N.J. rabbi’s Shavuot sermon eulogizes Kurt Sax of Chula Vista
By Rabbi Jeffrey Lipschultz
WILDWOOD, New Jersey — Memorial Day is approaching and as many take out their BBQ pits and contemplate a three-day weekend and the beginning of summer we Jews begin to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
Shavuot is also called the holiday of weeks because we have been counting down to the holiday. According to the Torah (Lev. 23:15), we are obligated to count the days from Passover to Shavuot. This period is known as the Counting of the Omer. An omer is a unit of measure. On the second day of Passover, in the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering. This grain offering was referred to as the Omer and the final counting of this ancient ritual ends with the holiday of Shavuot.
I often think of this special, unique holiday which is the anniversary of us Jews receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai so many years ago. I think of the older generation of my youth who passed their wisdom to me and my deep sense of responsibility as I pass my wisdom to the next generation.
On May 27th we will be celebrating Shavuot as well as reciting the prayer of Yizkor, the memorial prayer to remind us of those who have left this world and the influence they had on us. I often think of those great Jews in my past who gave me this special wisdom of the Torah and try to stand on those broad shoulders. This is a special day on which we look deep at the oath made on Mount Sinai and our whole-hearted acceptance of the Torah which defined us a unique people. This is the moment we stopped being a collection of tribes and united as one people with service to one God.
The main point of this holiday is recalling our acceptance of our faith and how we came to embrace it. In the Talmud on section Shabbat 88a it is said that God lifted the mountain and held it over the people saying: “If you accept my Torah, good; if not, this will be your grave!” In other words, you really have no choice but to accept the Torah, otherwise you will be buried under the mountain. The people thereupon accepted the Torah.
Other commentators claim that the Torah was accepted out of love, not fear, and thus dispute this Midrash (story) claiming that all actions of Torah come with free choice. Choice is important in any acceptance and it is essential in our acceptance of the Torah. This is the idea that I see when we come to acceptance of the Torah. The important point is that we accepted the Torah and our faith as one people in service to God at the foot of Mount Sinai on Shavuot.
The core of the holiday is acceptance of our faith and Israel’s eventual embrace of the Torah. The fact that there was a debate about how it was done shows that we are a diverse people with different ideas on how we embrace our faith.
The legacy of our Torah is that each and every generation takes this precious gift and makes it its own. The Midrash says that members of every generation are to place themselves as though they stood at the foot of Sinai. How do we do this? We do this by making our holy Torah fitting to our lives in every modern sense.
In the Book of Deuteronomy 30:12 we learn that our Torah “… is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it, and do it’”. The Torah is not to be found within heaven but within our minds on earth. This is to teach us that we are to make the Torah fitting for our lives in each and every generation.
Sometimes in our search for spiritual meaning we recognize issues that seem to conflict with our life and the modern text. Judaism has faced challenges of dealing with ancient biblical terms that flow into our modern consciousness. How do we make them fit? We make them fit by searching our tradition for the meaning of God’s word.
We recognize today, much as our great sages of the past, that we must constantly look at the text through fresh eyes to see how it can affect our lives. This is so we can always have our Torah be meaningful to us.
Within our modern understanding of religion we are recognizing conflicts that previous sages did not face. How do we represent equality of the sexes, a growth of interfaith families needing acceptance in our community, and the representation of homosexuals into our religious leadership? All of these issues spark the debate within our faith and God wisely gave us the ability to search out meaning in the holy text and engage in respectful dialogue to find the correct way to God’s path. How do we do this? We search within our hearts and the wisdom of our tradition to find what God means for us to accomplish with His word. This is what we celebrate on May 27th, the opportunity to reclaim our Torah for our generation and to pass on God’s word to the next.
As this Shavuot approaches, I look back on a great man who passed away last week named Kurt Sax who I had the fortune of knowing when I first started as a rabbi in San Diego, California almost ten years ago. He was a wise man, born in Austria and a Holocaust survivor. He had such a serious and happy view of the Torah and it infected me as I began my career as a rabbi. I often think of his smile as he sang Hallel each holiday in his three-piece suit and thick Austrian accent and I now recognize the important gift he gave me to see how one can embrace the Torah and pass it to the next generation. His joy and love of the Torah I hope to give to others and I will not forget him.
Each and every generation takes this responsibility and we do it out of love. When the people were promised the Torah they replied Nessay V’Nishmah, we will do and we will learn. By looking at the text with fresh modern eyes and making it our own we make Torah our own and reclaim the Jewish faith for every generation. We must not be afraid to embrace the modern world when we look to embracing our faith through the Torah, even while we reflect with love on the past. This is the beauty of Shavuot; we can give a rebirth to the Torah and our faith as we look at it with fresh eyes and a loving heart as my friend Kurt Sax taught me.
Rabbi Jeffrey Lipschultz is the spiritual leader of Beth Judah Temple in Wildwood NJ. He welcomes your comments at email@example.com
Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=28100