Sermons from our Members

Sermon given by Sue Privler on Shabbat Vayakhel and Parashat Pekudei
 

When I volunteered to give a sermon I didn’t realize which topics were coming up.  Then I read this week’s double parsha.  Vayakhel starts by Moses reminding everyone to observe Shabbat.  Okay, that’s either simple or complicated depending on how you choose to observe, but we all do observe in our own way because we are here.  

 

Then Moses asks everyone to contribute to building the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), he or she who is “generous of heart.”  Actually this is the one time in fundraising history that Moses had to tell the people enough — stop giving — we have enough.  To me the rest sounds like a bad set of Ikea directions.  I can barely follow a recipe.  The instructions here make my eyes roll and I would immediately hand them off to my husband, Irv, and expect him to figure it out — get the materials and get the job done.  

 

But what interested me is the need for everyone to contribute.  This isn’t fundraising.  This is the backbone of our religion.  Each of us has our own relationship with HaShem.  Each of us practices our own idea of Judaism.  Some keep kosher but don’t support a synagogue.  Others eat “trefe” but devote themselves to a synagogue.  Others are devoted Zionists but are not particularly observant.  Three Jews, four opinions!  Many Jews don’t belong to a synagogue but still count themselves as Jews.  Yet, to hold a service we need 10 people.  We are a communal group.  We have to depend on each other.  This parsha underscores the absolute need for each person’s involvement.  It doesn’t matter how close you feel when you are home or wherever — we need to support each other and thankfully those of us here do just that.   We are here, we are part of the minyan, we contribute.  

 

So I believe the message is the children of Israel worked together to build a tabernacle — the Miskan.  It is us to us to maintain  — not just the physical entity — but the concept the entity represents.

Sermon given by Cheryl Gavin on Shabbat Vayigash

When Jacob and his family arrived in Egypt, Joseph brought Jacob, his father, to meet Pharaoh. The first words Pharaoh said to Jacob were:

"How many are the days of the years of your life?"

Of all the things that Pharaoh could ask Jacob, why did he first want to know how old Jacob was? Or did he?

Pharaoh didn't really care to know Jacob's chronological age. Rather, Pharaoh wanted to know how many days that Jacob actually felt alive in
his life. Just how many days were there where Jacob lived life to its fullest? It was these days that would actually determine the years of his life.

People often confuse activity with accomplishment. We can be busy all day long, but how much was actually accomplished? And it gets even worse. What if someone spent the entire day playing video games and eating ice cream? Would that really be a day that could be counted as a fulfilling day in our lives? Of course not.

 

Sadly, many of us are playing video games and eating ice cream in our own way, not using the unique and special talent that G-d has given to us and wants us to use. Living each day as though it might be your last is a true day in your life.

 

Think about a task that you were recently asked to complete, professionally or personally. Did you complete the task immediately or did you put it off? When a task is completed immediately it often appears to be small and even easy. However, if you put the completion of the task off, it suddenly becomes much more difficult or even larger than first intended. Many people tend to wait until the last minute to finish most anything. Whether it's packing for a trip, paying bills, or completing a project, we all seem to take as much time as we've been given. On Friday night, minutes before the Sabbath begins, Jews around the world are rushing to complete their Sabbath preparations. It doesn't matter whether it's winter and the Sabbath arrives at 4:00 or the summer time when it arrives at 8:00, everyone always uses all the time they've been allotted. How many of us knew that Chanukah was coming, but still found themselves running out to buy one more gift sometime during the 8 days.

 

Similarly, any personal goals in our life will also appear to be small or large, depending on just how much time we have for it. And since most goals are ones which we want to accomplish during our lifetime, then in theory, you have your entire life to achieve them. This is why most people never scratch the surface of their potential. Sadly, the world is full of elderly people in their rocking chairs looking back on a life gone by who are still waiting for the perfect time to begin their goals and live their dreams.

 

And this is exactly what Pharaoh was asking Jacob. He wanted to know how many days there were that Jacob actually lived. Pharaoh knew Jacob was such a wise and revered man, so he wanted to know just how

many days it was that Jacob was able to fight his instinctive urge to put off working toward his goals and aspirations and actually live each day like it might be his last.

 

This idea of living your days to the fullest and to work towards goal completion ties in perfectly with this week’s Shabbat. Not only is it the first Shabbat of 2017, but it is also our birthday Shabbat. Celebrating the New Year as well as ones birthday are both good opportunities for you to consider if you are living your life to the fullest, are you attaining your goals? If the answer to these questions are yes, fantastic, but if the answer is no, then now is the time to work towards your goals and to begin to live your life to the fullest, to live as it is your last day. As it is said, “don’t put off tomorrow, what you can do today.

 

So just remember that a task will contract or expand depending upon the time we've been given for its accomplishment, therefore it is vital to begin right now to live all the days... of your life.

So to those of you celebrating your birthdays during this month and to those who have still not decided upon your New Year’s Resolutions for 2017, I encourage you to live your days to the fullest, to complete each task as you come upon it, spend time with those you love and make the best of each and every day. Shabbat Shalom

Sermon given by Cheryl Gavin on Shabbat Vayishlach

In this week’s torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob returns home after 20 years and finally comes into contact with his brother Esau; Jacob had been hiding from him. During their childhood, Esau was angry at Jacob because he thought that Jacob had stolen his birthright. Jacob now wanted to give Esau some of his flocks as a peace offering, but Esau declined, saying: "'I have plenty ... let what you have remain yours.' But Jacob said, '...I have everything.' "

There is a world of difference between what Esau meant when he said he has "plenty" and Jacob declaring that he has "everything". Esau, a selfish person caring only about his materialistic possessions, proclaimed that "I have plenty" because "plenty" is quantitative. His material possessions are what he saw as his net worth. If he would ever lose a majority of his possessions, then he would be plenty no more.

Jacob, however, who had his entire family with him, proudly declared, "I have everything." Our most valuable and prized possessions will always be what money can never buy - our lives, our health, our families. For

thousands of years, people with a great deal of knowledge have been preaching this truism. But why do we fail to embrace it?

In interviews with elderly people who look back on a life gone by, they often speak with a sense of sadness about how they should have spent more time with their families, taken better care of themselves, and certainly focused less on their careers. They tend to speak of regrets about putting their career and desire for financial success over friends and family and the realization of what is really important. In fact, there isn't a headstone that could be found on a single grave site that states that the one buried achieved great success in business, real estate, athletics, or the arts. Rather, it proclaims the virtues that the deceased possessed as a grandparent, parent, sibling or spouse.

And this is the world's most ironic paradox. While society, the media, and the world-at-large shower accolades and praise on those who achieve business or personal success, when you pass away this isn't at all how your life is judged - by man, woman or by G-d.

Monetary and career success are wonderful things. We're all designed for greatness and should strive to succeed and grow in many aspects of our lives. But it's the priceless things in our lives that we tend to take so much for granted and never fully appreciate until we, G-d forbid, no longer have them or are faced with a fear of losing them.

This is why Jacob knew he had everything. Is there not a dying wealthy person who would without hesitation give his entire fortune to live another year? How about for just another week? Would you ever want to switch places with him? Of course not. Yet, billions of people who still have so much physical life in them choose to walk the earth being unhappy, discontented, and miserable.

The reason for this is that they're usually focused on only the same things that Esau was. Their idea of wealth is exactly what the zombies of society and the media have said that it should be. So instead of appreciating and loving their tremendous and endless amount of true wealth that constantly surrounds them, they instead choose to dwell on missed and lost opportunities, the things they don't have, and all of the possessions they long for.

If you think about "what you have" in the same terms as Esau, then you are certain to have a life filled with frustration, disappointment, and unhappiness. But if you understand the life-changing statement of what Jacob said and you think about all of the irreplaceable and priceless things you have in your life right now, then you now will wake up each and every morning confidently knowing that you really do have everything.

So when you go home this afternoon, look around at who live with, not where you live, what you drive, or how your house is decorated. Think about your children, grandchildren, parents, relatives and friends and appreciate that you, just like Jacob, have everything. Shabbat Shalom.

Sermon given by Martin Bradley Ashare on Shabbat Toldot

This week's Torah portion introduces us to two opposing philosophies and approaches to life, as personified and developed by Esau and Jacob. "A man of the field") is the Torah's first description of a maturing Esau; open and external, Esau enjoys nothing more than the excitement of a good hunt. On the other hand, Jacob is described as a "wholesome man, abiding in tents" (ibid.). At home in the tents of study, Jacob seeks the internal and the essence of things.

The Midrash relates that the mind-boggling sale of the birthright occurred on the day that the world was mourning the death of their grandfather Abraham. Jacob is preparing the customary mourner's meal of lentils, while Esau is out hunting on this day, the day of the funeral of his grandfather. Esau returns home and is hungry, and all he sees is a bowl of food. What these lentils represent means nothing to him. They comprise only an unnamed brew, and he entreats Jacob to "pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff." The Torah's response to Esau's request is, "Therefore his name was called Edom (red)"). Why should this one entreaty for some "red stuff" result in Esau and his descendants being called Edom?

Esau was faced with a test: the birthright, future and destiny of a G-dly people vs. the stomach and immediate gratification. No contest, Esau declares, as the red food flows down his throat. And the Torah testifies, "Esau despised his birthright". This decision symbolizes and defines Esau, representative of the non-Torah viewpoint of the world - immediate gratification at all costs, live for the present instead of the future, give the physical absolute precedence over the spiritual, constantly pamper the body at the expense of using that same energy and time to enhance the soul. Esau is Edom, confirming his status as someone who exchanges eternal values for the transitory present. Only Jacob has the foresight to forego the present moment and inherit the future, the timeless and the eternal.

For the past two thousand years, since the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, we have found ourselves in the exile of Edom. What does the United States in 21st century have to do with Edom? Because it is specifically this philosophy of Edom that remains so prevalent in all aspects of society. A case in point is the advertising media, whose most prevalent color is none other than red, because red attracts your eye and catches your attention, focusing your mind on the external and the transient. It screams at us not to think about inner meanings or future consequences, only the here and now.  Not to mention that the news media refers to those areas voting for the Republican Party as the red part of the country.

The Midrash continues that Esau brought in a group of friends to mock Jacob who was willing to sell a good, solid meal for some future spiritual birthright. That's Edom - they employ ridicule and jokes in order to distract their mind from the gnawing dissatisfaction of an empty existence. But once the merriment is over, Esau's soul is dissatisfied and hungry once again, and therefore the next verse reads, "And there was a famine in the land". Esau is hungry again and he is on the hunt, which leads to a further resentment and jealousy of his brother's peace of mind with G-d and himself, and so it continues in our exile of Edom. They have neither the patience nor the desire to delve into the heart of anything beyond the surface, and are only interested in the immediate, the superficial, the external - instant gratification.

Even our everyday mitzvot teach us to forego the moment. Before we eat we must ask ourselves, is this kosher? What is the proper blessing? There is a sanctification of the moment because we are a G-dly people, and the blessing reminds us that something is beyond us, that there is a Creator and we are His subjects. Even as we feed our stomachs, we transcend the immediate moment for a glimpse of eternity.

How does one achieve joy, pleasure, and satisfaction? Jacob teaches us that there is much joy, tranquility, serenity, pleasure, and delight in this world - but if your only standards of judgment are your nerve endings, then you will end up more animal than human. If you insist on the now you may never have a tomorrow. All the pleasures become heartache and shame, a realization of a wasted life.

Jacob argues that the joy of this world is observing G-d's holy days, of watching children grow into G-d fearing learned Jews, who are aware of themselves and their heritage, who care about Torah and their synagogue, who are sure and secure in the knowledge of who they are and where they come from, aware of their responsibilities to their faith and people, living according to the sacred ideals, living a tranquil and secure life