High Holy Day Sermon Preview, Continued

September 7, 2018

Shalom Chevrei:


The High Holy Days are here, and I am looking forward to ushering in the New Year
with you. I pray for our vitality as a community and our shared energy to improve as a
collective force for good. Speaking of forces for good, I am hoping we will host Leah
Levinger, Executive Director of the Chicago Housing Initiative for Shabbat Shuva next
Friday evening, Sept. 14. As of this publication, we are still confirming availability, but
when Leah does come, she will tell us more about CHI’s two major initiatives: 1) the
Homes for All Ordinance, which takes aim at making Chicago’s public housing system
work; and 2) the Development for All Ordinance takes aim at another fundamentally
dysfunctional element of Chicago’s current affordable housing landscape - the
Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO).


As far as the sermon lineup goes, it still remains tentative, pending last-minute editing
decisions.


On Erev 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 self-renewal, redefinition, and goodness, not to mention a beacon of light
in the darkness that too often casts over our lives. The sermon unfolds around several
inspiring stories and midrashim about the moon. We can definitely learn from her
dugma (example).


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 place where we should avoid
politically and/or socioculturally 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.”


For Kol Nidrei, the sermon is entitled: “Being God’s Lamp: Reflections on Our
Human Potential to Give Light to the World."


At the beginning of the High Holy Days, we experience 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 its 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.


But on Kol Nidrei, as we near the end and we think about the moral and spiritual
challenges of being a menorah to the world, our machzor summons that we rejoice in
the freedom that is Kol Nidrei’s true gift: “the freedom to begin a new year without fear
of failure, to [confirm our aspirations] as God’s image in the world. To help us actualize
this precious gift, we turn to the 18th-19th century chassid Rabbi Simcha Bunim of
Przysucha, who once said to his students: "Everyone must have two pockets, so that
they can reach into the one or the other, according to their needs. In her 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)


On Yom Kippur, the sermon is entitled: “There’s No Place Like Home: Exploring
Israel as a Homeland for Reform Jews."


I, like many of you, can relate directly to the American story of immigration. One of the
reasons we, as a Jewish community, feel so at home in America is that we share
meaningful experiences with other immigrant communities. And, for many of us,
America is our homeland. Plain and simple. It’s the place in which most of us were
born, raised, and live. And, we feel right at home Jewishly, with no sense of exile. But it

 

is also true, that I, like many of you, have a special connection with Israel. For me,
Israel is a homeland, too, and I find myself thinking more and more about what that
means. How do we as contemporary Jews understand our relationship to Israel? In
what ways do we think about Israel, along with America, as our home or homeland?
How do we understand the unique feelings many Jews have for the Land of Israel, the
State of Israel, and its people and their neighbors? Are they based on religious ideas
and texts, on a pilgrimage, or maybe on having family and friends in Israel?


I am pleased to say that this sermon will be an experiment in collaboration, as I am co-
writing it with one of our Trustees, a co-traveler on our recent journey to Israel in May.
Once again, 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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Emanuel Congregation  5959 N. Sheridan Road Chicago, IL 60660

(T) 773.561.5173 (F) 773.561.5420  info@emanuelcong.org

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