Divrei Torah by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
My comments are inspired from the teaching of Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld,
Dean, Rabbinical School of Hebrew College.
In last week’s portion, with the divine call to Avram of Lekh Lekha, Go forth- from your native land, your culture and all that is familiar, we learned that movement is essential to our growth on the spiritual path. The S'fat Emet teaches “The human being is called a walker, always having to go from one rung to another…That is why Scripture says, ‘Get you out of your land’—a person should always keep walking...Whoever stands still is not renewed.” The Jewish path has always been one of change, development, adaptation and evolution. This is perhaps the great secret to our survival as a people and a culture for over 2000 years. Our forms of worship has evolved from the sacrifice of animals to prayer of the heart and our prayer lives have evolved from a few daily prayers to siddurim/prayer books overflowing with sacred text, poetry and liturgy. Old melodies and new fill our mouths. We are ever seeking to renew our connection with God and with one another.
And yet, there are times when we need to stand still and connect with the roots that sustain us. To be a wanderer without roots is to be lost. But to be a seeker with a deep connection to a chain of tradition is to be rooted in strength, yet flexible and supple enough to allow for new growth. This is the challenge that confronts our generation- to find the delicate balance between tradition and evolution- to honor our past without freezing it into a static and lifeless form and yet to be “walkers” and explore the new frontier without falling off the path and getting lost.
Avraham will wander over all of the promised land. He will leave the land, get lost in Egypt and he will return home. But as this week’s Torah portion opens we will see the way that Avraham camps. His tent is open on all four sides. Why is this always mentioned as such an unusual thing? Because he is living in a desert climate and with all four sides open, he has no real shade from the hot sun at any time of day. And why is his tent so open? Because he wants to make sure not to miss any person, stranger or friend who may be passing by. He is ever-ready to welcome in anyone who may be in need of rest or refreshment as they journey through.
Avraham is a wanderer. He knows what it is to be homeless and therefore he becomes a welcomer. Avraham’s tent becomes the model for our wedding canopy- the chuppah that a couple stands beneath on their wedding day. As their very first bayit- their first home together, they are rooted in the tradition of Avraham and Sarah and blessed to establish a welcoming home. And we are thrilled here at RJC to set up our chuppah once again for Melissa Solomon and Tom Cohen who will celebrate their marriage on Nov. 22nd. Siman Tov and Mazel Tov- we rejoice with them for in the open tent of Avraham, your joys are our joys.
As descendants of Abraham and Sarah, may we be both wanderers and welcomers. May we continue to seek an ever living experience of the sacred in our lives while remaining rooted in our life-giving traditions . May our individual and communal homes be open to strangers and to the strangeness of new ideas and possibilities.
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Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Rabba Kaya served as Interim Rabbi of RJC from October 2017 through June 2019.
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