What a thrill it was for me to be awarded the prize for the “Best Sermon Preached in the College Chapel” during graduation exercises at Hebrew Union college in Los Angeles long ago. My joy was dampened just a bit when a professor shared with me, “I thought you and Jerry Winston should have shared the prize.”
“But you were not even there the day I spoke,” I answered. “How can you tell?”
“I read your sermon so I have a very good idea how it sounded.”
“No, you don’t,” I said to myself, very glad I had won the prize … outright.
Jerry Winston was unique in those days, a man in his forties who decided to be a rabbi after a successful career as a writer in Hollywood. He was gentle and kind. He is gone now, but I will never forget him or his sermon.
He addressed the then controversy about what rabbis should wear on the pulpit, robes or no robes, tallit, or no tallit, kipah or bare head? He skillfully tied the discussion to this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, containing elaborate descriptions of the garments worn by the ancient priests.
As he finished, he stepped in front of the pulpit and said words I’ll never forget:
“And if you are concerned about what you should wear on the pulpit, wear the Torah. And if it doesn’t quite fit, don’t worry. You’ll grow into it.”
Jerry, I hope it would please you to know that I have been trying to do what you said for 45 years. And just for the record, I think you should have won that prize … outright!