I’m standing in an amazing place. Powerful things happen right here. I can attest to that personally and so can many of you. You see, for many of us, one of the most important moments in our lives has happened right here on this bimah, on the day our child or children stood here as a Bat or Bar Mitzvah. And within that day, the most powerful, most tearful and most transformative moment comes when parents stand here and pass the Torah down to their child. I frame that moment as a return to the first giving of Torah. I see the ark as Mt. Sinai, which means that when I take the Torah from the ark, I get to be Moses for a moment. Before the Torah is passed to the youngster, the parents address him or her, speaking what is in their hearts. In preparation for that speech, I often tell the parents that their address should describe what they are doing as they are passing the Torah down. I ask them, “What is YOUR Torah? What is it that is important to you that you want your child to know and remember, especially about what it means to you that you are passing your wisdom and heritage on to him or her?” What, I ask, is YOUR Torah? Continue reading
Last week, on Rosh Hashanah morning, I shared with you a question that I often ask of Bar/Bat Mitzvah parents as I prepare them for that moment when they pass the Torah down to their child. Thinking of the place where they are standing as Mt. Sinai, I ask them, “What is YOUR Torah? What are your truths that you want to pass on to the next generation?” Then, by way of encapsulating in our final year together what I have tried to pass on to you during our 24 plus years, I began to summarize MY Torah, the most important Jewish lessons and ways of looking at life that I have shared from this pulpit. I came up with Rabbi Rossoff’s Top Ten List of Torah Truths, the first five of which I presented last week, the last five of which I will share this morning. Continue reading
I want to tell you something which is very important that you know. Our relationship, our happiness, indeed our future together depends on your understanding this. Please know that it comes from my heart when I say to you:
No? How about
Nu’ umi-un- angwa’ta
Naku panda everyone
Hmmm, I’m not saying this very well, am I?
Try this: Kakh-moosh-kHah
OK, let me say it a different way.
Ani ohev etchem! Hmm… some lights just went on.
How about this: Ich liebe dich.
It seems that some of you understand now, but many don’t. I must not be saying it well enough. Perhaps if I say it this way, then you will perhaps understand what I have been trying to say in so many different languages: I love you.
That wasn’t so difficult now was it? Actually, it was kind of difficult, and had I not been persistent, had I not found the language you understand, you might never have known what I was trying to say.
There are so many ways to say the words, I love you. I first tried Amharic, then Hopi, Swahili, and Klingon, which was not easy, since there is no verb in Klingon “to love,” so you have to say, “I dis-hate you.” When I gave Hebrew and Yiddish a try, some of you understood. And of course, when I finally used English, a language which both I can speak and you can understand, the message got through.
Language is the main way we human beings communicate and are there any three words that are more important to say and more important to hear and understand than “I love you?” So imagine, if you can, the people you love not knowing or feeling that you love them, or what it would feel like if you thought that the people you loved did not love you. I know that most of us have been there at some points in our lives, some, most painfully and irreversibly so. Unloved and alone – or unloved in a crowd– there may be no greater pain, no greater emptiness.
For most of us, Descartes’ affirmation, “I think, therefore, I am,” is simply not enough. We affirm our own existence by the love we receive and the love we give. I am loved, therefore I am. I love; therefore, I will continue to be. Even love in the past tense, I loved, I was loved, affirms our essential selves. Knowing you are loved – letting other people know and feel that you love them, is as precious as the sun which warms us and the air which gives us life.
Too often we do what I just did – we communicate our love in a language that the one we address does not understand as love. Sounds strange, but it happens to us more than we know.
A few years ago, I was drawn to psychologist / minister Gary D. Chapman’s best selling book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. In it, Rev. Chapman explains how there are in fact different language of love which we speak and understand. And he is not talking about English versus French versus Swahili. He is talking about different modes of communication through which we express our love to others and ways we get the message – or don’t – when someone is expressing their love for us. And the fact that we don’t always speak the same love language as those we love means that too often, our love is not known or felt.
Chapman says that there are essentially five love languages. We, too, often assume that the love languages we speak and understand are the same as those we love. That’s not a good assumption at all. Each of us may speak and understand different love languages, some of us more than one. Each expression of love that is understood as love helps to fill what Chapman calls our love tank. So think of each expression of love in whatever love language the other understands as a drop, an important drop but just a drop, in their love tanks. And we are not just talking about spouses, this is about parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends.
What are the 5 Love Languages?
Love Language #1 is the most obvious. It is “Words of Affirmation.” This is the love language through which we communicate our love with words. If someone understands this love language, every word of kindness, of love and appreciation is a drop into their love tank.
Obviously, saying “I love you” is big. Many of us make the assumption, “Of course he knows I love him.” But if words are his primary love language and he does not hear it, he probably won’t feel it.
And it is not just “I love you.” It is all those other words of affirmation and appreciation, words of kindness and complements, like:
Wow, that was great, thanks!
You know, you are the best driver I know.
I love that outfit – you look great
Wow, honey, that picture you drew for me in class really made me feel good!
Wow, that was a great goal you just scored!
I’m so proud of you!
Thank you for doing the laundry or taking out the garbage or paying the bills. I just want you to know I notice and appreciate what you do.
The Bible is filled with words of affirmation, none more beautiful than what the lover says to his beloved in the Song of Songs “Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are like doves.”
Words of affirmation are also like what Ruth said to Naomi: “Whither thou goest, I shall go.”
If you think it or feel it, don’t assume it. Say it. If you don’t think or feel anything is worthy of an affirmation, a compliment or a thanks, keep looking until you do.
Love Language #2 is “Quality Time.”
Quality time is time taken to be together and do things together, tuning off the TV to talk about things that are of interest, taking a walk, going for a drive, playing catch, enjoying music. Quality time does not just mean time being physically together in the same room, it means being present when you are together, attention undivided. As used to multitasking as we all are, and as good as it as we all are, you can’t multitask and be truly present.
The quality of quality time diminishes when it is shared with watching the game, or cooking the stew, or texting, or reading the paper, or doodling on your smart phone.
Quality time can be doing something that is important to all or it could be important to just one. When we do what is important to our loved one because what we are doing is less important than with whom we are doing it, the message for someone who understands love language #2 is, “Right now, you are most important in my life!”
Quality time is what Ecclesiastes recommends, knowing how little time any of us have: “Enjoy life with the one you love all the fleeting days of life you have been granted.”
For some people, it is the quality time that fills the tank.
Love Language #3 is “Receiving Gifts.”
The giving and receiving of gifts seems to be a universal aspect of human societies and interpersonal relationships. And for some people, the giving and receiving of gifts is the love language they speak and understand the most. It might sound materialistic, and I imagine for some people it is. But for those who speak and understand the love language of receiving, it’s not about the value of the gift; it’s about the fact that, wherever you were and whatever you were doing, you took time to think of him, her, or them.
Sometime the gift we give is not a present, it is our presence – being there when we know our presence is important. It is Jonathan being there to support his friend David, even as David is fleeing from Jonathan’s father, King Saul.
To give from yourself or of yourself, for some, is a real tank filler.
Love Language #4 is “Acts of Service.”
We express love through acts of service when we do things which we know our loved one would like us to do. It is Esau bringing game to his father because he had a taste for it. It is about serving the needs and the desires of the other – what we do for each other or with each other in pursuit of a common goal. The seven years that Jacob worked for Rachel seemed like days, because he was serving for the one he loved.
It’s the big things. It’s the little things like what needs to be done around the house – all those other things which give me a headache when I try to think how much there is to be done – helping with homework or a project, doing things which support the other’s interests or activities, efforts which make life better, fuller or at least easier. Acts of service is the language in which you express your love by doing something that you know is important to your beloved.
Not to be terribly gender stereotyping – just a little – some of us guys would do anything for our wives, even go to the ends of the earth, as long as it does not entail picking up a sock. Just remember guys, for some, every sock you pick up is a love note, a drop in her love tank.
I know of a couple who had been married for 25 years and in all that time, had never said they loved each other. But luckily, “Words of Affirmation” were not their love language. What made each secure in the love of the other were what they did for each other, and with each other in pursuit of their common goals of raising a family and keeping tradition. You may just know them too. Her name was Golde. His name was Tevya.
Acts of Service – if that’s not love, what is?
Finally, Love language #5 is “Physical Touch.”
I think we all know how important physical touch is as an expression of love. We know what happens to children who are held, hugged, and kissed from early on. And we know about what happens to children who are not. But many of us don’t leave that need behind after we leave childhood. Physical touch is a most powerful communicator of love, whether it is holding hands, a kiss or hug on leaving and coming home, anything from a brief touch on the shoulder to you know what, physical touch can be a most powerful expression of love. Touch is the hug of reconciliation between Jacob and Esau, perhaps the first time they had touched since sharing Rebecca’s womb. It is the prophet Elisha’s touch which brought the dead boy back to life.
Chapman writes: “Whatever there is of me resides in my body. To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally.” For those whose primary love language is touch, being untouched for too long is like being in the desert with an oasis near by but fenced off. It is torture.
Unwanted touch might be a violation – but touch that is desired, for some, is all the affirmation that some need to feel loved
And those are the five languages of love. speech, presence with a “c,” presents with a “t,” service and touch.
Long before Chapman, my teacher, Dr. Leo Buscaglia, wrote something which seems to have said it all. Leo wrote, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
How do you figure out your love language and that of those you want to feel your love?
Well, that would probably take another sermon or extended discussion. Let’s just say, if you want to know what a meaningful expression of love from another might be, just open your eyes and open your ears. They have probably told you in a 100 different ways – you just did not understand it for what it was – a dictionary to their love language. On the other hand, you learn a lot of what is asked for by thinking about what hurts the most when it is absent.
OK, you have probably thought at some point in the last few minutes, why is he talking about this on Yom Kippur? Is it because this afternoon we are going to read one of the central pillars of Judaism, “Love your neighbor as yourself;” and I want to show how many different ways you can do that? Is it because we just read in Deuteronomy that we are called to “Choose life!” and then taught that choosing life entails loving God, listening to what God has to say, and staying close? Is it because I think it will be helpful in our relationships this coming year so that next year there will be less to ask forgiveness for? Or is it because I like the subject and you just happen to be here? The answer, of course, is yes. All of the above.
But on this day of at-one-ment and reconciliation with each other and with God, I do think it helpful to think about God’s love language – to appreciate and feel the love that is coming from God in languages we might not have understood before as love, and to understand how it is we can speak a language of love to God that reaches God’s heart, at least as God has been experienced by our ancestors who felt God’s love and wrote it in a book we call the Bible.
So what are the languages in which God expresses love for us, as best as we can grasp them? I’ll give you my sense, knowing I am just scratching the surface and that you might have different ways of looking at this.
#1. Does God express love through “Words of Affirmation?”
That was certainly the way the Biblical writers felt God’s love. The Bible is full of words of affirmation, divine loyalty, and love. We are, it says, “the apple of God’s eye.” God called Abraham “my beloved.” And one of the most beautiful expressions of God’s unconditional love was formulated by Isaiah: “Though the mountains may depart or the hills be removed, neither will my love for you ever die or my covenant of friendship ever be broken.” And even those sexy words of the lover to his beloved in the Song of Songs, were seen by the Rabbis as the words of God to God’s beloved Israel.
#2. Does God speak the love language of “Quality Time?” In my opinion, all the time. Heck, God invented time! God offers presence , but too often we don’t make the effort to notice. Only when Moses stopped and turned did he encounter God’s presence in the burning bush. Sometimes we just need to stop and turn to find the time God is offering us.
#3 Does God speak to us in the “Language of Giving?” A lot!
Just for perspective, for me, God is not the Old Guy in the sky who talks, thinks, and feels like us – only more so. God is in the processes which give reality to existence and existence to reality. God is in the power that calls life into being and growth, who embeds within creation and the human spirit a moral matrix, the One in whose oneness are we all one.
So I think that the gifts of existence, of life itself and all of its blessings, come down to a radical Source, a power and a process, without which, nothing could be. Rabbi Adin Steinsalz in his classic book on Jewish mysticism sees all of existence as an expression of God’s love. Thanks, God, for that amazing gift of existence. It’s great to be here!
We are blessed with so many gifts. And today we are grateful for the gift of forgiveness, a gift given in grace, ki ayn banu maasim – for we have not earned it.
#4 Does God give us “Gifts of Service?” I need to work a bit more on that concept. Much of human prayer is a shopping list of what the person wants the deity to do that is important to them. Many believe that if you pray hard enough and sincerely enough, that God will be moved to do for you what you want. I don’t think it really works that way, except of course, for when it does. Like I said, I am still working that one out.
#5. Does God speak the love language of “Physical touch?”
Again, not sure. I know that in some religions God has a physical thing going – but not ours.
So when you figure out your love language, be open to the possibility that God, or existence, or life might have been sending a message that you did not understand before as love.
And if those are the love languages God speaks, what are the love languages God understands?
Does God need words of affirmation and praise to know and feel human love? A lot of religions think so – including ours. The Psalms, the prayerbook, the medieval piyutim (religious poems), are filled with words of affirmation, praise and love from us to God. The Rabbis say that we should each say 100 baruchs every day – 100 blessings of thanks and praise.
But really, if we do that, are we really speaking God’s love language? Do all these words matter to God? Does God need to hear our praise to feel loved? Or is the sincere heart behind the prayer most affirmative to God? Don’t know. What I do know is that more than God has a need to receive our thanks and praise, we have a need to express them. We need to engender the attitude of gratitude and acknowledge the many gifts which ultimately come by reason of our being here in a world in which love and blessings can be found.
What about quality time? Does the quality time we dedicate, the presence we bring important to the Almighty? It appears so. First of all, you are here, spending what I hope God would appreciate as quality time. (Except for the person in the back reading the newspaper.)
Another example of that is Shabbat. God Gave us Shabbat b’ahavah uvratzon, in love, and delight. And our accepting that gift means dedicating quality time – sacred time each week – to remember and think about the important stuff. Quality Shabbat time calls us to stop multitasking, to rest, to join with community to celebrate the divinity behind creation and the dignity of being human. I sense also that our quality time spent in Torah study also fills God’s love tank.
Does God need gifts in order to feel our love? Certainly, the ancients believed so. That is part of the motivation which went into the practice of sacrifice. But our prophets had a different view, like Isaiah whose God complains to Israel, “I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of male goats… Bring no more vain offerings.. I cannot bear iniquity along with solemn assembly. Hosea’s God said it plainer, “For I desired loyal love, and not sacrifice.”
So gifts, no, service, yes. God feels our love when it is expressed in the form of the service we offer to God’s creation and created ones. When we feed the hungry, God feels our love. When we house the homeless, God knows we care. When we work for justice and pursue peace, when we make the world a better, fairer, more compassionate place, we send a message of love back to its ultimate source.
And does God share love through physical touch? Again, not sure how that would work. I just know that any love that we give or receive in any form is ultimately an extension of the love which motivated God to light the fuse to the Big Bang. You could say that our physical existence is a hug from God, as is the hug of anyone who sincerely loves.
You know, the prophet Micah in my bar mitzvah portion says it all, “Man has told you what is good, but what does God want of you? Only to do justly, to love acts of kindness, and to walk in humility with your God.”
You know, I could not have said it better myself.
AROUND THE FAMILY TABLE
Yom Kippur – 2011/ 5772
Temple B’nai Or,Morristown,NJ
We Jews live in two types of time, linear time and eternal time… L’dor vador is not only about generations following each other in chronological order, l’dor vador, to generation and generation, is about generations coming together, the oldest and the newest nitzavim, standing side by side in the presence of the other… The family table is a classroom of family values and identity… I want to guide you through a journey which you will come to your table and see who else has and will be sitting there with you.
I hope yours has been an easy fast so far. And I hope that I won’t be making it more difficult this morning, given that I want to share with you thoughts, not so much about food, but about where the food is eaten, the family table. Even if this does lead you to think about food, that might not be such a problem in light of a recent study from Carnegie Mellon that showed that thinking about food makes one less hungry. (Yeh, right.)
One of the most iconic family dinner scenes is the one in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. That’s the one with the split screen showing Annie Hall’s family around the Easter table on one side and the childhood family of Woody’s character, Alvy Singer, at their table on the other side of the screen.
It begins, single screen, with Annie, her parents, her brother, her anti-Semitic grandmother and her Jewish boyfriend, Alvy. They sit around a well-set table in their well-kept home inChippewa Falls,Wisconsin. The conversation is quiet, demur, and humorless. Banal talk about swim meets and boat basins and remarks about Grammy’s Easter ham, “Great sauce!” Whatever quirks the individuals had – and quirks there were – were tucked under the table, covered up by the well-pressed napkin of civility.
Alvy turns to the camera and remarks on how different this is from his family growing up. “Like oil and water,” he says.
The screen then splits. Side by side you see the scene at Annie’s house on one side and on the other side is Alvy’s childhood family in their house under the roller coaster atConey Island. Their family table is chaos – raucous, people interrupt and contradict – everyone talking at the same time – I think they even drown out the roller coaster. This one is making fun of someone’s diabetes, that one talking about someone else’s coronary. Finally, speaking across the split screen, Annie’s mother from the present addresses Alvy’s mother from the past and asks,
How do you intend to spend the holidays, Mrs. Singer?
We fast, she replies, with everyone else, of course, having to jump into the conversation.
No food, to atone for our sins.
What sins? I don’t understand.
To tell you the truth, neither do we.
While I think the scene was meant to portray the difference between the white Anglo-Saxon protestant family and the Jewish family, my sense is that it was more reflective of geographical differences rather than religious, the difference between family culture inNew Yorkand family culture in theMidwestand, well, essentially everywhere else. The table of my childhood in our Jewish home in Minnesota looked more like Annie’s – without the Easter ham – while I would imagine the scene around the table of an Italian family in Brooklyn would look more like Alvy’s Jewish family.
But my point is less religious as it is cultural and anthropological. This scene illustrates how the family table is the place where families show who they are, where family values and culture are on display and passed down to the next generation.
In most cultures, whether it is on a table in a well decorated dining room or on the floor of a hut or around a campfire, the place where people gather to eat is more than a place to pass out food, it is where the family meets, where family and individual identities are formed. Around this table stories are told, opinions are shared, the goings on of the day are reflected upon, often in light of the stories of those who are not there physically, but who are very much present in that moment. Even the sacrificial altar in the ancientTempleinJerusalemwas a kind of family table, where God andIsraelmet over food.
The family table is a classroom of family values and identity. It is a place where you learn what it means to be part of your particular family, what you define as normal. As Jews, we certainly know that and see it all the time, especially as we gather for Seders and on Friday evening, light candles, bless over wine, and eat challah. The table is where Jewish culture, tradition, and memories are passed down, or should we say passed up, l’dor vador, from generation to generation. In our home, we have tried very hard to have the family together on Friday nights – at least so we could welcome Shabbat together, bless candles, wine, children, and challah (in that order). Often when we do, I reflect on the candles my grandmother would light on Friday evenings. Growing up, I don’t remember having a challah and we only started doing Kiddush when I pushed it in high school, but every Friday evening Gram would take the brass Shabbat candlesticks out, light the white candles, and sing the blessing like we did in Temple. For me, that was what was normal. I remember as a kid eating at another Jewish family’s house on Friday night and being surprised that they were not lighting candles. To me, it was unthinkable, simply because for me what we did at our table defined normal. And while I found out that it was not normal for everyone, as it was for us so it became for me, even after leaving home for college and being on my own. And it is what we have continued to do in the home we have created. It’s a l’dor vador thing, from generation to generation to generation.
As Mark Bernsteintalked about so beautifully last night, this year at Templewe have initiated the L’dor vador Project, finding ways to make us aware of where we all came from, and how it is we perpetuate Judaism and family norms l’dor vador, from generation to generation. We want to heighten everyone’s awareness of their own roots, the people you came from and the people from whom they came. That is one of the purposes of the maps in the Linda Blatt Gallery where we have asked you to place a pin or pins in the place where your various immigrant ancestors came from. As you put a pin in this locale or that, you focus on your individual past, the people and places from which you came. If you do it mindfully, you can ask yourself, “Who were these people?” How did they live their lives and why did they make the choices they made? How were their lives and values different and how the same? What has been lost and what continues through me? In the process, you learn more about yourself and your families and reflect on the choices that you make. And as we get more and more pins up on the maps, we learn something important about us as a community. We see how many of us have common roots in Eastern Europe, which is not surprising, and we see how wonderfully diverse we are, with members, Jewish and not, having roots in just about every continent on the planet. Those maps are not just about geography, they illustrate the reality of l’dor vador.
You know, we Jews live in two types of time, linear time and eternal time. We live our lives in linear time, from generation to generation, marching through history, seeing that there ARE new things under the sun. What they did yesterday affects what we do today and what others will do tomorrow. Continuity through time, from generation to generation, has been the lifeline of our people and our faith. From parents to children and their children after them, generations overlapping in their going and in their coming.
We also live in eternal time. This is illustrated by the curious construct of that phrase l’dor vador as it is found in the Tanach and the prayer book. We translate it idiomatically as “from generation to generation,” but the letter vav in the middle means “and,” so literally l’dor vador means “to generation and generation.” L’dor vador is not only about generations following each other in chronological order, l’dor vador, to generation and generation, is about generations coming together, the oldest and the newest nitzavim, standing side by side in the presence of the other. L’dor vador is about time folding over on itself, collapsing past, present, and future into is a single, eternal moment.
I know it takes a leap of the imagination to fold over time, to collapse all moments into a single eternal one, but we Jews do that a lot, bringing generations removed in time one from the other in dialogue, one with the other. In the Talmud, the true foundation of the Jewish worldview, we study the ideas of rabbis who lived generations apart agreeing and disagreeing as if they were in the same room at the same time. The words and ideas of Rabbi Judah the Prince from the 3rd century might be in dialogue with those of Hillel of the first century, and Rav Ashi from the fifth. Likewise, when you see a traditional Torah with commentaries, you will see the Torah text in the middle, surrounded by commentaries by Rashi from 11th century France on one side, David Kimchi from the 13th century on the other, with Abravanel from 15th century Spain, over here on the page, with the Spanish Seforno from the 16th century, and the Malbim from the 19th century over there, with questions on one side of the page being answered by commentaries on the other side, kind of like that split screen in Annie Hall.
But the folding of time and the meeting of the generations goes back even further, back into Torah times. It is such a central theme that we read it this morning on our holiest of days. Atem nitzavhim kulchem – you are standing nitzavim, here this day, all of you, those who are here and those who are not here. From the chopper of the wood to the drawer of the water. Generations of Israelites and the generations of their descendants, the Jews, all stood at that one place in that one time which was transformed into an eternal moment, collapsing time and space, and linking each with all.
And so it is not so difficult to think about generations coming together at one time and one place, and that happens at your family table, your personal time machine, as stories and memories are shared and what happened long ago is made real in the present. The table is a touchstone of memories and of memory itself. The table is the vav – the “and” which brings generations together.
In that spirit and with your permission, I would like to bring you to the table, one you will create and see in your mind and in your heart. I want to guide you through a journey which you will come to your table and see who else has and will be sitting there with you.
If you wish, get yourself in a comfortable position. You can close your eyes if you would like, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, and relax.
Imagine yourself sitting at a round table. The other chairs are empty but they will not be for long.
In your mind, bring to your table those now closest to you. Parents, children, spouses, grandparents, whomever you choose, living or not. It is a magic table which will expand to fit everyone you invite.
Take a moment to look into the eyes of each of those there. As you look, name for each something they have given you, something you have learned from them, a blessing that they have brought to your life. Even if it is difficult to find a blessing that you have received from them, search for it, because it is there. Name that blessing for each one and thank them, for this is their legacy to you.
Think now of one thing that you do or have done or taught or exemplified which you hope has deepened their lives. Name that blessing for each and let them thank you.
Think now of the other people you come from, those still in this life and those no longer. Invite them to enter the room through the door on your left, the door from the past, and seat them around the table. Your table expands yet again to fit them all.
Introduce the generations past and present to each other, let them meet across your table. This will not be a quiet meeting, it may bring some tears.
As conversations fade and you get their attention, share your personal story with those from the past. Affirm that some of what was important to them is important to you. Tell them how their story and their values continue through you.
Thank those from the past for what they have given to you and ask them to extend that thanks to the people they came from, those whose names you will never know but whose blood and mannerisms and smiles and values live in you.
It is time to invite two special guests, our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, spiritual parents of us all. Abraham, the one who argued with God on the side of justice yet offered up his future as a sign of faith. Sarah, the protective mother whose welcoming tent was filed with light, beauty, and love.
Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews, enter from your left, from the past. Greet them Shalom – they will understand you.
Seat them the table, with one seat empty opposite them.
Bring them food and drink as they would to you.
Share with them who you are. Tell them how their story and their values continue through you. Tell them why you are here in this Temple today.
You look now to the door to your right. That is the door leading to the future. The door opens now and your table expands even more to seat future generations yet to be. They may be of your stock or of someone else’s, but related or not, they are family.
Look at them and see in their faces reflections of those already in the room.
Introduce yourself – tell them who you are. Tell them about the others around the table, the people you come from, because they will come from them too. Tell them what is important to you. Tell them what part of you, you are hoping they will hang on to and bring into their lives. Tell them about the legacy you will bequeath to them.
Pull back now, be silent and listen as the generations which had not known each other before begin to speak across the table, across the generations. Introduce your parents and grandparents to your children and grandchildren.
There is still one empty seat around the table. Opposite Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews, is a chair reserved for the person who tradition says will be the last Jew, the last before the generations culminate in final messianic fulfillment. The door to the future opens and in walks, you guessed it, Elijah the Prophet, messiah’s herald who take his place next to Abraham and Sarah. Before you are the beginning and the end and all the generations which link them. Here sit the chopper of the wood and the drawer of the water and between them, the entire span of history. Abraham is the wood chopper who prepared his son’s altar for his trial from God. Elijah is the water drawer, who had water drawn on Mt. Carmel as he confronted the prophets of Baal, and who will announce the coming of that glorious day of Adonai of which Isaiah sings: Ushavtem mayim b’sason, mimayonay hayeshuah – Joyfully shall you draw waters from the fountains of salvation. Isaiah 12:3.
All the generations lean towards them. Abraham and Sarah tell stories of the beginning of the generations. They speak of journeys and battles, of sacrifice, strife and loss, of leaving home and coming home. All turn to Elijah who tells of the history yet to be, that time when all of the dreams and values, all of your stories and theirs come to glorious fulfillment, passed up through all those at the table, through generation and generation and generation.
And as he speaks and they listen, you look with pride at what you have done. You are the link, it is you who binds generation to generation, you are the generation which carries the past and ensures your future and that of our people. Without you as the link, the generations never meet, the stories go untold, and the future is unaware. And as the table empties, you resolve never to leave the table, never to stop telling the stories and the stories of those who came before, never to stop until Elijah comes back again and takes a permanent seat at your table and everyone else’s as well.
The Rabbis taught: when the holy Templewas destroyed, the holy altar, the sacred table over which God and Israelmet, was no more. Having lost her place of meeting, Shekinah, God’s imminent presence among us, went in search for a new table. When she entered the Jewish home she saw there was holiness at the simplest of kitchen and dining room tables, and there she took abode. And so it was and is and ever will be, when families gather to share of God’s bounty, when generations meld in the telling of stories, when values and traditions are passed around the table from one generation to the next as naturally as the peas and potatoes, then that table, your table, is as sacred as the holy altar itself. Thankful for all the gifts in our lives, we sing ldor vador nagil godlecha, let us declare God’s greatness from generation to generation, for now and forever more!