High Holy Day Sermon Preview, Continued
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!