Rabbi Brian Stoller

The first time I walked into this building last winter, I was struck by the incredible windows.

You know what I’m talking about.  They’re everywhere:

The tall, wide windows that let the light pour in, casting a clear, panoramic view of the landscape.

And these windows surrounding our sanctuary!  It feels like that light of the first morning of Creation, God’s own light, is shining on us, and enveloping us with warmth and love.

It feels holy.

You might not know this but, according to Jewish law, a sanctuary is required to be built with windows – so that you can look out toward the Heavens, and be stirred by the majesty of it all, and really feel God’s presence?

And that’s what it’s all about, right?  That’s why we’re here. 

Whether we know how to express it or not, deep down in our souls the reason we are here is to feel connected to something bigger than we are, to somehow touch the transcendent, and uncover a little bit of the mystery.

We’re here to be part of something holy.

In a day and age when we are running constantly from one thing to the next, when our time and our resources are scarce and the demands on them are immense – that’s why we choose to be part of this temple:

Because we want to be part of something holy.  We need to be part of something holy.

And that majestic, divine light streaming in through these windows?

It’s the same light that lives inside every human being.

The light of God – the light of God’s goodness, the light of God’s love – shines inside every single one of us –

And it’s that light which this place is holy.

It’s the people who make this place holy.

–People who are warm and friendly, and smile, and welcome us when we walk in the door;

–People who share our values, and our concerns, and our struggles;

–People who will embrace us when we’re scared and troubled by things happening in the world, like Charlottesville, and antisemitism, and white supremacy, and the hurricanes, and the earthquakes, and the feeling of powerlessness.

It’s the people who make this place holy.

And that’s why we’re here.  That’s why we’ve been coming here for thousands of years:

Because we humans have an innate spiritual need for connection – connection to holiness, connection to each other, connection to community.

And Temple Israel is a holy community.

* * *

–A holy community is one where people feel known – not just recognized, but really known, and accepted, and loved by people who genuinely care.

–A holy community is one in which people feel inspired – inspired to change their lives and to change the world.

–And a holy community is one where people feel valued – valued for who they are and what they have to give.

We all need to feel these things.  And when we do, we feel alive; we feel a sense of purpose; we feel connected to God, and we live in ways that are godly.

That’s why we’re here.

And lest we doubt it: see the light pouring in through these magnificent windows;

Look around at all the faces, young and old, radiating with the light of God;

Hear the whisper in the gentle morning silence:

“Be holy.”

Our purpose here – mine and yours together – is to be a holy Jewish community – for ourselves, for each other, and for our children.

* * *

This spiritual need to be known is profound. 

We walk through so much of our lives unknown to the people around us.

At the coffee shop, at the dry cleaners, at the store; even at work, and in the kids’ school, and on the soccer field, and on social media –

We might know about each other to one degree or another, but we don’t really know each other’s lives in a meaningful way.

But we have a deep and innate spiritual need to be known. 

That’s why we can be surrounded by people from morning till night, and have a thousand friends on Facebook, and still feel profoundly and painfully lonely.

Remember the theme song from “Cheers?” 

(My wife told me I’m dating myself with this old-timey cultural reference, but that’s OK; I think it makes the point nicely.)

The song said: “Sometimes you want to go / where everybody knows your name.”

  And that’s it: It’s about feeling known. 

–Feeling that people understand who you are, and what’s important to you;

–It’s about feeling that people know the challenges you face at home;

that you’re struggling with depression or that your spouse is sick;

that you’re pained because your child is estranged, or you’re still grieving your mother’s death all these years later…

and the key is, they don’t judge you for it.

–It’s about feeling like you don’t have to wear a mask when you walk in the door, or be embarrassed, or get it together…

because the people in this community know you, and love you, and accept you for who you are and where you are in your life – no matter what.

*

These kinds of connections are powerful.

They’ve certainly been powerful for me, in my life.

Now, I admit: until I worked as a rabbi in my first congregation, I never realized a community like this was something I longed for. 

I just didn’t think about it much, to be honest.

But then I experienced it.  I made these deep connections with people, connections rooted in shared values, shared love for Judaism and tradition and learning, and genuine affection…

And they became my extended family.

They nurtured me, and loved me, and welcomed my children into the world, and celebrated simchas with us, and comforted us in times of sorrow.

They became part of me.

That’s what holy community can be, if you’re willing to invest yourself in it.

*

To make connections like this, we have to be willing to be vulnerable and trusting, and open a window into our lives so that others can see in.

And, in turn, we have to make the effort to know them, too.

–It’s about being friendly and interested in our fellow congregants; asking about each other’s families and each other’s lives, and really caring about the answer.

–Going beyond asking, “what do you do?” or “what can you do for me?” – and asking, with genuine interest: “Who are you?  What makes you cry?  What brings you joy?  What brings you here?”

–And when we’re sitting in the Community Court waiting to pick up our kids or waiting for services to start, we have to remember that we’re not a collection of isolated atoms who happen to be occupying the same space;

We’re an intertwined human family who have all come here to be part of something holy.

Holy community. 

That’s why we’re here.

* * *

           

Cheers, the bar on TV, was the place where everybody knows your name.  And that’s what Temple should be, too.

That, and more.

Because a holy community is one where people not only feel known, but also one where they feel inspired –

–inspired to learn and grow, spiritually and intellectually;

–inspired to look inward and change their lives for the better;

–inspired to be a role model for the next generation, and to keep this tradition alive for them;

–inspired to go out and change the world.

            So instead of sitting on the bar stool chatting about idle things and sucking down empty calories, this holy community talks about things that matter…

Things like: Torah, values, morality, God, the soul, justice, peace, and service.

 At first, these may feel like just words to us. 

–But then, we learn something in Torah study so profound that it changes the way we think – and we’re awed by the brilliance of Jewish wisdom, and we want more of it;

–Or we experience a life-cycle ceremony so powerful that the feeling of God’s presence is tangible and life just makes sense, if only for that moment – so we decide to seek out more spiritual connection like this in our life;

–Or we see our child’s eyes light up as they blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and we feel a joy in Judaism that we never felt before;

–Or at a Habitat for Humanity build or a picnic across the street, we meet a family from the other side of town or from the other side of the world…

and although we’ve heard it a thousand times before, the commandment to “be kind to the stranger, because you were strangers in Egypt” reverberates in our bones for the very first time…

And suddenly, we feel inspired – and those words, which before felt like just words to us, suddenly come to life!

And they become part of us; and they change us.  Forever.

That’s why we’re here.

To teach, to inspire, to bring the words and the values to life;

To search together, to struggle together, to help each other live with humility, and awe, and faith…

Because we know that there is far more to life than what we can see with our eyes.

That’s why we’re here.

* * *

           

We all have a role to play in creating and nurturing this holy community.

The clergy can’t do it alone.  The professional team can’t do it alone.  The lay leadership can’t do it alone.

It takes everyone – us and you, together – to make it happen.

So I invite you, this year, to take ownership of this.  Let’s make it happen, together.

Because a holy community is one where every member adds value, and every member feels valued:

–Valued for who you are as a human being;

–Valued for your experiences and your ideas;

–Valued for your whole self, and everything that your presence brings to our community.

I want you to give of your skills, and your creativity, and your time, and your energy, because I am absolutely certain that this community will be enriched by your participation.

And I want you to give – not only because of the value that you will add to your community – but also because of the value that you will add to your own life.

Working to help the community is, in and of itself, a portal to Jewish meaning and purpose.

–To help build a holy community where others feel known and loved, and inspired, and valued…

–To help build a caring community, where people feel accepted, and safe, and nurtured…

–To pray, and seek, and cry, and rejoice alongside people you love – people who know you, and love you…

That’s what it is to be part of something holy.

* * *

–So this year, when one of the clergy or a temple volunteer asks you to help, say yes – because this community needs and values what you have to give.

–This year, try something at Temple you haven’t done before – a class, a service project, prayer, a community outing – and be open to being inspired and changed by it.

–This year, when you find yourself standing by someone you don’t know – reach out, be kind, and interested, and get to know them.

–And next time someone reaches out to you, dare to be vulnerable.  Open a window into your life, into your light, and let them know you.

Because that’s why we’re here.

And lest we doubt it: see the light pouring in through these beautiful windows;

Look around at all the faces, young and old…

Each unique, each searching, each yearning for connection…

Each radiating with the light of God.

Hear the whisper in the gentle morning silence:

“Be holy.”

 

 

Be Holy, Hear the Whisper

By Peter & Ellen Allard

Be holy, hear the whisper

A quiet gentle voice.

Be holy, hear the whisper

That helps us make the choice

To be like God

Be holy, hear the whisper

Present every day

Be holy, hear the whisper

It teaches us the way

To be like God

HaKadosh Baruch Hu

HaKadosh Baruch Hu

Be holy, hear the whisper

That guides each word and deed

Be holy, hear the whisper

Reminding us we need

To be like God.

Be holy, hear the whisper

The warmth of love’s embrace

Be holy, hear the whisper

Giving us the grace

To be like God.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu

HaKadosh Baruch Hu