"Losing my Religion: The Challenges of the year"

Below is a copy of the d’var Torah i gave first day Rosh HaShannah at my home shul. The actual presentation may have varied from the written text! ENJOY!

Shannah Tovah!

“That’s me in the corner/ That’s me in the spotlight /Losing my religion /Trying to keep up with you /And I don’t know if I can do it /Oh no I’ve said too much/ I haven’t said enough / I thought that I heard you laughing”

While the words are from the band REM, the message is all too familiar in our lives, and in our torah portion.

Losing my religion… Life, death, the tumultuous cycle of the year. We have completed another year and are beginning another one. Here we stand, a year later, about to read the same torah portion we’ve read so many times before. So what? One of the pieces of Judaism that I find most compelling is the emphasis on repetition. Some of you might be bored, reading the same words, the same torah portion year after year, time after time. I, however, love the quest of looking for something new each time I read the text.

Our torah portion this morning is from Bereshit, Genesis, the beginning of the Torah, we’ll read it now, and we’ll read it again in a few weeks as it comes up in our yearly cycle. So, you might be asking yourself, what makes it so special? Why was this picked for the Head of the year?

In rereading the parshah in preparation for today, I have found Some interesting life lessons from the words we will read in just a few moments.

The reading begins with some very powerful words, “V’adonai Pakad et Sara.” And the Lord visited, or in our translation, took note of Sarah. The lord took note of Sarah when she was in trouble. The Lord remembered the words he had promised to Sarah and Abraham in their desire for a child.

The portion goes on to speak about the birth of Isaac, the child of Abraham and Sarah, Abraham does as God asks, and circumcises his son. Then we learn of Isaac’s namesake, the laughter that ensued when Sarah learned she and Abraham would be given the gift of a child in their old age. The torah tells us upfront that, Abraham and Sarah, doubted God, in fact, they laughed in God’s face, and yet, they were still given this gift. They doubted their faith, and still, God took note.

As the tale continues, the saga of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael unfolds and the intersection of their lives reveals aspects of human nature that aren’t necessarily appealing. The first, and perhaps, according to some, most important lesson: ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR WIFE. Sarah tells Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael from their home. Abraham is a bit hesitant, however, God reassures Abraham that the right thing to do is to listen to his wife’s voice.

IN this interaction between Abraham and Sarah, Sarah appears jealous, unsure of herself, wanting the best for her son. One might even argue, that the jealousy Sarah expresses is out of her deep, passionate love for her family, and her fighting will to do anything she can to keep it together.

On the flipside, Hagar and Ishmael are banished from the house, end up alone in the desert, without food, water or shelter. Hagar fears for the worst, perhaps she is “losing her religion.” But, the boy weeps and God takes note once more. Again, God comes through, not neglecting even those who doubt God’s presence.

As the portion for today concludes, Abraham makes an oath with Avimelech, who points out to Abraham that God is with him in all that he does. A powerful message evidenced by the encounters with God of Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham.

Our parshah emphasizes God’s presence in the world, in the best of times and the worst of times. Our lives are similar to those of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, we all have moments of disbelief; our job is to believe, to laugh, and to live.

As we engage in this gift of a new year, may we be blessed to laugh, to trust in God, to experience feelings of jealousy, but only because they represent a strong passion to protect those close to us, those we love, may we recognize the ways God is with us, even when we feel like we are “losing our religion”,——when we can’t feel God’s presence. May we be blessed in the ways of Abraham and Sarah, in their ability to Laugh, even in the hardest of times, and with the gift of God’s everlasting presence.

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