High Holiday Sermons + Musical Theme + Reading List (5779 / 2018)

This High Holiday cycle, I chose the theme 'V'heyeh B'rachah - Be a Blessing' based on the blessing God gave Abraham in Genesis chapter 12.

The theme 'V'heyeh B'rachah - Be a Blessing' was incorporated musically throughout the High Holidays by Linda Wertz and myself. Linda Wertz and I 'retro-engineered' the melody of 'El Na Refa Na La' composed by Daphna Rosenberg and Nave Agmon from Israeli worship band 'Nava Tehila', and fit (some) of the words of Gen. 12 to the tune. You can listen/watch the video of us playing/singing the song here.

My sermon series focused on the first three versus of Genesis chapter 12 where Abraham (then still Abram) is charged with his mission:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ.
וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ, וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ; וֶהְיֵה, בְּרָכָה.

וַאֲבָרְכָה, מְבָרְכֶיךָ, וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ, אָאֹר; וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ, כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה.

'And the Eternal spoke to Abram, go from yourself*, from your land, the place of your birth and from your father's house to the land that I will show you. 
And I will make you a great nation and I will bless and make great your name and you shall be a blessing. 
I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you and you shall be a blessing to all the families of the earth.' - Gen. 12:1-3 
(Translation mine. *is an interpretative and not a literal translation).

I wrote a series of six sermons that build the theme 'Veheyeh B'rachah' and that build on each other. They can be read independently or out-of-sequence but are more compelling when read in order:

Rosh haShanah Evening Sermon: 'The Beginning of Blessing'
Rosh haShanah Morning Sermon: 'Not All Who Wander Are Lost'
Shabbat Shuvah Sermon: 'Hidden and Revealed'
Kol Nidre Sermon: 'Our Father's House'
Yom Kippur Morning Sermon: 'To A Land That I Will Show You'
Ne'ilah Sermonette: 'Veheyeh B'rachah - Be A Blessing

The first sermon, 'The Beginning of Blessing' reflects on my first year as the Rabbi of Agudas Achim and frames my vision for this year's High Holiday theme. 

'Not All Who Wander Are Lost' focuses on the first two words of Abraham's charge: 'lech lecha', 'go into/from yourself' and draws on psychoanalytical Biblical commentary (Aviva Zornberg), Chassidic interpretation (Sfat Emet) and references Pastor Rick Warren's 'The Purpose-Driven Life' in order to answer the key question: what did 'lech lecha' mean to Abraham and what does it mean to walk in Abraham's ways in a quest for a mission-driven Jewish life filled and focused on purpose, agency and meaning?

'Hidden and Revealed' takes a detour on the 'God-experience' in Judaism and contextualizes the theological questions posed in the previous sermon. It also comments on the Torah portion of that Shabbat, Vayeilech. 

'Our Father's House' continues the interpretation of Gen. 12:1 by examining the next three words in the verse: 'me'artz'cha, umimolad't'cha, umibeit avicha' - 'from your land, the place of your birth and your father's house'. Using these three ideas to describe locality and community, this sermon moves away from the personal, internal perspective of 'lech lecha' and into the dynamics of the Jewish community. Citing the Pew Report, we look towards the challenges, opportunities and future of a shifting and diversifying American Jewish community. 

'To A Land I Will Show You' addresses the uncertainty of Jewish continuity raised in the previous sermon. Invoking the metaphor of quantum mechanics, it uses Rashi's and Ibn Ezra's commentaries on Abraham to discuss possible responses to what some perceive as the 'crisis' of Judaism. Shaul Magid's 'American Post-Judaism' provides important ideas for interpreting the paradigm shift at the heart of the American Jewish experience of today.

'Be a Blessing' pulls the key ideas together by rallying us to become more intentional about our engagement in the project of Judaism and seeking inspiration in Judaism's redemptive message and methodology. 

Reading List: (in order of appearance)
Pew Report 2012: 'Nones on the Rise'


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