Kehillah 5 Year Anniversary

By: Dr. Joel Roffman

Thank you for the honor of addressing you on this very special milestone in the life of our kehillah.

As you know by now, I always try to extract lessons from the Torah even though I don’t necessarily take the words literally. I don’t view the Torah as a history book, but rather, it is the way our people see themselves and how we relate to Gd.

The profound truths of the Torah are what is important. So whether or not 600,000 men and their families left Egypt en masse, and whether or not the  Egyptians chasing them drowned in the sea  – well, that’s less important than the lesson that tyrants will ultimately fall, and that we Jews are called upon to remember the weak because our people were once slaves in Egypt.  Lessons like these (and many others) give me great inspiration. And so I would like to share some of my favorite words, expressions and teachings in the Torah. As you will see, they have been embodied by the members of our kehillah.

The first of these themes is Lech Lecha – go from this place. It’s the name  of one or our early parashiot. Gd tells Abraham to seek a new life in a new land, where his people will ultimately grow in number. Leave your comfort zone. Be bold. Seek something better. And I, Gd, will be with you.

The founding members of our kehillah were faced with a difficult situation 5 years ago. And indeed we went to a new place. Not just literally, but more important, figuratively. We took on a bold new task. And for me, it has resulted in nothing less than a spiritual renewal. I look at all the things I have learned and have taken on since that time 5 years ago. I would never have imagined it! I’m sure many of you feel the same way. Lech lecha. Do something new and different! Seek! Grow! Now!

My most favorite word in the Torah is “Hineni.” Here I am. This word is used several times in the Torah, in response to a call from Gd. In one instance, Gd calls out to Moses, who just killed an Egyptian because he was beating an Israelite. Moses is about to be given the greatest task of anyone in the Torah, leading the Israelites from bondage to freedom. When Gd calls Moses, Moses answers, “Hineni.” Moses put up some resistance, but he ultimately answered the call and accepted the challenge.

We in the kehillah have also answered, “Hineni.” Our members have been called upon to take on myriad new tasks in our shul. Who would have thought? But we responded. Hineni. We all pitch in, in our own way, to help make our shul a success. We’ve attended shul regularly, learned to lead our congregation in davening, read Torah, prepared kiddush, prepared and delivered D’vrei Torah. Me? Us? Who could have imagined?!? And yet, here we are. We answered, “Hineni.”

Here’s the next inspirational lesson for me. I’m not one who necessarily believes in Divine intervention. I believe that, instead of Gd bringing us into Gd’s realm by acting in the world, we bring Gd into our lives by our actions. Gd awaits us. As Heschel taught in his greatest work, Gd is in Search of us.”

And so it was, in the Book of Esther – a book in which Gd is not even mentioned, that Mordechai speaks to Esther just before calamity was to befall the Jews, enjoining her to help her people. He argues that perhaps she was placed in a position of royalty for just such a purpose. It was as though he said, “Esther, this is your moment!” And she answered. “Hineni.” And her actions saved the Jews.

We all have many opportunities to make a phone call, visit someone, bring up an uncomfortable topic in order to comfort and help . . . and make a big difference. Each of us, in these instances, has an opportunity to act as though we’re in that particular situation specifically to make a difference in the lives of others. And of course, that opportunity also applies to our involvement in our shul.

And the final theme I wish to mention is a verse that was read just last week in Parashah Kedoshim. Among the jumble of ethical commands and ritual  – paying a laborer in a timely fashion, honoring parents, the proper mode of sacrifice, leaving food available for the poor, not forming idols – among this mixture of commands, only one justification is given – “You shall be holy because I, Gd, am holy.”

Kedusha – holiness – is the greatest virtue in Judaism. It’s the singular quality of Gd that we are commanded to imitate. So what is it? When we, or any havurah gather at the beginning of Shabbat to laugh, share a meal, share our lives, the prayer that is said over wine has little to do with wine, but it affirms the holiness of the day and of their behavior. This is, of course, the kiddush. In one form or another, the word is said six times during the prayer.

When two individuals form an eternal bond in a wedding ceremony the bond is sanctified and is called, in Hebrew, kiddushin.

The central portion of our amidah is called the kedushah. And when a loved one dies, we refuse to let death be the final word. We recite a prayer that emphasizes the triumph of life over death, of hope over despair – we call it Kaddish.

The word, in one form or another, is repeated countless times in our Shabbat service, and in our Jewish lives. What we have done together to create this space, is our shining example of holiness.

So those are my words, phrases and themes. Maybe you have your own.

So getting back to that jumble of ritual and ethical behavior: that jumble forms a matrix that brings us together as a people, defines what is holy, and calls upon us – all of us – to strive to become more holy, and in the process, to take responsibility for strengthening the Jewish people –  individually and collectively. And for us, the kehillah plays an important role as one of the central aspects of that striving.

May we go from strength to strength – ever seeking, ever learning, ever growing, ever lifting ourselves and others, and ever doing all we can to live a holy life. We are commanded to do nothing less.

Mazel tov to everyone in our kehillah!! Shabbat Shalom