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Lech Lecha: October 20, 2018

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom

Sydnie, when the Rabbis of the Talmud thought about Avram becoming Abraham, they realized that his name change was related to the fact that he had the remarkable ability to see things that other people just could not see. Everyone in the world, at that time, saw the different forces of nature and agreed that each force was a separate god that needed to be obeyed if one was to be successful in life.  You needed the earth goddess to plant crops and the storm god to send rain. The goddess of love decided who you would marry, and the god of the underworld decided when you would die.

Abraham was different. The Rabbis said that he once had a vision of a house entirely lit up in the night. Abraham looked around the house and noticed that while all the lights were on, there was no one at home. “Could it be,” thought Abraham, “that this house is all lit up but there is no owner to this house? I don’t think so. This house must have an owner.” God then said to Abraham, “I am the owner of this house.”

With this metaphor, the Rabbis teach us that we can look at the world and ask the questions, “Can it be that there is no owner to this world? Can it be that there is no one person who set it all up and turned on all the lights?” How can we look at this world and not see God in every sunrise and sunset, in every tree and flower and every blade of grass? These are not separate powers in the universe, there is but one God that makes all of our world happen.

Two thousand years after the Rabbis taught about Abraham, the Dalai Lama, the head of the Tibetan Buddhists, taught, “Sometimes we behave like spoilt children. When we are very little, we depend entirely on our parents. Then we go to school, we are educated, we are fed, we are clothed, and the weight of our problems is still on the shoulders of other people. When the moment finally comes for us to take charge of our own life and to carry our own burden, we imagine that everything will go smoothly! Unfortunately, such attitude defies reality. In this world, everyone without exception has problems.”

The Dalai Lama would have us accept all our problems because there is nothing we can do to prevent them from happening. The pagans of long ago thought that there were many gods to appease if you want things to get better in life; The Dalai Lama taught that there is no one to appease to get along in life, you have to do everything for yourself.

Judaism is very different, this is the legacy that Abraham left for us with his acute sense of who is in charge of the world; this is the legacy of Abraham’s faith. It is true that when you are a child, you have many adults that can come and help solve all your problems. But when we face problems as adults, and all adults face problems many times in our lives, Judaism tells us that we are never alone. We may not have other adults to help us solve the difficulties we may face, but we always have God to stand with us and help us face whatever the world throws at us.

Sydnie, do you think that God would have you be born, to be raised by loving parents, to have a good education, that you would have good food to eat and nice clothing to wear and then God would just throw you out into the world to see how you will do? Perhaps there are some who might think that there is a god for children that is different than the god for adults. Judaism says that this is all misguided. God is always with us, on the good days and the bad, when we are children and as adults. Adults may find that they are afraid and worried at times in their lives, but our faith tells us that we can turn to God and find our way from the darkness of living back into the light.

Sydnie, that is the purpose of all we have taught you here at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel. God will not live your life for you. You have to make decisions as an adult, and you have to make good decisions. Like your parents who made the decision to make sure that you had a good education, both a secular education and a Jewish education. The former so you can make wise choices and the latter to help you make decisions when you can’t find the wise choice to choose. Your parents understood that someday you would face the world and not know which way you should go. So, they gave you the ability to have faith, and not be afraid of the world. It is here in this synagogue that you have learned that you have nothing to fear from life, that God is with you no matter where you find yourself in life.

At the end of this service, at the end of what we often consider to be a children’s song, Adon Olam, the very last line of the song, the last thing we say in prayer every Shabbat, the one verse that helps us go out and face whatever the week may bring: “Adonai Li V’lo Irah – God is with me and so I am fearless.”

Sydnie, may you always walk with God and may your faith, like the faith of Abraham, help you face your future with joy, with love and without fear, as we say …. Amen and Shabbat Shalom


Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, October 20, 2018.

Fri, May 24 2019 19 Iyyar 5779