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Sermon: Parshat B'haalot'cha, 6-12-20

06/14/2020 09:45:29 AM


Rabbi Charlie

This is primarily a message to the graduating class of 2020, but I hope there’s something in here for all of us. First to the graduating class, Mazal Tov!  The completion of any stage along the journey of life is a moment for reflection.  And with your high school years behind you, it’s a time to celebrate and appreciate your accomplishments as you embrace the excitement of the path ahead.

At the same time, we have to be realistic. You may have heard that our country and our world are facing a few challenges right now. And while the Jewish pessimist would say, “Things can’t get any worse,” I’m a Jewish optimist. And Jewish optimist argue, “Oh yes, things can definitely get worse!”

That’s our reality. The good thing is that Jewish teachings have gotten us through tough times before. And they continue to inspire us today.

In this week’s Torah portion, there’s a strange moment when Moses and seventy elders gain prophetic insights. All of the sudden someone comes up and says that there are two other guys, Eldad and Meidad – yes, those are their actual names, and they started prophesizing as well. When there’s a complaint that Eldad and Meidad shouldn’t be prophesizing, Moses exclaims that everyone should have this ability!

In moments of challenge and difficulty, people often ask – who am I to do anything? Moses says – we all can do something! Judaism teaches that there are no restrictions on leadership and action. And many in this graduating class have exemplified that teaching.

Over two thousand years ago Hillel builds on this idea. He implores us: In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man. We understand this today to apply to all people.  

Some of our rabbis took this to mean if we don’t have any one around to teach us Torah, we still have the responsibility to study Torah. A little surprising and very relevant… Your college may have a big Hillel or a small Hillel or no Hillel at all. (Please note that there might be a reason why they named Hillel after Hillel.) When you’re at college you will have responsibility for your Judaism in a way that you’ve never experienced before. From a mezuzah on a dorm room to holiday celebrations - there will always be opportunities. Hillel – the rabbi and the institution, in addition to your parents and your rabbi, will strongly encouraging you to take advantage of those opportunities! And for everyone who’s not a graduating senior – the same teaching applies to you, too!

Other rabbis interpret Hillel’s words differently. Where there are no human beings, strive to be human… This focuses on times of challenge and difficulty or any time when there’s a need – it is our responsibility to find a way to make a difference. We can be the one to reach out and listen. We can be the one to make connections and gather people together. We can be the one to stand up or speak out. We can offer compassion. We can be the one to be a mensch. A mensch is our word for the most incredible, righteous, kindest type of person. But that’s not what the word actually means. The Yiddish word, “mensch” simply means to be a person – a human being. And what’s a human being? The best version of ourselves. In a place where there are no human beings – be a mensch.

Wherever your journey in life may take you, whether times are good or bad, feel that sense of responsibility, know you can make a positive impact, and strive to be a mensch.


And wherever your journey in life may take you, I ask for God’s blessing upon you

May God Bless you and keep you.

May God’s light shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May God look kindly upon you and grant you peace.

Once again, Mazal Tov and Congratulations!

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Sh'vat 5781