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Sermon: Rosh Hashanah Morning, 9/19/20

09/22/2020 09:46:25 AM


Rabbi Charlie

See Rabbi Charlie deliver this sermon HERE. It is a little different than the written text.


L’shana Tova!

This morning I want to focus on a part of our Torah reading that I usually shy away from. I’m a big fan of confronting difficult texts, but I was never sure what to do with this one. A study session with Rabbi Leon Morris of Pardes Institute in Jerusalem encouraged me to take another look. And you know what they say… Difficult times call for difficult texts…

This is the section that Olivia read for us this morning. Sarah has told Abraham to kick Hagar and Ishmael out of the house. Abraham, who is known for his hospitality only gives Hagar some bread and a skin of water. The water runs out, hope is lost. She places Ishmael under a bush and moves away. The Torah tells us that she does this because she doesn’t want to watch her son die. Then, understandably, she bursts into tears. God hears Ishmael’s cry – The Torah doesn’t tell us about that… and an angel appears to help Hagar see that there’s water. They survive.

This was an impossible situation. There were no resources – there was no hope. It’s a powerful, tragic, heart wrenching moment. And when I read it over, it was crying out to me. In Hagar’s story, I heard the plea from medical staff that was overrun during the pandemic, or individuals separated from their families on their deathbed, or the silence of people who could not leave abusive situations. In Hagar’s story, I heard the outcry over violence and oppression, the exhaustion of people fleeing their homes for a second or third time, the realization that there wasn’t enough food to go around.

Hagar’s story is our collective story right now – the story of people – millions of people trying to figure out what to do each and every day in impossible situations. One way to make it through is to understand that this is a time of creativity and change born out of necessity. It’s been dramatic – look what we’re doing right now. And thank God that this technology exists. As imperfect as it is, we are celebrating our New Year together. In impossible situations, we do all we can to find ways to adapt and find ways to make it to the next day.

I find great inspiration in our early rabbis. They were given the worst kind of lemons and they made the most incredible lemonade. The Temple was destroyed. The connection with God was cut off. There was no hope of building a Third Temple – it wasn’t an option. I don’t think there’s any way that we could fathom what that meant to the Jews in antiquity: the sense of loss, the questioning of identity, the challenge to theology, the upheaval of the world. In the midst of war and persecution and upheaval, they adapted. There was crisis and there was creation. Rabbinic Judaism has now lasted for millennia. We are a link in that chain.

And our Judaism hasn’t lasted for so long by remaining static. We are a Reform Jewish congregation and we strive to continue reforming – changing, adapting to respond to the needs of the day. For a lot of people, a Zoom service isn’t enough. I have asked many of you – what else could CBI do to support you? And I know there are people who desperately want us to open the doors. And while we are working very hard to open the doors – it won’t be too long, but please know that when we get there it won’t be normal – not for a while.

We only need to look at Israel right now – from one of the lowest rates in the world to one of the highest… there were over 5000 new cases in one day just before Rosh Hashanah. Too many people tried for too much normal too quickly and Israel is back in lockdown. This is not just going away. We are going to open the doors, but it will be different and it won’t be business as usual. I will need your brainstorms and ideas to help the Board and I to figure out how we can change and adapt and innovate in the new year. None of us have all the answers, but together I have great confidence that we can find practical, intelligent solutions for our community.

That will take time. We’ll get there, but it will take time. And if Hagar’s story is our collective story, we might need more immediate help. Hagar was saved by an angel, but what if the angel arrived too late? Again, at the Binding of Isaac, when Abraham is about to sacrifice his son Isaac, what if the angel arrived too late? As a teenager, I heard Rabbi David Saperstein, former Director of the Religious Action Center and former U.S. Ambassador speak beautifully and passionately about our ability to have an impact on the world and how we must not be too late to care for people, support people, save people. Sometimes there are angels and sometimes we can be those angels.

I’ve heard many stories of people being angels – from the incredible efforts of CBI’s own Coby Warner who heard about the extreme need for face shields in hospitals and said, I can do something about that. He’s an engineering student and working with a friend, designed and produced hundreds, if not thousands of 3-d printed face shields that have literally been life savers for medical personnel, first responders, and so many others.

There were angels who responded to the call of Christopher Avtges. His mom was on the third floor of a locked down senior living facility. She hadn’t seen her husband of sixty-one years in weeks. So he put out a call for a bucket truck. And angels answered his call. They wiped everything down, his 88 year old father was decked out in gloves and mask, and they lifted him to the third story where he was able to visit with his wife out the window.

So many stories like that and yet need for angels so greatly outweighs the supply. There are so many medical professionals and first responders and teachers and mental health practitioners and social service workers and more who are angels. They are saving lives each and every day. And we need more. And we need you. The phone calls you make, the backyard gatherings you organize, the times you look beyond your close circle to someone who’s more isolated, the contributions of food and supplies – right now, those simple acts can be like finding water in the desert. Be an angel – help someone make it through another day. Be an angel – for the real sense of purpose that can help you make it through as well. And when you need an angel – then it’s our turn.

L’shana Tova!


Mon, January 25 2021 12 Sh'vat 5781