ll all drown!” they said.

As he continued drilling, the passengers began to beg: “Fisherman, please! Please, stop! You must stop!”

“None. It’s my boat. It’s my drill. And I’m going to drill this hole.”

The fruit seller from the market pleaded “Please, Fisherman, please,”

“We don’t want to drown. We don’t want to get eaten by fish. Please, Fisherman! Please!”

When the people began to cry, Fisherman at last stopped drilling.

A hush came over the crowd. Fisherman looked up. “You don’t want the boat to sink? You don’t want to drown?” Fisherman echoed the prince’s pleas. Then Fisherman slowly repeated the terrible words that had ruined the kingdom: “Well, I’m sorry, but it’s not my problem!”

The woman from the well cried desperately, “What do you mean it’s not your problem? Anyone can see that if I have a problem, you have a problem. And if you have a problem, I have a problem. If anyone has a problem, then everyone has a problem—because we’re all on the same boat!”

The Fisherman stopped, and repeated the words slowly: “If I have a problem, you have a problem. And if you have a problem, I have a problem. If anyone has a problem, then everyone has a problem—because we’re all in the same boat!

A great “Ohhhhhh” of understanding filled the boat. The people realized what the Fisherman was teaching them.
The Fisherman smiled. “Now we can go home!” He pulled the drill up out of the hull, turned the boat around, and sailed safely back to the harbor.

The people who got off that boat were changed. Never, ever again would friend turn to friend or neighbor turn to neighbor or anyone turn to a stranger and say those terrible words. Instead, whenever a friend needed help from a friend or a neighbor needed a hand from a neighbor or a stranger needed some kindness, he or she would hear, “Please, let me help you. Because if you have a problem, I have a problem. And if I have a problem, you have a problem. If anyone has a problem, then everyone has a problem.

Tonight, at the start of Yom Kippur. We think a lot about how our actions impact the people around us. And even though we have had to keep our distance lately, nobody lives in a bubble.

So tonight, tomorrow, and for the rest of this year – I hope you think about this kingdom, and how the people went from being selfish to realizing that they were all connected. Our actions and the words we speak matter a great deal. And sometimes our most important words and actions are apologies for the holes we’ve already drilled. May this be a good year, a sweet year, and a year of looking out for one another. We’re all in the same boat.

Shana Tovah