Troy, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner once asked a pre-school child who was looking around the synagogue, “What do you think is behind the curtain on the Bima?” The Rabbi had asked this to other students and had gotten different responses. One child told him that there was nothing behind the curtain. Another little girl said that behind the curtain was a Torah scroll. One little boy announced that behind the curtain was a “brand new CAR!” but one child was different than the others. This child insisted that behind the curtain on the bima one would find a mirror.
Troy, a mirror does not seem to be a very interesting item. We can find mirrors almost everywhere we look. And when we look into a mirror, we always see the same thing; we see ourselves staring right back at us. So what is so special about finding a mirror on the bima?
When we look into a mirror and when we see ourselves, we really can only say one of two things. We can look into a mirror, like what we see and exclaim, “Looking Good!” or we can look into the glass and not be happy with what we see and so we only say, “OY!”. The reality Troy, for most of us, is that we are so critical of what we see we are never really happy with what we see in a mirror. Most of the time, people looking into a mirror say “OY!”
Troy, you read from the Torah today. And you taught us some lessons from the stories that it tells. But what makes the Torah so special is not that it is just another book to read. In fact, the Torah is like a mirror. We read what it says about life and we see ourselves in its stories. If we like the life we are leading we can read these stories and say, “Looking good!” but more often than not, we see how our lives stack up to what God expects from us and we say, “Oy!” Troy, that is what happens when you read the Bible.
The real test is what you do after that first reaction. There are people who really don’t like what they see in a mirror and so they will do almost anything to avoid having to look into one. It is as if they are saying that if they don’t see what is in the mirror, they don’t have to do anything about it. They don’t like people taking pictures of them, they don’t like going into dressing rooms and they don’t ask anyone for their opinions about how they look.
Some people treat the Bible this way. As long as they don’t have to read it, they can pretend that they have never learned what God expects from our lives. They can live their lives as if there is no Torah, no commandments and no God. It is like putting your fingers in your ears and singing “la la la la” so you don’t have to hear what you don’t want to hear. If you can’t see it, if you can’t hear it, then clearly it does not exist!!
Troy, if the Torah is a mirror it is not one that is trying to get us to feel bad about who we are and what our lives look like. It is designed to show us how different our life can be if we only try and live it better. Think about this Troy. There are lots of people in the Bible who mess up their lives, who make really bad decisions, who face all kinds of problems only to make them worse. There are people in the Bible who are impatient, who play favorites with their children, who have quick tempers and who are a bit too gossipy. Moses has anger management issues. The ten spies we read about today were cowardly and scared. Jacob told lies way too often and Joseph was too full of himself. And yet they managed to look into their own lives and make something of it. They are the heroes of the Bible in spite of their flaws. They learned to see their lives not as a failure but as a journey where sometimes you can make a wrong turn and then turn around and get back on the right road again.
Troy, growing up, becoming mature, means that you have learned the lesson that you will be learning lessons for your entire life. Some lessons you will learn from teachers, parents and friends. Some lessons you will learn the hard way, costing you time, money and embarrassment. The real lesson is that no matter how big your mistakes are, if you learn from them, if you can learn to never make that mistake again, then you have not fallen at all, rather you have turned your mistake into a blessing. That is the most important lesson in the Torah.
Troy, each and every day look deeply into the Torah to see how you look, how you measure up to the standards of God. You don’t have to be perfect in this life; you just have to keep trying. The mirror of Torah can show you how far you have come and can help you find others who see God the same way you are seeking God.
Inside the Torah are hidden gems that make your life worth living. All you need to do is look for them. Inside your parents you can find mountains of love and all you need to do is hug them (and maybe keep your room a bit cleaner). Inside your real friends can be found the support and inspiration you will need to fulfill your dreams if only you share your dreams with them.
Our prayer this Shabbat is that, Troy, you will look deeply into the mirror of Torah and learn from its words all that God has made possible in your life. Don’t turn away from Torah and never fear to look in its pages. For only in Torah can you find hope, love, faith courage and most of all, peace. May God help you find yourself in the words of Torah as we say…Amen and Shabbat Shalom.
Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, June 17, 2017.