There’s a rabbinic story that once in a small Jewish town, the entire community decided to come together in order to celebrate a big Simcha, or joyous event. Everyone was so excited to celebrate together, that they decided to bring an empty wine barrel to the center of town so that every person could bring their favorite glass of their best red wine and pour it in. This would mean that at the celebration, they’d all be able to drink together from a beautiful wine rich with all kinds of flavors, brought together with love. I know this is not something they’d recommend in Nappa Valley, but for our rabbis, this apparently sounded delicious. All-day long, the townspeople would go to the center of town, pour their cups into the barrel and walk away. From the condensation on the outside of the barrel, it was clear that a lot was being added. Finally, the time for the big celebration arrived. The Mayor walked over to the spout at the bottom of the barrel, held his glass underneath, getting ready to pour out the first of many cups of this rich red wine mix. Then something happened. As it started flowing out, it was a clear liquid. It was a perfectly clear, perfectly clean, glass of water. Everyone saw, and everyone immediately hung their heads with shame. How did this happen? You see, each person of the town had pretended to add their best wine to the barrel, but in reality filled it with water, believing one cup of water wouldn’t hurt a barrel of wine. Unfortunately, they all thought this, and thus the barrel was filled, cup by cup, with regular drinking water. The townspeople thought it wouldn’t make a difference if they alone didn’t really offer their best wine, but they didn’t realize that each one of them did make a difference, and the plan would have only been successful if they had all done their part.
While this is just a silly story about people avoiding bringing their share to the community, this tale really reminds us that even though we are each only one person – there is weight and merit to all our actions, both on our own and when we come together. Individually, we each make an impact. Communally, when we work together, our impact is even greater. Community is enriched by every one of us bringing a piece of ourselves. When we fake it, so does everyone else, but when we offer something real and valuable to others, so too do they offer something beautiful back. This is the reason it is often a Temple’s most active members that feel the most connected to the congregation. It is not simply that they are connected and therefore show up, but rather the reverse tends to be true – that because they show up and become more and more active, the connection to the Temple and to others continues to grow and grow. It grows until members realize that congregations are like a fine banquet feast, that is all pot luck style. The quality depends entirely on what people bring.
This doesn’t mean every time we come together we all need to bring our finest versions of self or be on our best behavior. On the contrary, being part of a community means we come as we truly are. Sometimes we’re there to enrich the night, and sometimes we’re there for the night to enrich our souls. Sometimes we will be held, and sometimes we will hold and support others. Sometimes we give and sometimes we take. In community, we take turns taking care of each other, and being cared for. I believe this is why the great Rabbi Hillel used to teach that we should not separate ourselves from the community. Not simply because the community needs us, but because we too need community. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches that Community is where we come to be valued simply for who we are, how we live, and what we give to others. I believe it is the place where our name is known, our face is seen, our story is valued.
This ideal vision of Jewish community is embodied here at Temple Sinai. This week I witnessed some beautiful examples of this congregation coming together to support one another. There were can parents gathering to excitedly plan events, religious school students learning how to blow the shofar for Rosh Hashanah, a community of comfort surrounded a mourner and her family and a team of congregational friends sprang into action to take care of a different family in need. While the experiences were remarkable to watch and learn about, the idea that they are happening at Sinai is, quite frankly, unremarkable – because our community operates like this every week, all year long. Temple Sinai is an extended family that envelopes members with warmth and friendship from the moment of arrival and remains with your loved ones even after death. With fearless and diligent leadership that longs to welcome everyone, our congregation actively embraces our current members and all potential members with a fierce excitement for what we have to offer. But the truth is, Sinai is so great because so many contribute. Everyone brings their best, most delicious, metaphorical glass of red wine to enrich the congregational celebration and to fill the communal barrel with the best of what we have to offer.
At Temple Sinai, strangers become friends and friends become family.
At Temple Sinai, liturgy is brought to life and filled with meaning.
At Temple Sinai, our world is brought into perspective, as we’re comforted and challenged.
At Temple Sinai, our hands work to make life better for others.
At Temple Sinai, we care about each other, about our friends and our neighbors.
At Temple Sinai, we work to help strangers, and to spread joy and love.
At Temple Sinai, everyone is greeted with a smile.
At Temple Sinai, everyone is given an opportunity to be heard.
At Temple Sinai, there is growing excitement and energy for our shared future.
At Temple Sinai, we embrace one another as we are.
At Temple Sinai, love, friendship, happiness and meaning all grow and sprout daily.
At Temple Sinai, we are in a place where we know we’ll never be alone
Playing with a teaching from the Chasidic master Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitz, I argue that Temple Sinai is like a basket of stones. At first glance, a basket of stones may seem ordinary, but when you rub two stones together properly, sparks of fire emerge. So too with Temple Sinai, when individuals become a community; when our clergy show up for you; when our staff bends over backward; and our members come together – each of us makes sparks fly as something almost magical unfolds. Thank you, everyone, who makes our sparks fly, brings their richest wines, their most delicious pot luck dishes and any other metaphor I may have used or hinted at tonight. Thank you, Thank you, for being a community that shows up to pray, to learn, to play and to support one another. Though I’m still pretty new, I’m in awe of this community, and how much I have already received by being a part of it. I’m reminded of something Albert Einstein once observed. He said:
Strange is our situation here upon earth.
Each of us comes for a short visit,
Not knowing why,
Yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose.
From the standpoint of daily life, however,
There is one thing we do know:
That we are here for the sake of others;
Above all, for those whose smile and well being our own happiness depends;
And also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy.
Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of others, both living and dead,
And how earnestly I must express myself
In order to give in return
As much as I have received and am still receiving.
Thank you Temple Sinai, for being here for the sake of others and for giving and receiving. And to those who are new, and just beginning to connect with Sinai, may you immediately feel and forevermore know, that when you are here – you are home. Shabbat Shalom.