Hannah Goldstein's Sermon Following Hurricane Sandy - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Hannah Goldstein's Sermon Following Hurricane Sandy

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Hannah Goldstein

November 2, 2012

Parashat Vayera

Congregation Emanu-El


V'ha’elohim nisa et Avraham...God tested Abraham. God called to Abraham, take your son, your favored son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering. (Genesis 22:1,2) Our Torah portion this week speaks of a test, a trial, an arresting disruption. A test that shifts priorities and perspective. We read in our Torah portion this week, about Abraham’s test.

And this past week, as a city, we faced a trial. A test of our spirit and our will, a trial of our resilience and our faith. We faced, and continue to face, the challenges that accompany the arrival of an unfamiliar reality. It was a week of disorientation and displacement. It was a week of anxiety and uncertainty. Our priorities are forced into high relief, as so many suffered profoundly. We were reminded of what really matters: shelter, food, light and love.

Perhaps you are displaced and disoriented. Perhaps you have taken others into your homes. Perhaps your mind remains noisy with worry about loved ones, friends and neighbors still in the dark. Tonight we gather as one congregation, here in our sanctuary along with those who listen to our services in their homes. Together, we welcome Shabbat just as we do each week. Together, we seek the comfort of ritual, and the support of our community.

We’ve watched our city, battered and bruised, begin to wake up, and we are humbled in the face of our trial. We are humbled by the fact that we cannot always be in control. And we are humbled by the fact that we each have the potential to help bring light back to our city.

As Abraham and his son Isaac walk to the place that God designates for the sacrifice, Isaac calls to his father:

“Father,” he says.

“Yes, my son,” Abraham answers. 

“Here are the firestone and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answers, “God will see to the sheep for his burnt offering, my son.”

          This is an act of faith. In the face of his trial, Abraham maintains his faith. He believes in the potential of what can be. He believes that there must be a way forward, a sheep to take his son’s sacrificial spot on the altar. He has faith in that which is yet to come.  That he is not alone in his trial. He has faith that perhaps, in his moment of darkness, there can still be light. He has faith that in this hour of uncertainty, hope remains.

          In this time of trial, we must have faith. Faith in ourselves that provides us with the strength and the compassion to help others, to give of ourselves to those in need. Faith that when we need help, there will be others ready to do what they can. And the faith to know that light will come again.  

 In the novel On the Road, Jack Kerouac writes: “New York gets god-awful cold in the winter but there’s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets.” (Jack Kerouac, On the Road, Part 1, Ch. 13)  Our city has been cold, it’s been wet, it’s been windy, and dark. And yet, there has been comradeship in our streets. Nurses giving breathe to babies as they carry them down darkened stairs and the continued care of our city’s healthcare providers as they work to staff crowded hospitals. Engineers and firemen bravely climbing toward the sky in high winds, to assess the risk of a dangling crane. The tireless work of so many in our city and beyond, to protect and provide for those who need help. So many New Yorkers around our city, checking in on neighbors to make sure that they have what they need while they are without power and heat. 

As we begin to put the pieces back together, that is where we will find the faith to move forward, to return, to rebuild, and to be strong for each other as we slowly find our way. Our resilient, tough city, illuminated by the warmth of strangers caring for one another. 

Psalm 126 concludes with two beautiful verses: Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”

It is not the tears that bring the joy, it is the seeds that we sow. It is the faith that planting new seeds requires. The backbreaking work, of tending and tilling the soil, even while we weep, even as we mourn destruction. That is what will yield the joy. We are planting seeds, as we do all that we can for one another, planting seeds when we have the faith that tomorrow will be brighter.  As we plant the seeds together, we discover the comradeship that abounds in our streets. And we have faith, that after our trial, a time will come again, perhaps not this week or next, when our seeds will grow and bear fruit, and we will reap their harvest, and we will once again sing songs of joy.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu