Shabbat Shalom and Moadim l’Simcha
It is October and you know what October is all about … Baseball playoffs. The regular season is over. The wild card games have already been played. And soon, we will be talking World Series. Now we get to see who the real stars are in baseball, the ones who come out of their slumps to bring victory to the team.
Everyone loves a winner and who wants to be associated with the losers. Unless, of course you are a Chicago Cubs fan in which case you get to love the losers (just wait until next year) and celebrate their first win since 1908. But one of the big differences between sports and religion is that in sports you get winners and losers, but not in matters of faith. Winning does not imply that there are losers when it comes to our religious lives.
When it comes to religion, there are no spectators, everyone is a player. We just had our Yamim Noraim where we look to see where our lives are in the standings and to try and figure out what we need to do to advance in statistics like: kindness, compassion, study, observance, and gratitude. Now we get to see what kind of a game of life we will be playing in the year ahead.
The Lulav and Etrog, that we use on every day of Sukkot except today, teach us an important lesson in how we live our lives. There are four species in our bundle of leaves for Sukkot. Each one is different from the others. The Etrog has a wonderful fragrance and a unique taste. The Palm branch has no fragrance but the dates that grow on the palm trees taste sweet. The myrtle branches have a special fragrance but it does not grow a fruit one can eat and the willow branches are without fragrance and without fruit.
Long ago the Sages compared fragrance to learning and fruit to Mitzvot/good deeds. And they noted that the four species compare to four types of people. Some, like the Etrog, live lives that are filled with learning and good deeds. Some people are like the Palm branch, they don’t learn but they do perform mitzvot. Some are like the myrtle, they study all the time but have not experienced performing the Mitzvot and some people neither study nor go out and do any good deeds.
The Sages remind us that we cannot celebrate sukkot without all four species in our hands. The implication is that we cannot celebrate this holiday unless all four types of Jews are permitted to be together: those rich in learning and good deeds, those missing just one or the other or both. We are all Jews and we must all be together if we are to celebrate Sukkot in Joy.
It is not really that different than the baseball teams now competing across this country. They have all kinds of players on the team, some are good at hitting the ball, some are good at getting on base. Some are skilled base stealers and others are excellent pitchers or catchers. Nobody has all the skills needed to play ball, but when combined on the team, together they have the skills needed to win games. Baseball used to be about getting the one or two best players to help motivate the team to victory. Today, teams understand that you don’t have to be the best player in baseball to have a place on the team. What is needed is a team with the combined skills to make winning games possible.
The Jewish community today needs people that have more than just learning and mitzvot. A community needs diverse types of people. There must be teachers, certainly, but also there have to be people who are kind and caring as well as people who are honest and fair. We need people who understand human nature and we need those who can help people find their way in the complicated world in which we live. We need wise people, generous people, people who understand local politics and who can speak and write well enough to explain what it is that we Jews do and what we need from the larger community. A Jewish community needs people who are proud of who we are, and we need people who are humble. We need people who can cook and people who don’t mind cleaning up after them. We need three people to make up a mezuman so we can say Birkat HaMazon and we need ten adults to make up a minyan so we can say Borchu and Kaddish.
It takes all kinds of people to build a Jewish community but the most important thing of all is that we need YOU! We are always looking for people to help us with minyan and to help us get our bulletin out on time. We are always in need of people to help in the kitchen, to water the community garden, to knit blankets, hats and gloves for the needy, to bring in food for the hungry and we need people to donate needed funds to pay our bills and who donate to the many causes that we support here at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel.
No single need is so great that we will cease to operate if you don’t show up. It is after all, a free country and we all make choices about what we will do with our time. Our synagogue, our team, will go on with or without any one of us, but we will struggle in your absence and it just won’t be the same if you are missing.
Sukkot is a time of thanksgiving. It is a time we are grateful for all the blessings we have in life. You are the greatest blessing in the life of this community. Your participation, your contributions, your concern for each other in the community make our congregation possible and powerful. Don’t think for a moment that we have forgotten you, or that we no longer need you. Everyone is an important part in what makes our community whole, and in helping our congregation “win”. Each of us brings a special skill to our community and we would all be the poorer if one of us stepped away. There are people all over this country who once were part of our community here and they still check in, every once in a while to see how things are going. They are invested in this place and even though they are far away, they still reach out to lend a hand when we need them.
So I thank all of you here for your commitment and love of our congregation and in this “post-season” at the end/beginning of the New Year, I thank all of you for being here on this “third” day of Yom Tov – and for all that you do to help our community. May God bless you even as you have been a blessing to us as we say …. Amen and Shabbat Shalom and Moadim V’Simcha
Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, October 7, 2017