In helfman

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Tis the season, right?
Tis the season right now. We’ve already passed the 25th in a winter month on our calendar… the 25th of Kislev, when Hanukah began.
And we know that another holy day is coming up soon.
And soon it’s going to be the 25th of December! One of the most sacred days of the year.
Does everyone know what holiday is coming up on the 25th? That’s right… Shabbat!
Rabbi Jordan Helfman – December 19, 2015

Sermon: December 19, 2015 - Rabbi Jordan Helfman

Tis the season, right?

Tis the season right now. We’ve already passed the 25th in a winter month on our calendar… the 25th of Kislev, when Hanukah began.

And we know that another holy day is coming up soon.

And soon it’s going to be the 25th of December!   One of the most sacred days of the year.

Does everyone know what holiday is coming up on the 25th?    That’s right… Shabbat!

And we all get a great visitor, as we sing “L’cha Dodi L’krat Kalah” we get a special visit on the night of the 25th of December…that’s right… from the Shabbat bride.

Don’t you just love Shabbat?

Now another reason, the 25th is also special for my son this year, because it is when our Shinshinim – the Israeli teenagers who have been with us for this year – get to spend the 25th with their families.  They recently flew back.  But before they went, they stopped by my son’s JK class here at HBT.

And – this is what my son told me of their visit:

In class, they got to write notes – in fact, lists of things they wanted… a list of presents.  And the Shinshinim were going to deliver those notes – those lists of presents – into a special place – the Kotel – the Western Wall.  This is where God lives.  And when God gets that note, God travels from the Kotel to every home and makes sure that all of the little Jewish boys and girls get what they wish for.  But, really, only if they are good!   Because God is watching to see if they are good or not!  And if they are good little boys and girls, God will make sure they get their presents.  And, Daddy, I’m going to be good, so I can get a whole city block of Lego City!!!!” (whisper- he’s not going to get that Lego City block… he got a dollar store colouring book, which he loves!)

Now… I’m not sure if anyone else caught it… but in the telling of my son, he learned in religious school that the Shechinah – > God’s indwelling presence in the world… is Santa Klaus, and lives at the Kotel in Jerusalem.

When I approached the Shinshinim, they swear six-ways to Sunday that this isn’t exactly what they were teaching – rather that you can wish or even pray for things, but it is only through working hard that things come into this world.  And it is possible, that watching the Christmas version of Paw Patrol  and the Cat in the Hat put these ideas into my son’s mind, and he found an easy Jewish narrative he could put around the Santa Klaus scaffolding he learned in these settings.

Still there is really interesting theology here that is worth unpacking.

  • Good things (presents) come only to good boys and girls.
  • God lives at the Kotel.
  • Prayer – the shinshinim’s last comment to ‘work for it’ and ‘wish for it’, it will come true. If you don’t believe it or work for it then it won’t.  What then is the purpose of the prayer, and what are we all doing here today?
  • Good things (presents) come to good people.

Now, this was, in fact, a core piece of Jewish theology for generations. In our prayer book:

“If you carefully obey My mitzvot which I give you this day, to love and serve Adonai your God with all your heart and soul, I will cause rain to fall on your land in season, the autumn rains and the spring rains, that you may gather in your grain, wine, and oil.  And I will provide grass in your fields for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied. Beware lest your heart be deceived, and you turn and serve other gods, and bow down to them; for then the anger of the Eternal One will blaze against you, and will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no produce, and you will quickly vanish from the good land which the Eternal one give you.”

In the modern world and the way we think of things today, and in modern interpretations, this reading works better, this is from Mishkan T’ifilah. This is an alternative reading:

“If we can hear the words from Sinai then love will flow from us; and we shall serve all that is holy with all our intellect and all our passion and all our life.  If we can serve all that is holy, we shall be doing all that humans can to help the rains to flow, the grasses to be green, the grains to be golden like the sun, and the rivers to be filled with life once more. All the children of God shall eat and there will be enough.  But if we turn from Sinai’s words and serve only what is common and profane, making gods of our own comfort or power, then the holiness of life will contract for us; our world will grow in-hospitable.  Let us therefore lace the words into our passion and our intellect, and bind them as a sign upon our hands and eyes. Let us write them in mezuzot upon our doors, and teach them to our children.  Let us honour the generations that came before us, keeping the promise for those yet to be.”

In the modern world, we have come to reject this as, in many ways, dangerous theology.  Are the rich rich because they are more ‘good’ than others?  The poor because they are less “good” in a moral sense?  The cycle of poverty and disadvantage, inherited wealth and advantage show this is not true.  We admit now to the existence of that great theological force in the world “luck” and many are good people, not for a reward, but because being a good person is a reward in its own right.  This goodness – brings God into our world, making the world closer to Divine, rather than being a bribe for a gift of a good world.

  • God lives at the Kotel.

In Judaism we face east in prayer.  But at HBT our Rabbi faces east.

Story of religious school – > The Kotel delivering presents.  A Cincinnati newspaper announced in 1844 that “the sterling old Dutchman, Santa Claus, has just arrived from the renowned regions of the Manhattoes,” or Manhattan, “with his usual budget of knickknacks for the Christmas times.”  1822 poem written by a New Yorker

Prayer – the shinshinim’s last comment to ‘work for it’ then what is the purpose of the prayer?

Our Torah discusses a portion where Judah approaches Joseph.

Shechinah requires our voice.  We give her the words to pray for the world to be healed.  Our own unfulfilled needs (both spiritual and physical) are part of the fracture.  Through the act of prayer we open ourselves up and allow God to speak through us, and in this mystical moment our voice allows the divine element within us to call out to the infinite One above.

What is prayer?  It is saying God look there is brokenness in the word, we have want, we have need, there are those that are in need of healing, and therefore god the words I am saying are the words that you are saying.  Heal the fractures in our world, make our world more complete.  So when we look at prayer in this way, when our children write to the Kotel, now, apparently in our kindergarten classes, these prayers are for our desires to be fulfilled.  That love can supersede luck.  God therefore is in our goodness, that we hope for in our world and that we bring to your world. God is the love that parents show to children when they are good or bad. God is the love that parents show to children just because they are children.  We have a Father in heaven, and when we look at how we love the Lord our God, the rabbis say that the way we love our God is through the love of our parents.  Parents model the behavior we expect God to have in this world. Therefore parents love no matter how we behave, even when we are beyond forgiveness.   This winter, as it gets cold, as we reach towards next Shabbat.  We know our children will be filled with gifts of love and warmth, and the gift of Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom,

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