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Rosh HaShanah Sermon Preview

Shalom Chevrei:

The High Holy Days are right around the corner, and we’ve been doing a lot of spiritual prep work during these days of Elul. To add to our preparation, I thought I’d give you insights into the sermons I am offering during Rosh Hashanah. Of course, sermons live and breathe and receive edits until the very last minute, but as of today, tentatively, this is what I look forward to sharing with you.

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, the sermon is entitled: “Being God’s Lamp: Reflections On Our Human Potential to Give Light to the World and Increase Happiness Along the Way.”

At the heart of our Rosh Hashanah experience is the Creation story, a narrative that brings two essential opportunities: first, a chance to speak about God’s work and to celebrate its virtue; and, second, a moment for us--created betzelem Elohim, in God’s image—to look at the impact of our bond with God and our special capacity to shape happiness from the special responsibilities of this sacred partnership. This sermon focuses on the very first commandment God utters: “Vayehi or! Let there be light! (Gen. 1:3), and it’s our practice of this commandment in our very own human way that empowers each of us to be like a menorah in the world, bringing light to a life that has too many shadows and happiness to a collective soul filled with too much sadness and discontent.

On Rosh Hashanah morning, during the main service, the sermon is entitled: “Popping the Bubble: Rising to the Urgency of Now.”

A number of things happened this summer which inspired me to think about the nature of the “bubble” that creates shelter for our Jewish spirit: the synagogue, Jewish summer camp, perhaps other sacrosanct spaces and places where we should avoid politically and/or socio-culturally charged subjects. Are there moments, though, when we must “pop” the bubble? Well, when there is an urgency of now--when waiting till tomorrow is too late; when the “fierce urgency of now” as Martin Luther King, Jr called it, demands “vigorous and positive action.” Whether it involves the separation of immigrant families, gun violence or whatever fear du jour, values with Jewish significance, like justice, compassion, and the pursuit of happiness are in peril, as are vulnerable people.

This sermon looks at the example of Abraham and the creative, moral tension that impacts his actions as a person of faith and a pursuer of justice. He, like many of us, struggles under the bubble of faith, when to feel comforted by its shelter and when to pierce it with the moral “sword” of bold and righteous action.

This sermon also serves to introduce you to the Reform Movement’s initiative called Brit Olam, and Emanuel’s commitment to it. Brit Olam translates to ‘covenant with our world’ and the Brit Olam flows from the wisdom of Pirkei Avot: “Study alone is not enough, our tradition demands action:” and the vision of the Religious Action Center: to meet this urgency of now “through moral leadership and congregational and community-based action by a strong, networked Reform Movement acting powerfully and together to bring upon the world we want - a world filled with justice, compassion and wholeness.”

On the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, the sermon is entitled: “Waxing and Waning: The Moon as a Model for Mentshlikeit.”

This sermon focuses on the fourth day of creation, when God fashions both the sun and the moon. And, according to the Sages, the moon, in particular, is quite a character, if not a proverbial handful for our Creator. No less, she also proves to be quite an exemplar of cooperation, renewal, and forgiveness, not to mention a beacon in the darkness that too often casts over our lives. Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha once said to his students: "Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other, according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words: “For my sake was the world created,” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5) and in his left: “I am but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:27) If ever there was a “soul” that embodies these competing and complementary visions for our humanity, it is surprisingly (to me anyway) the moon. We can definitely learn from her.

Betsy, Cara, and Jared join me in which you a shanah tovah u’m’tukah, a good and sweet new year! May we all be inscribed for happiness and wholeness in the Book of Life.

Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good!

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