Everyone Has One Sermon

They say that all rabbis have only one sermon.  If you’re lucky you have two, but when you look at the second it’s almost always an extension or variation on the first. Growing up, my Rabbi’s one sermon was God is everything.  Sometimes it was God is everywhere, a subplot of the main idea.  After five and a half years of being a rabbi, I realize that mine is “Let no one remain a stranger.”  That’s my sermon, that’s my Torah, that’s my truth and my message to the world.

If you only get one sermon, this one has felt inadequate to me. Especially right now, right now on the very last Shabbat of 2016, the year that is being held up as the worst year ever.  What a year it has been of name calling, mud slinging, hate crimes, bigotry and just all around soul-crushing behavior.

Right now more than ever, I want to say something profound and earth shattering.  I want to have the answer to all of the ills, all of the sad, all of the pain.  I want to say something that changes people’s lives. Every sermon I write, especially when talking about the brokenness in the world, I come to the same conclusion: The world, society, our country and so on, would be better if each person would go out and encounter “the other” whoever that is for you. It feels so touchy feely, kumbaya-y.  And the message feels like it is not sufficient.

I got into the rabbi business to do all of those things.  One summer between my fourth and fifth years of school I went to Rwanda and Uganda to do social justice work followed by an internship in Minnesota doing community organizing. It was an intense time.  Many years younger than I am now, I somehow felt that fixing the broken could be accomplished in a noticeable way in one summer.  As if when I was done with my travels, the world would say, ahhh, that’s better now. Well, that didn’t happen. I returned to New York City for my last year of seminary, and life just kept going. Turns out, changing the world or fixing the world or even saving the world is not done in one bold move.  No one person or one moment changes everything-for the good or for the bad. Turns out Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is not the work of any one person, but in fact the work of all people.  I mean all people.  It’s not one person’s job to save someone else.  It is actually everybody’s job to save everyone.

I come back to this place where I know in my soul that the only way we all really buy in to saving each other is when we stop being strangers.  And all of the bad, all of it, happens less when we know each other more.  I recently heard a TED Talk by Rabbi Sharon Brous where she said, “I can surely do something; I can forgive, I can love, I can show up, I can protest, I can be a part of this conversation.” Reaching over whatever lines divide each of us from each other may not feel like it is immediate enough. But saving the world is slow work and these are the tools that we all have.

So, personally, I am entering into the new year resolving to renew my own commitment to remember the stranger, love the stranger and know the stranger.

I invite you to join me.

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