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Sermon: Parshat Vayeira, 11/6/20

11/10/2020 04:50:24 PM

Nov10

Rabbi Charlie

Sometimes it’s hard to connect to God. That sense of spirituality can be elusive. That’s the case in the best of times. Nowadays, it can be even more difficult to see that divine spark.

And our Torah portion only highlights that difficulty. For it is true that there are parts of Parshat Vayeira that I love, it is also filled with difficulties and violence. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, offers up his two daughters to an angry mob. God destroys Sodom and Gemorrah and Lot’s wife is turned into salt. Sarah forces Hagar out of the house and God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Much of the violence is against women and God appears to cause or support much of it.

There’s a reason why Jewish Scholar, Dr. Judith Plaskow, writes: “This Torah portion makes clear that our ancestors are by no means always models of ethical behavior that edify and inspire us. On the contrary, often the Torah holds up a mirror to the ugliest aspects of human nature and human society” (The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, p. 107). We don’t always see what we hope to see in the Torah. Plaskow explains that the Torah does this to provide “us with opportunities to look honestly at ourselves and the world we have created… and to ask how we might address and change them” (Ibid).

So when we struggle to find the good, when it’s hard to see the holy, the question becomes: What can we do about it? And when it comes to our own sense of spirituality, we have the opportunity to look honestly at ourselves and do something about it!

Our Rabbis can guide us in this. At the beginning of the Torah portion, God appears to Abraham for what appears to be just a moment. God is there, says nothing, and is gone – without any explanation. Our rabbis teach that God was visiting Abraham, who was recovering from surgery. It’s a great teaching about visiting people who are sick, but without our rabbis looking deeply at the passage, seeking profound meaning – it could have been lost.

How can we be seekers of profound meaning? When it comes to our spirituality, we can’t just expect it to just happen. “Here I am God, amaze me,” doesn’t really work. Sometimes, when we’re struggling, we might expect it or at least hope for the miracle that will make it all better. It would be so nice for such things to be easy. But if it isn’t easy – we don’t always try to pursue it.

When Adena was doing some research on gratitude – that’s the topic for the next Daughter’s of Abraham meeting – she came across a traditional Jewish teaching that spoke to our chutzpah – our audacity, regarding expectations. Why are we so disappointed? Something doesn’t go our way – we complain, we’re disappointed, we may get upset. Our tradition asks – why should things go our way? Life is hard. People are busy. So… if someone takes the time to be nice – show gratitude. If something happens to make life a little easier – be grateful. When good things happen – appreciate the moment.

Gratitude offers a powerful path to reconnecting spiritually. And when it’s hard to find things to be thankful for – dig a little deeper. There’s usually something there. Make a list - when you wake in the morning or before bed – where did you find gratitude that day? Write it down. Make it tangible. Something you can see – a record of appreciation.

It’s a good place to start because gratitude is the heart of prayer. Blessings of praise or requests for intervention usually begin with a sense of gratitude. An orientation towards appreciation makes it easier to create a prayer ritual – using traditional or creative prayers – that can bring deep meaning and purpose to our lives.

The world can be an ugly place and we don’t always see what we would hope to find. But exploring gratitude and prayer, along with other forms of spiritual connection, can help to change our lives. Talk with me – we’ll explore together.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thu, January 21 2021 8 Sh'vat 5781