Vickie and I have just spent two very fulfilling days teaching at the Abraham Geiger Rabbinical College.
On Thursday I conducted a two and a half hour seminar on Preaching about Passover. I hope I was able to give these students, who come from five different countries, ideas and texts that will spread out across the borders to add depth and meaning to their teaching and preaching about our most observed religious celebration.
Yesterday morning after I led a short reflective worship—hat I chose to do without prayerbook—to emphasize the ideas that motivate and the context that underlies selected prayers.
We then spent another two and half hours discussing the Torah portion about Noah and the Tower of Babel. Again, I hope our time together planted seeds that will sprout to expand the ways these soon-to-be rabbis understand and share lessons from these famous stories.
Last night the entire college community—students, professors and administrators—filled the chapel for a service, followed by a delicious dinner, to welcome Shabbat. In all of my yeas of rabbinical studies I never experienced such a joyful community-wide celebration.
As I entered the building for the service, the student in charge of the worship said to me, “Oh we forgot to ask you earlier, but we are hoping you will deliver tonight’s sermon.” After getting over the shock of the request to prepare an instant sermon in my head, I said yes.
Sure I would have liked more notice. But the privilege of addressing a congregation of professors, future rabbis and Cantors in the country where my father was arrested on Kristallnacht and had to leave as a refugee because he was Jewish was too great to pass up
Honestly, the spirit of the service moved me so that when it was time for me to speak I felt like I had been preparing for the opportunity for years.
One of the challenges I imposed on myself was to speak about the Torah portion dealing with Noah without repeating any of the points I made to the students in the two and a half hour seminar we shared earlier in the day.
So I chose to speak about the Zohar—the mystical skylight that lit up the ark.
Was it necessary for God to have a skylight that would illumine the ark so the Eternal One could see what went on there? Of course not.
But the zohar was necessary to remind the people to be aware that God was aware of all that went on.
As rabbis and cantors—I told my soon-to-be colleagues—you will find that people are aware of what goes on with you. There will be those who see you as a target. They will pay scrupulous attention to you to an extent you cannot imagine. Let the skylight in the remind you never do or say anything—especially in this lightning media age—that you do not want to become known in the community.
Therefore remember, as Maya Angelou taught: Although people may in fact forget what you say. They may even forget what you do,
But they will never ever forget how you made them feel.