A new guy to the synagogue is sitting next to an old-timer and he’s asking him questions as to why the rabbi is doing certain things.
New member: Why is the rabbi telling us to rise now?
Old-timer: Oh, that’s because this prayer is especially holy.
New Member: Why is he placing his tallit over his head?
Old-timer: Oh, that’s so he can concentrate on his prayers better.
New Member: Why is he taking three steps back from his prayer?
Old-timer: Oh, that’s because he views God as Sovereign, and he is leaving God’s presence in awe.
Now as the rabbi heads to the bimah to speak, the rabbi takes off his watch and places it in front of him.
The newbie asks: Why is he taking off his watch?
Old-timer: That! That means nothing at all!
For those of you hoping for a short and sweet drasha, please hear me out; with a new administration in place I’d like to take the time to elaborate on one of its goals.
I know many people felt relieved, perhaps even refreshed, on Wednesday when Joe Biden was inaugurated as president. Even if you are not a Biden supporter, I think we can all agree that the last four years were quite tumultuous.
I was listening to Trevor Noah on Wednesday night and he concluded his monologue with a point that I thought interesting:
He said, “I know that people are angry right now at the state Trump left us in, but I implore you to look at few silver linings:
- America survived and we showed our resiliency.
- Trump’s term has truly exposed so many of the flaws in America’s system, flaws that we now know exist and can correct.”
Knowledge is power. Noah is saying that we’re now empowered to fix the problems we might not have been aware of previously.
One of things we all noticed in this past election season is how divided the country is, not just Congress, but Americans from coast to coast.
In the week following election day, seeing the color-coded maps of the electoral votes and those of the increasing cases of Covid-19 in America, I was thinking that once we start traveling again, I might restrict my travels to the North East and the West Coast.
Yet that would be a shame, wouldn’t it?
A little while ago, I watched Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie, Borat 2.
Any of you brave enough to admit you saw it?
I was sickened at the episode in the bakery in Texas:
Wanting to gain the influence of V.P. Mike Pence, he orders the largest cake in the house. The lady at the counter asks him if he’d like anything written on it, and he replies, “Yes, please write, Dear Mike, Jews will not replace us.” Without batting an eyelash, she just writes it on the cake.
Let me ask you, did Borat 2 reveal more racism in the US nowadays than the first Borat movie, which was in 2006? Racism and prejudice was just as evident then.
In 2004, Mel Gibson came out with the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” Many rabbis, me among them, protested vehemently against its release, concerned that it would cause pogroms here in America. Yet the movie was released with no major acts of anti-Semetic violence. I was vacationing in Nashville then, and I asked a woman what she thought about the movie. She had nothing negative to say about Jews, rather she was just touched and moved by Jesus’ sacrifice on her behalf.
I’m suggesting that perhaps we’re not more divided than ever before, rather we’re more aware of our differences. We’re certainly more aware of the Alt-right, the Proud Boys and QAnon, but they’re still a tiny minority of the country.
Tell me, what race or religion doesn’t have its radicals? We have them too. This year we had Chasidic Jews in Brooklyn who protest by burning masks and breaking into city parks. If you’re going to have a country of 350 million people, inherently you’re going to have some radicals and extremists. But they’re not the ones we’re being asked to befriend- it’s that baker in Texas whom we need to get along with.
I was always confused by the teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Perachia in Pirkei Avot. He says, קנה לך חבר, Acquire a friend for yourself.
What does “acquire” mean? One can’t just buy friends.
Don’t friends just hit it off naturally?
Rather “acquire” means taking action. Just like when you acquire an item, you have to go to the store or go online and pay hard earned money for it, likewise friendships need action and sacrifice. קנה לך חבר means take the proper actions to make and nurture a friendship.
One of the downsides of being a rabbi has been the moving around; it creates a stress on relationships. My wife asks me, “What has happened to all of your friendships that you’ve made in the different cities you lived in?” It’s a good question; my contact list is filled with hundreds of people from all over the country. In the same vein though, I could ask, “What has happened to all of my Farmingdale LA Fitness friendships?”
Yes, we still text each other occasionally, but the fact that we don’t see or talk to each other now doesn’t mean that we weren’t friends, but rather that a relationship needs to be fed.
A relationship has to be fed.
A person only has so much time. Work, spouse, children, new friends take up one’s time, and the time for old friends diminishes. It doesn’t mean we weren’t really friends, it just means we’re not able to feed that relationship currently.
If קניה, giving time and sacrifice, is the key to friendship, than perhaps friendship and unity can once again flourish in our country.
I was moved when President Biden quoted Lincoln in his speech,
“In another January, on New Year’s Day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said, and I quote: “If my name ever goes down into history, it’ll be for this act. And my whole soul is in it.”
My whole soul is in it today. On this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.”
What’s the key to unity and friendship? It’s not everyone believing the same way, rather, it’s people giving time, effort and extending a hand to one another. And if that’s what it takes, perhaps, then, with Biden spurring us on, we will achieve greater unity than ever before.
Reverend Sylvester Beaman gave a beautiful and inspirational benediction at the inauguration. He concluded with a prayer, “Teach us O God to reconcile in one another.”
We regularly pray: “Oseh Shalom Bimromav, May the One who creates peace in the Heavens make peace for all of us and all of Israel.” We ask God to bless us with peace, but we all know that peace won’t just descend upon us. We need to be the peacemakers. I think our prayer’s intention is aligned to what the Reverend said: we ask for God to teach us, to inspire us, to encourage us in the path of peace and friendship.
Rabbi Yehoshua has taught us what to do, we just need to implement those teachings.
I’d like to close with the words of our Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman:
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it
May we be brave enough to unite our country, and we at MHJC be openhearted enough to reunite our close-knit family.