Friday, August 21, 2015

9 Words for 9 Innings

A Word on the Word, “Word”… and other Words:
9 words to take with us to the game, 1 per inning.
August 18, 2015/5775

This past Tuesday Temple Israel went to the Holy Land of Fenway Park, 40 strong, for Jewish Heritage Night. As we gathered before walking together, I offered this quasi-irreverent D’var Torah, to  complement our peanuts & cracker jacks:

A D’var Torah is Hebrew for “a word” of Torah.  Davar means “word.”  So let’s take with us to the game a word on the word, “word” along with a few other words….

Our portion this week is called Shoftim.  It’s one the parashiyot in Deuteronomy that does not begin with the word VAY’DABER.  As in, “(God) spoke to Moses saying….”  Vay’daber comes from the same root as “davar,” which as you know now means “word.”  So the first word we’ll toss in our pocket and take with us to the game is just that – Davar.  Word.

1.  Davar. DAVAR is among the most fascinating and multivalent words in the entire language.  It means not only “word” but also thing, speech, sentence, message, report, advice, request, promise, command, decision, theme, story, reason, teaching, event, and, my personal favorite, a commandment. All of these meanings packed into the word for word.  The message is clear—in Hebrew, in Judaism, and indeed in life, the power of language measures up to concept of mitzvah, of commanded action, of doing the right thing OR ELSE…. And speaking of the “or else,” word #2:

2.  Shoftim.  Our first word in this week’s portion, shoftim, refers to judges.  God in our portion commands Moses to appoint judges.  A singular judge is a shofeit, but more often to we see another form of this word—with the same root—mishpat, meaning justice or law.  In our portion, we see this word paired with another word—a word that perhaps matters more than any other word, at least according to my own bias.  The judges, the shoftim, are commanded to judge fairly, to follow what the text calls mishpat-tzedek, a form of justice that is just plain…just.

3.  Tzedek.  Our portion commands, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.”  It’s the only time we see a doubling of a word in this kind of way.  It means, “justice, justice you must pursue (or chase after).”  Tzedek was the obsession of our prophets, the vision of the world as it should be, a world in which every human being is treated with dignity and has a fair shot and making it.  I remember growing up when tickets to a baseball game were $3.  Now the cheapest ones you’ll find – group rates – around $25 or so.  That prices out a huge segment of the population, the under-resourced who perhaps would benefit most from the recreation and sheer joy of baseball.  The very notion of tonight’s game being Jewish Heritage Night is recognition that we’ve made strides.  2-3 generations ago Jewish identity wasn’t something worth celebrating in the public eye, it was a burden that the community had to overcome.  Tzedek, justice, equality, fairness, is something that we have chased and continue chasing after. 

Enough on this week’s portion, now transitioning to the holy words of baseball. 

4.  Kana (kuf nun alef).  This is the closest word in the Bible for being fanatical or zealous.  It’s as close as we come to being a fan.  Now, I’m not saying that if you’re fan you’re insanely zealous.  But there’s some very real connection between being a “fan” and being “kana,” insanely fanatical.   I’m going to break the rules here and make the next word English.

5.  Fan. The word “fan” in English has two meanings.  The first we know quite well, deriving from the Latin word “vannus” or “ventus” meaning “wind”—to vent, to fan.  But what I’d really like to vent about is the second definition, for it’s this meaning that pertains to our game tonight. In 16th century Latin, the word “fanaticus” meant an insane person, inspired by a god.  It made its way into modern English meaning an insane extremist, or, more moderately, a devotee. And thanks to American baseball in the 19th century the word evolved further into the abbreviated form “fan.” Definition two: an enthusiast of the sport of baseball.  And, a only later, an enthusiast for sports in general.  Thank you, Oxford English Dictionary and Muhlenberg College English Department.

(Hang in there—4 more words to go, and the first pitch awaits.)

6.  B’reishit.  The very first word in the whole Torah.  It means: “In the big inning.”  ….I had to.  It’s the worst Jewish baseball joke known to mankind; if I didn’t throw it in I’d hear about it from my dad.  You can bust my chops for that one on our walk to Fenway.  Speaking of…

7.   Halicha, which means “walk.”  We’ll be walking from here to Fenway, about a 15 minute brisk halicha.  You may recognize a variant of that word “halacha,” which means Jewish Law.  That’s not accidental.  “Halacha” actually literally means “way,” a Jewish way.  Holech means walking, lalechet means to walk.  God says to Abraham, lech l’cha—Go!  (In baseball language: Play ball!)

8.  Chalat.  This is the verb for “brewing,” whether beer or tea.  A “brew” is a chalita.  The letters are chet lamed tet, which in the rabbinic period meant engaging in some process of cooking that involved boiling water.  Those same letters, incidentally, make up the verb for “to decide,” l’hachlit – a hachlata is a decision.  Now you know this word – use it carefully.  Don’t confuse chalita, a brew, with “chalcholet” – a word meaning rectum.  That’s different.

9.  This one’s devoted to all who have not listened to single word I’ve said, and to validate your boredom by giving you the opportunity to walk away saying that you learned at least 1 word: the Hebrew word for baseball.  Ready for it?  Baseball in Hebrew is…. Beis-ball.

That’s it.  9 words for 9 innings.  Batter up!  Word?


Friday, August 14, 2015

Becoming "more human," knowing we are "only human"

In this week’s portion we encounter what is the Torah’s most unequivocal statement on economic justice.  It reads, and I’ll excerpt the passage, for the sake of brevity:

Efes ki lo yih’yeh b’cha evyon - There shall be absolutely no poor among you—since Adonai your God will bless you in the land that Adonai your God is giving you as a hereditary portion—if only you heed Adonai your God and take care to keep all this Instruction that I give to you this day.
     However, if there is a needy person among you, one of your kinspeople in any of your settlements in the land that Adonai your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsperson. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him enough for whatever he needs. 
And beware, lest you hold in your heart the base thought that says “The seventh year, the year of remission, is approaching,” and you end up being mean to your needy kinsman and give him nothing. This person will cry out to God against you, and you will incur guilt. Give to him readily, and have no regrets when you do so, for in return Adonai your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings. 
          Because the poor will never cease from your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:1–11)

This statement is loaded, it begs for a 45 minute sermon.  But I’ve been taught that a good sermon really needs 3 things: #1 a good beginning, #2 a good ending, and #3 the assurance that #1 and #2 are as close together as humanly possible. 

This famous statement on economic justice found in this week’s portion, Parashat Re’eh, has puzzled commentators throughout history, particularly because of inherent contradiction in the text - the declarative statement that there must not be poor people in the Land -- that’s a commandment, meaning it’s on YOU to ensure that there are no needy-- and then the recognition that there may be needy so this how you should act.  Now, we might reconcile the two in a variety of ways.  But the text goes even further, “ki lo yechdal evyon mikerev haaretz— the poor will never cease from the land!”

So to rephrase, three commandments:
1) There must not be poverty in your midst.
2) If there is poverty, fix it - you’re accountable.
3) There will always be poverty.  

What kind of Covenant is this?  A commandment that we’re given, followed by the Divine proclamation that we have to fulfill it-- and will never fulfill it.  Is this some kind of trap?  

Perhaps.  But perhaps it’s a reflection on the tension between Divine law and human nature, between the world-as-it-should-be and the-world-as-it-is.  God dictates the world-as-it-should-be, but the-world-as-it-is… is dictated by human behavior.  The human being.  

So let’s consider this: What does this text suggest about human nature?  

When we read political part of the Bible, such as this, we can assume: if there’s a law, there’s a reason for it, a necessity for it. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” 
This was not a novel idea, he was likely drawing on the words of John Calvin, who said two centuries prior:
If we were like angels, blameless and freely able to exercise perfect self-control, we would not need rules or regulations. Why, then, do we have so many laws and statutes? Because of man’s wickedness, for he is constantly overflowing with evil; this is why a remedy is required.

This Calvinist polemic, like it or not, resonates among our biblical stories.  From the very beginning, human beings mess up: Adam lies, Cain kills, Noah turns his back on humanity.  As a colleague of mine often says, “Reading these stories, you would never want your children to be like our biblical ancestors.” Abraham shows faith by offering to slaughter his son. Isaac spends the rest of his life traumatized and mostly silent. His wife Rebecca deceives him, conspiring with their son Jacob who cheats and steals the birthright and blessings from his brother Esau (who’s really hairy by the way).  Let’s not even get started on Jacob’s kids (wouldn’t want to ruin act II of Lloyd Weber’s musical).

Throughout the Exodus, we see similarly dreary views on human nature.  Moses’ reluctance, Aaron’ and the Israelite’s betrayal of God at Sinai.  Suffice it to say, if a text can “think,” as literary scholars often urge readers to consider, then this text of ours thinks very little of the human being.

And the Rabbis picked up on this in the Rabbinic Period.  They knew Torah like the back of their hands.  

In the Midrash, Genesis Rabbah (8:5), Rabbi. Simon taught that when God came to create adam, the human, the angels argued with each other, vociferously.  They were divided into 2 camps, with one arguing, “the human being must not be created!” and the other side saying, “the human being must be created!” While they were arguing, God created the human being and said then said to the angels, “what are you arguing about— it’s already done!”

The argument, of course, is whether human beings are good or bad - whether or not Calvin gets it right.  But for the Rabbis who told this story, the question was different.  And for us as well, the question is: 
How do we deal with the duality of our nature. And I mean this not philosophically, but in the most practical, realistic ways. How do we reconcile our potential to love each other - and show our love through actions, generosity, forgiveness, kindness, empathy and laughter…. with our propensity to bend toward sin, selfishness, cruelty, humiliation, lies, even murder?  What does it mean to be human?  This duality makes its way into our everyday language, when we say:
“I’m only human!” vs. 
“How can I be more human” 

Well, which is it?  

That is the question that we begin focusing on tomorrow night.  Tomorrow begins the month of Elul, the final month before Rosh HaShanah, our Jewish New Year.  The hard work of the New Year in Judaism is called “teshuvah,” often translated as “repentance,” but literally it means, “turning or returning.”  
Turning from “I’m only human” to “how can I be more humane.”  And this hard work that goes into the New Year does not begin on Rosh HaShanah— it begins now.

The month of Elul is known as a period of deep introspection, a period of apology, forgiveness, goal setting, hoping, and yearning.  This is hard work, and it requires vulnerability.  There is no other way to begin without the willingness to look in the mirror honestly.  

To notice when our hands are closed so we can open them;
to see when our eyes are resentful, so we can fill them with compassion;
to hear when our hearts harbor thoughts that will make our deeds neglectful towards our brothers and sisters, near and far.  

An 18th century Hasidic master Reb Simcha Bunim famously taught that we should keep two slips of paper at all times -- one in each pocket.  One should say, "Bishvili nivra ha'olam-- the world was create for my sake."  The other slip should read, "Anochi afar va'efer-- I am dust and ashes.”  The most important part is knowing when to pull out which slip of paper.

Living in the month of Elul involves a vacillation between both slips of paper.  And it’s not easy.  How do we lower ourselves to the ground?  How do we lift ourselves up?  What does it mean for each of us, who is only “only human,” to be "more human"?

Welcome to the month of Elul.  

This D'var Torah was delivered by Rabbi Matthew Soffer at the Riverway Project's Soul Food Friday on August 14, 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

We need Deuteronomy - because slavery is not over

I just finished reading Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, an extraordinary work on the travesty of mass incarceration today in the US, particularly of African Americans.  I haven't yet recovered from what Alexander achieved in this work, essentially a telling of the facts, the reality, the truth about a state of injustice that I simply can't wrap my head around completely.

Incomprehensible - to think that at this moment the US has a greater percentage of its citizens incarcerated than any other country in the world....  That incarceration of the African American community is greater now in this democracy of ours than in South Africa at the worst moment of the Apartheid....

This week I began another book - Deuteronomy.  The Greeks called it Deuteronomy (deuteros nomos, "second" and "law") because essentially it was a re-telling, a revision, in fact, of a collection of stories from Exodus through Numbers that explained who we were and what we needed to do about it.  The imperative to retell, to revise the popular narrative, is an imbedded aspect of our tradition.  It's in our DNA.  Most scholars believe the author, or more likely, authors, of most of Deuteronomy knew the other 4 books.  If that's the case, then these anonymous writers and storytellers had a point to make-- they saw that the dominant narrative, the myths of origin, and their subsequent obligations needed a new reality check.  So little is known about the ancient mysterious authors- our ancestors- who began this age-old process of creating what we now call Scripture, sacred literature, which we believe (or, if you will, we hang onto hope) that it can lead us into relationship with the Divine.

I don't believe that only ancient texts lead us into relationship with God.  Just as the Prophets isn't the only canon of literature that can wake up a people to their obligations to humanity.  There indeed seems to be, at least in my conscience, a stitching between the end of The New Jim Crow and the beginning of Deuteronomy.  Race relations today need a "deuteronomy" of sorts because slavery is not over, it's just hidden.  No, worse, we are hiding it.

Mass incarceration is the new slavery.  And as a Jew, an heir to a myth of origin that says, "because you were slaves in Egypt," no less than 36 times in the Torah, my social conscience is aching.  I hear in my heart the voices of the Prophets crying out from generations past.

Following the reading of Deuteronomy tomorrow morning, in our haftarah the Prophet Isaiah will have the last word (excerpted):
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Eternal has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me....O what a sinful nation....  Learn to do well; pursue justice, relieve the oppressed....


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Being Played, Playing along, and Praying for Facts

A reflection- on my Times of Israel blog- on the haunting way in which this war flared up.

Monday, July 07, 2014

The "Sermon" of the Summit- Pursuing Sh'lom Bayit/Family Wholeness

An abbreviation of this blog entry was first published on "Double Booked," the blog by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, devoted to the struggles of working families in the 21st century.

The great "rabbi" George Burns said, "The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible." It's advice to which I've aspired and never adhered. But I suppose the lesson is clear enough: if there's really something vital to say, just say it; make your point clear and compelling.  The White Summit on Working Families was just a single day, but the crisis prompting the summit was so clear, so compelling, that the day itself felt like a great sermon.  The bottom line was this: families are working harder than ever, and our workplaces haven't caught up.  Also, family itself requires extraordinary work, and not only the work of raising children but in caring for aging parents.  

I was stunned by the data provided the Center for American Progress (mostly from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the US Department of Census).  I couldn't believe that 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are working.  In 1975, just a generation ago, more than half of all kids had a stay-at-home parent. Now, fewer than a third of kids grow up with a parent at home. Meanwhile, the annual cost of child care for an infant in a child care center is higher than a year’s tuition at the average four-year public college in most states!  

This fact hit home, as a parent of a sixteen month old.  As a rabbi, I typically work more than 60 hours a week, and my schedule is subject to the community's needs.  My wife works per diem as a social worker.  This means what when our little Caleb gets a cold and sent home from daycare with a low-grade fever, we lose a day's pay. This past year he was sick almost every week, and as the policy goes he had to stay home the next day as well; docked another day's pay. For most of our friends, this is how it goes.  This is our "normal."  My wife Nicole and I are still so conscious of the fact that we are among the more privileged; we don't live with food insecurity like 20% of US homes with kids; but we find it so hard to make our wonderful family work.

The "great sermon" of the summit identified the real problem behind our situation: Workplaces are still structured for a family of the 60's.  Most are designed for families in which one parent stays home, lacking policies that actually take care of our families-- specifically, paid sick days (including care-giving for sick kids and aging parents), equal pay for women, and flexible working conditions.  

We heard from our leading politicians, including the President, the First Lady, the Vice-President, and Dr. Jill Biden; they spoke of the need for policy changes-- minimum wage increases, paid sick days, etc.  But we also heard from CEO's like Bob Moritz, Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, whose company went unlimited with paid sick days and saw that the number of sick days actually taken went down, while productivity rose. Mark Weinberger, CEO of EY, said his company rewards its teams for flexibility-- and in so doing finds increased productivity from its employees.  But Weinberger also said something that prompted me to think about my own context, that of the synagogue.  Speaking about the solution for this overall societal problem, he said, "it can't be an initiative, it has to be a culture."  

In a room of more than a thousand folks, I was one of but a few rabbis the room.  And when I hear the word "culture," my mind's eye pictures the synagogue.  Synagogues are workplaces too.  The "great sermon" preached by this summit is as pertinent to our own houses of worship as any workplace.  How are we synagogues doing?  I don't think anyone empirically knows the answer to this question-- no survey or studies have been done.  I would like to think that we're ahead of the game, but I'm also aware that religious institutions are permitted certain exemptions, like from offering unemployment insurance for employees. As a rabbi in an institution that deeply values its employees, I left the Summit eager to learn about how we and congregations across the country are really doing; what are the best practices, and how can we learn from each other, as each of our communities works to improve our policies to reoriented ourselves to the new reality of working families?  We all want synagogues to model compassion not only in our programs but in our policies.

Yet synagogues are also more than workplaces; they are places designed to help families work. The focus of my work at Temple Israel of Boston is two-part: (1) to organize for social justice in our community and greater Boston and (2) to engage and connect to a young adult population that tends to be disengaged by conventional synagogue life.  In both areas of my work, I face families who are working so hard to make their families work; boomers who are overwhelmed by the balancing act of working full-time while moving their parents into retirement communities, or caring for them as they decline in health; new parents, whose kids are always getting sick, and whose jobs don't seem to "get it" by supporting them through those times.  How are we, in our communities, supporting each other through this unprecedented struggle?  Are we reckoning with our families' needs vis-a-vis childcare and "parent-care"?  

Among the most supreme Jewish values is Sh'lom Bayit, typically translated "peace in the home" but it may also be rendered, "family wholeness."  There are so few institutions families can turn to in order to find "shalom" or wellness.  In the past the Jewish community was tightly knit enough for us to support one another with greater ease, with more intuitive compassion. That was then, and this is now.  In the past, the synagogue has been viewed as a "meeting house," a "house of worship," a "house of study"; perhaps the time has come for us to add to the list: a resource center for family wholeness (Sh'lom Bayit).

The religious Zionist Rav Kook famously said, "Hayashan yitchadeish v'hachadash yitkadeish-- what is old must be made new, and what is new must be made holy.”  Our families need help, and our congregations have a unique role in the work ahead-- through advocacy for civic change, yes, but also in "renovating" our own synagogues to be places where working families can find peace.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Belief Beyond Boredom: Shavuot 5774

Sermon delivered to the Temple Israel Confirmation Class of 5774
June 4, 2014/5774

Shavuot is about receiving the Torah at Sinai.  Confirmation is about receiving this tradition, symbolized by the Torah at Sinai.  (Are you with me so far?  Good.)  Sinai, in the Bible, is considered the most “interesting moment”— it captured the imagination of the entire community.  That’s what we always teach you, right?  

But for a moment, I’d like for us to focus not on the “interesting” Sinai, not on the “imaginative” Sinai.  Because, I suspect, it wasn’t all interesting, all the time, for all the people.  What about when Moses was up at the top of the Mount, overstaying his welcome with the big G? The Israelites, they were bored.  They were bored beyond belief— literally!  Which is why they built a golden calf.

So let’s play out the possibility that the real “story” of Sinai is one of overwhelming boredom, and then overcoming boredom.

Raise your hand if you've ever been bored in religious school.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever been bored reading the Bible.  Raise your hand if you've ever been bored in services.  On behalf of your clergy, I'd like to say: You're welcome.  

I recently read a book about boredom.  And let me tell you: nothing is more boring than reading a book about boredom. Except, perhaps, listening to a sermon about a book about boredom.  But on this morning, the morning of your Confirmation, your Sinai moment, if you will, I feel so utterly obliged to address the issue of boredom—and in so doing hopefully not bore you to death.

There’s a story told of a mother who one Saturday morning calls to her child, “C’mon, son, it’s time to go to synagogue!”
 The son calls back from his bedroom, “Aw, mom, I don’t wanna go. It’s so boring, nobody likes me, nobody ever listens to anything I have to say. Can’t I just stay home in bed?”
 The mother replies: “Absolutely not!  You have to go!”
 The son:  “Give me two good reasons, mom.”
 “Well for one thing,” says the mother, “you’re thirty three years old.  And for another, you’re the rabbi.”

For the first 14 years of my life, the Hebrew school classroom was the epicenter of boredom, the “holy of holies” for dullness, where we toiled in the Torah of tedium.  That’s why many people dropped out, and why many still do. 

This problem is actually widespread.  As the Jewish community learned recently from a PEW study released this year, disengagement and disconnection from institutional Jewish life—synagogues, JCCs, federations—is a huge problem.  The normal “sites” – the places that were fashioned to feel like Sinai, to capture the imagination of the Jewish people are, by and large, doing a lousy job at that.  In other words, our community is suffering from boredom. 

But boredom is nothing new to the story of Judaism.  We get it in the Bible from the very start.  The philosopher Immanuel Kant read boredom into the story of Adam and Eve.  He wrote:
“If Adam and Eve had remained in Paradise…. boredom would certainly have martyred them, as well as it does other men in similar positions.” 

The implication is clear: The whole exile from Eden serves the function of making life interesting!

And the Rabbis too understood the invasive, contaminating stench of boredom.  This is one reason why they created midrash.  Yes, I know, we told you midrash is designed to "fill gaps," to "solve textual problems." What we really meant to say was: they made midrash so that they wouldn't be so bored.  They made midrash so that we, you, would NOT be like the Israelites, so bored beyond belief that we get our spirituality elsewhere.

Take this midrash, which I promise you pertains directly to Shavuot, and to the statement that you are making by being present here at your Confirmation.

Here’s the context of the midrash: the Rabbis are reading the first line of the book of B'Midbar—the book of Numbers.  It begins, "Vay'daber Adonai El Moshe B'Midbar Sinai Leimor."  It's a weird beginning to a book.  Because usually it's "vay'daber Adonai el Moshe Leimor" - 70 times in fact, we see it that way.  But here's it's different—"And God spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai saying…."  So the Rabbis were confused: What do you mean, IN THE WILDERNESS OF SINAI, Torah was given?  Isn't that obvious?  Or could this suggest that Torah was given in a bunch of other places too?

The Midrash answers: “Why does it say "in the wilderness of Sinai?" Our Sages taught that the Torah was given in three ways: through fire, through water, and through wilderness.” 

And the Midrash goes further:
Why was the Torah given in these three ways? [What do these three things have in common?]  Just as these are free and open to everyone, so too are the words of the Torah free and open.

Think about that for a second: Torah is free and open.  The synagogue does not own this text.  Your rabbis don’t “own” this story any more than you do.  Your teachers, the great ones or the ones who bored you beyond belief, have no greater claim to this treasure than each and every one of you!

And in case you’re still bored having heard that, don’t worry, the Midrash isn’t done yet; it continues:
Why the Wilderness of Sinai? (it asks again).  Anyone who does not make oneself open, like a wilderness, cannot acquire wisdom and Torah.

This year we challenged you to become un-bored.  Throughout your Monday Night School experience, and I know personally in our Jewish Thought and Practice class, you were pushed- and you pushed each other – to open yourselves up to the possibility that Torah, that Jewish wisdom, that your obligations in this world, aren’t lofty and beyond your own story.  They are within you.  You have made yourselves “open like a wilderness.” And you discovered, in each of your own ways:

That Torah can be found in the fire of your anger and passion!
That Torah, wisdom, can be found in the water of your spiritual well, in the sea of your deepest thoughts,
That Torah can be discovered along the winding path of your own river.
That Torah can be found in your wilderness, when you’re lost or afraid….  Or, in the wilderness, when you discover who you really are.

Having once been bored, and now having escaped, you have each become so interesting and interested. 

And that gives us immense hope.  Because our community needs you now like never before.  Because Jewish boredom is different from other kinds of boredom. 

As Dr. Erica Brown writes in her book Spiritual Boredom, Jewish boredom is “unlike the boredom where we perceive that there is nothing to do in a generalized way.”  With Jewish boredom, more is at stake.  Because Judaism isn't a tradition of theories. It's a tradition of action and impact; of looking around, seeing hatred and injustice and doing something about it.  We can’t do that if we’re asleep. 

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip.  They set up their tent and, in time, fall asleep.  Some hours later, Holmes wakes up his faithful friend.  “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me ... what do you see?”  Watson opens his eyes, yawns, stretches, and then replies, “I see millions of stars.”  “And what does that tell you?” Holmes asks.  Watson ponders a moment.  “Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.  Timewise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three.  Theologically, it’s evident that God is allpowerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow!  Holmes, what does it tell you?”  Holmes is silent for a moment, and then speaks.  “Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent!”

Karl Marx, who called religion “an opiate to the people,” or some kind of sleeping pill, got it so very wrong—our tradition isn’t a lullaby, it’s an alarm clock!  It’s a wake up call!  It’s a reminder that “someone has stolen our tent” – and it’s on us to do something about it, to make things better, to make things right, to ease suffering, to make your mark.
You are here for a purpose.  Today that purpose is confirmed.
And together you are powerful.

So if you were bored in 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade, maybe that’s “on us.”  But here’s the thing: now, if you’re bored: it’s on you.  Because now you know the important difference between lacking faith and just being bored.  You, Confirmation Class of 5774, embody the brilliant confluence of faith and doubt, of questions and discoveries—that confluence, so long as it propels us toward responsibility—is the crux of Reform Judaism.

And so your mission, if you choose to accept it—and by being here we take that as a “yes”—is to partner with us to move each other, to move our community, to move our people, from boredom beyond belief to belief beyond boredom. 

Ken y’hi ratson, May this be God’s will.