Opening to Risk and Praying for Israel: Crowdsourcing Sermon from last Shabbat

“You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. Set these words upon your heart.”

Why?  Why does it say to set these words of love and of Torah, upon your heart? Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz teaches: we place the words of Torah upon our hearts so that they can lay there, wait there, for the day our heart breaks.  And when it does break, those words of love sitting on our heart will fall right into the crack.  That’s when we will really know Torah.

With fear comes distancing, the building of walls, the closing of hearts.  But with openness—sometimes even just a crack, exposing our heart—comes the trust and faith that can allow for risk-taking.

When, in this summer’s weekly sermon crowdsourcing, we posed the question “When have you taken a risk and done something outside your comfort zone?” quite a number of you shared inspiring stories about risks you have taken.  One of you shared:

“Several weeks ago I met a gentleman in his 50’s at the LGBT Community Center, William Way.  He offered to make a sandwich run for me. When he returned I gave him half the sandwich and he began to tell me about himself. He lived with a Jewish physician for 10 years. In the last couple years the doctor became ill and he took care of him.  The family had been appreciative of the support my friend had given. But when the ill gentleman died the caretaker was locked out of the apartment. The gentleman explained that he circulated daily to find some place to sleep and has been looking for a job for over a year. Although I had only the information the caretaker had shared about himself I offered him my living room couch as a safe, quiet place to sleep. In exchange I asked for help with cooking,  light chores, and errands. My new housemate has proved to be an honest, hard working fellow. In the short time I have grown to trust him and like him as a friend.”

The congregant who shared this story opened his heart and opened his door to the stranger.  With fear comes distancing, the building of walls, the closing of hearts.  But with openness—sometimes even just a crack—comes the trust and faith that can allow for risk-taking.

Another one of you shared a heartbreaking yet inspiring story of survival, and of beginning again.  You said: “After over sixteen years of being sexually abused by a family member, I finally disclosed the abuse, stopped going home overnight, and moved to Philadelphia the day I graduated from college to start a summer job in a new city knowing no one. Now, eight weeks later, I am preparing to matriculate to medical school in August, loving my job, settling nicely into Philly, and am feeling endlessly thankful to have found Rodeph Shalom. Taking these risks took me very far outside of my comfort zone; I was very scared. While there are certainly tough moments, I feel so blessed and thankful to be where I am as a result of making these changes.”

The congregant who shared this story opened her heart and opened the door to her future.  With fear comes distancing, the building of walls, the closing of hearts.  But with openness—sometimes even just a crack—comes the trust and faith that can allow for risk-taking.

This week, I was devastated to watch the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reached a new crisis, horrified to see how far into Israel Hamas’ rockets can now reach, and saddened to see so much American media challenge Israel’s need to defend herself and ignore Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties, both Israeli and Palestinian.  As I mourn for the loss of Israeli life and for the loss of Palestinian life, I have been moved to read that even as many people display fear, create distance, and demonize the other, some hearts, cracking open, are taking a risk, allowing love to fall in.

Palestinians from the Hebron area showed up at the door of the family of kidnapped Israeli Jewish boy, Naphtali Fraenkel.  The Palestinians were looking to comfort the bereaved.  Asked why they had come, one Palestinian said, “Things will only get better when we learn to cope with each other’s pain and stop getting angry at each other.” He later said that the visit went very well from his perspective. “They received us very, very nicely. The mother [Rachel Fraenkel] was incredible.”  “I see before me a Jewish family who has lost a son opening the door to me,” he added. “That’s not obvious. It touched my heart and my nation.”

Israelis made their way to a mourning tent in Jerusalem to pay their condolences to the family of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teenager who was brutally beaten, burned, and murdered last week—the death that is believed to be an act of retaliation an for the killing of the 3 abducted Israeli teenagers.  Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel director Rabbi Ron Kronish,said: “We went to pay a condolence visit to this Palestinian family whose son was brutally murdered as an act of religious obligation and humanistic solidarity. Our visit was warmly received by our Palestinian neighbors who were visibly moved by our empathetic act of good will.”

As powerful as it is to see Palestinians seeking to comfort bereaved Israelis, and to see Israelis seeking to comfort bereaved Palestinians, it’s not the visitors who expose themselves.  It’s the mourners receiving the visitors.  The grieving Israeli family who accepts comfort from the Palestinian. The grieving Palestinian family who accepts consolation from the Israeli.  The bereaved relatives of slain children, hearts cracked open, are taking the risk, stripping away their protective armor, totally outside of anything that feels comfortable, they are letting the other in.

This week, as rockets rained down and despair welled up, as I have longed to hear Hamas affirm the right of Israel to exist, as I have longed to hear Israeli leadership call for the end of the occupation, and as I have longed to hear the world affirm Israel’s right to defend herself and appreciate Israel’s efforts to preserve life on all sides, the risk I take is the risk of hope.  Grieving Israeli and Palestinian mothers, who still see humanity in one another, and receive each other’s love, these compel me to maintain something of hope.

The mourners opened the door to their home or to their tent, and opened the possibility of seemingly impossible connection.  With fear comes distancing, the building of walls, the closing of hearts.  But with openness—sometimes even just a crack—comes the trust and faith that can allow for risk-taking.

When the heart breaks, the words of Torah fall into the crack.  So set these words upon your heart.





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