Abraham’s Legacy (Lech Lecha – 10/16/21)
“Have you ever been in the company of someone who lavishly extolled the virtues of a muffin?” asks Mendel Sternhull. “No? Then you didn’t have the pleasure of accompanying Shlomo Carlebach to a coffee shop for breakfast!
I share with you this story, for in Parshat Lech Lecha, we are introduced to the founder of our people and religion, Abraham. An iconoclast, he not only propounded belief in the One God, but he also personified kindness and hospitality. In fact, it was through inviting people over for refreshment and replenishment that he spread his theology.
Likewise, starting in the late 1950s, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach utilized Jewish music as a vehicle to reach out to Jews across the world. His concerts were permeated with uplifting Torah teachings and inspiring Chasidic stories, returning thousands to their roots. Personally, he was extremely charitable and loving to all people.
“We were in a small, dingy restaurant, presided over by a sour-looking cook/proprietress, who doubled as waitress as well. I am not usually aware of or affected by other people’s looks, but this woman was so unusually homely, almost offensive looking, it was hard not to notice. Her attitude was unpleasant as well. She served our order of muffins and coffee in a brusque manner that bordered on the rude, and frankly, I was relieved when she left our table to return to the counter. After one taste of the muffin, however, Shlomo waved her back. ‘Yes?’ she asked sullenly, her hand on her hip in a confrontational stance, braced for trouble. ‘My most beautiful friend,’ Shlomo said gently. ‘Are you by any chance the person who baked this muffin?’ ‘Yeah, I am, what about it?’ she asked curtly.
‘I just want you to know that this is the most delicious muffin I have ever tasted in my life!’ A hint of a smile now began to form on the woman’s lips.
‘Thanks,’ she said, preparing to move away. ‘And I also want you to know that I have eaten muffins all over the world, but none come close to this one.’
‘Well, thanks again,’ she said, less abruptly, her mouth beginning to pucker into a more visible smile, but still obviously itching to return to her place at the counter. ‘And mamesh (truly) I have to thank you because I was so hungry, and you did me the greatest favor in the world by so expertly baking this muffin, which is surely a Taste of the World to Come!’
‘Well, gee, thanks a lot’, she said, smiling broadly, now firmly rooted to the spot. ‘It’s very nice of you to say. Most people never comment when the food is good; you only hear from them when they have a complaint!’
‘Oh, but no one could ever complain about your food; gevalt it has to be the greatest in the world. Tell me, what special ingredients do you put into this muffin to make it so delicious?’
By now, the surly woman had actually begun to beam, and she launched into an extensive discussion of her cooking and baking techniques. Shlomo listened intently, and when she had finished, continued to heap her with accolades.
He was very specific with his compliments too: the muffin’s texture was not only light and airy, but it was also buttery and fragrant as well, and she had expertly warmed it to just the right degree of temperature.
As I listened in mingled amusement and astonishment to the great spiritual leader sing a virtual paean to a muffin, I turned to look at the woman. Up until now, my eyes had been fastened on Shlomo, and I hadn’t noticed the change that had swept over the woman. When I turned to gaze at her, I was taken aback. The homely woman was no more. A few minutes with Shlomo had done the trick. She was transformed. She had become beautiful.
From Shlomo, I learned many things, but foremost among them was hakoras hatov (acknowledging the good) and how to give compliments. And maybe one day, if I really work hard at my growth and have the zchus (merit) to evolve to a certain level, I’ll also be able to sing hymns to muffins and make people beautiful.”
Reb Shlomo’s music (which permeate our liturgy), teachings, and love of humanity continue to inspire me today. All of our patriarchs had their own unique traits: Isaac’s was justice and inner strength, Jacob was focus on the family and the Jewish future, and Abraham, outreach and kindness. Reb Shlomo certainly embodied Abraham’s mission in the 20th century.
In our own community, we have a very unique individual who epitomizes Abraham’s traits as well. I’m speaking of Pastor Eric Olsen of Good Shepherd Church. For years, we partnered with Pastor Eric and his religious school on Kristallnacht. Since he is a Fire Department Chaplain, Good Shepherd has perennially hosted our community for its 9/11 gathering. He fiercely campaigned for gun control, funding to help those with drug addiction, stood with us against racism, and has led many community-wide events. Plainview was blessed to have such a great leader for 11 years. Now he is leaving us to head Faith Lutheran Church in Sarasota, FL. Please join me this Tuesday night at Good Shepherd Church at 7 PM to thank him for his noble service and to wish him success in the future.
A patriarch is someone who establishes a family and enables that family to continue on a certain path. Abraham’s love of humanity continues to inspire us to this day. Fortunate are those who choose to walk in his ways.
Mandelbaum, Yitta Halberstam. Holy Brother (p. 139). Jason Aronson, Inc.. Kindle Edition.