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Facilitating connection (to dessert)

04/06/2022 12:00:00 AM


by Rabbi Lisa Sacks


Thank you to everyone who was able to join us for my Installation this past Wednesday. For those who couldn't be there, my remarks are below. I am a very grateful rabbi ....

What a fabulous evening. Thank you all again for being here. It’s really so exciting for me … it’s obviously such a special occasion … because when the dessert reception is in your honor, you get to select what’s being served. I’m totally serious. A few weeks ago Seth called me into his office and he said, “What’s your favorite dessert?”

And I said, “Well, that’s easy: chocolate mousse.” And then I got to keep adding to the list – profiteroles, key lime pie, cookies - even though I really like all desserts. Anything creamy or chocolatey, without nuts, of course. Except flan. I loathe flan.

So that night I go home and I excitedly say to my kids, “Kids, you’ll never believe our blessed good fortune! We get to pick the desserts for the installation reception!” And I relayed to them all that I had selected.

And they said, with much love in their hearts, if not in their tones - you know that exasperated tone teenagers reserve for their parents - “Mom! Mom! Cheesecake! You forgot about the cheesecake!!”

So, for all you cheesecake fans out there, you can thank my daughters for remembering. And thank you to Rene Leon for all the amazing food you create for us, for the way you take care of us, here at Bet Torah.

And while I’m at it, I want to thank and acknowledge the Installation Committee for your thoughtfulness and care in putting together such a lovely event …. Marcy Aufrichtig, Rabbi Brusso, Emma Hest, Amy Horowitz, Sandy Kellogg, Abby Siegel, David Simonds, Seth Young. And thank you especially to my beloved teachers Rabbi Jeff Hoffman and Dr. Ora Horn Prouser for sharing of yourselves and your Torah – it means the world to me that you are here. And much appreciation to Rabbi Cantor Cattan, Cantor Ezring, Diana Binger, Corrie Jacobs, David Kellogg and Gigi and Lucy and my parents for adding your beautiful voices. This evening is just marvelous.

And it’s going to be even more marvelous once we get to the dessert reception! You might be sitting there thinking, is this really what she’s talking about for her installation address, the desserts?

So I’ll tell you that if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s to savor the sweetness, to bask in the delight, to lift up the joy and wonder that is lingering often just below the surface. Because sometimes the day serves you up precisely what you want but, sometimes, you walk into the proverbial dessert reception of life and they only have dry brownies with walnuts. And flan. Yeukch.

But not tonight. Tonight, I stand here feeling so very blessed, with an extraordinarily full heart. And with immense gratitude for the winding path of my life that has led me to this moment. This moment of celebrating connections, of honoring the sacred relationship that can develop between clergy and community.

I was fortunate enough to grow up going to Jewish summer camp and spending time in Israel and it was in these two environments that I began to feel the heart-opening, soul-expanding connection to something bigger than myself. The connection to people and land and music and tradition. Sometimes I could feel it so viscerally that I was surprised not to see sparks.

As a teenager and young adult I started to understand that the connection was not just horizontal – it was not just what I could see and touch. It was also vertical, a bond with the divine that I especially sense in the quiet, almost like faint vibrations.

My studies have led me to a new understanding of connection: that we Jews feel connections horizontally and vertically but we are also connected through time and space.

We’re in relationship with the characters in the Torah and the rabbinic pairs of the Talmud just as much as with the people we see at Kulanu pickup. We’re in relationship with the medieval mystics and philosophers, and the 20th-century intellectuals and seekers, just as much as the people with whom we regularly sit in this sanctuary. And we’re in relationship with the future generations and our hopes for redemption just as much as with the people to whom we pay a shiva call.

As we overlay all of these connections, we see that we’re not alone. Not in the hardest moments or the best ones or anything in between. The horizontal and vertical and backward and forward ingredients all combine to accompany us no matter what is being served.

And so I see my purpose as a rabbi, put simply, to be one of facilitating connection. To inspire others to pursue holiness, to offer direct opportunities for encounter, to open doors within the spiritual realm, to provide spaces for exploration, and to help us all access the wisdom that already resides within us.

One of the things I most admire about Bet Torah is our emphasis on the relational model of Jewish community. This is a place that understands that to truly honor our tradition means to truly see one another. That to belong to Bet Torah means to find belonging. That the work of community is weaving together the individuals into a greater whole, a community that shares its love for each other in good times and in bad.

And the rewards of such work are bountiful. Here is just one example from a few weeks ago.

Together with Bruce Jakubovitz I recently taught a class about the role of Kohanim in our community, which focused specifically on the tradition of duchening, when the priests ascend the bimah on holidays to bless the congregation with Birkat Kohanim.

As a longtime shul-goer and student of liturgy I was of course familiar with the priestly blessing and had studied it quite extensively. What I hadn’t previously known, maybe because I am not a Kohein myself, was the blessing that the Kohanim say before they offer Birkat Kohanim. And so I thank you, Bruce, for teaching it to me. It starts with the standard blessing formula and then goes like this:

… asher kid’shanu bik’dushato shel Aharon v’tzivanu l’varekh et Amo Yisrael b’ahava.

Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, Who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron and commanded us to bless His people Israel with love.

With love. B’ahava. It ends with love.

And it ends this way because the priests aren’t the source of the blessing, they are the vessels to facilitate blessing. Though I am not a Kohein, that role of facilitation, of enabling that connection, is one to which I aspire.

About this blessing Rabbi Art Green wrote that “When the kohanim arouse themselves in love to bless Israel, they awaken love far, far above in the uppermost Source, showering goodness and blessing upon Israel. That is why the form of their blessing is uniquely coined as ‘who has commanded us to bless His people Israel with love.’ In arousing their own quality of love to pour blessings upon Israel, they cause love and blessing to flow from that highest Source.”

What Rabbi Green is saying is that the blessing does not just end with love, it produces love.

May that be the result of the work of our community. To love each other and our tradition so much that we cause love and blessing to flow from the highest Source. That will be the sweetest of desserts.

Mon, June 27 2022 28 Sivan 5782