Rabbi Doug Sagal
doug@rabbisagal.com

SCHOLAR IN RESIDENCE SERMON

I AM HONORED TO BE HERE WITH YOU THIS EVENING, WITH YOU MEMBERS OF TEMPLE EMANU-EL BETH SHOLOM, AND OTHERS WHO MAY BE TUNING IN, AND WITH YOUR INCREDIBLY DISTINGUISHED CLERGY, RABBI LISA GRUSHCOW, AND RABBI ELLEN GREENSPAN.

THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO LED US IN WORSHIP TONIGHT.

I AM SURE YOU KNOW THAT RABBI GRUSHCOW IS ONE OF THE MOST ADMIRED, AND YES, LET ME SAY IT, LOVED MEMBERS, NOT ONLY OF THE CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS BUT OF THE RABBINATE IN GENERAL. I SAY THIS WITHOUT HYPERBOLE. YOU ARE BLESSED TO HAVE HER AS YOUR RABBI. BUT I’M SURE YOU KNOW THAT… HER INTELLECT, COMPASSION, HUMOR, KINDNESS, CARING AND VISIONARY LEADERSHIP IS AN INSPIRATION TO ALL OF US WHO KNOW HER.

NOW MY ORIGINAL TOPIC WAS TO SPEAK ABOUT THE HOLINESS OF FAILURE-HOW FAILURE CAN TEACH US AND HELP US GROW, FOR THIS HAS BEEN MY EXPERIENCE.

LET ME BEGIN BY SAYING THAT ONE OF MY GREATEST FAILURES IS NOT HIRING RABBI GRUSHCOW MANY YEARS AGO WHEN I HAD THE CHANCE AND IT IS TO HER CREDIT THAT SHE HAS NEVER REMINDED ME OF THAT-

ORIGINALLY I WAS GOING TO SPEAK ABOUT MY OWN EXPERIENCE OF FAILURE – PROFOUND FAILURE – AND HOW IT EDUCATED ME TO THE REDEMPTIVE POWER OF FAILURE THAT LEADS TO GROWTH.

BUT NOW IN THE MIDST OF THIS PANDEMIC, WE WHO ARE CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES ARE AWASH IN FAILURE:

FAILURE OF OUR LEADERSHIP

FAILURE OF A SOCIETY THAT HAS NOT PROVIDED MEDICAL CARE FOR SO MANY OF OUR CITIZENS

FAILURE OF OUR COUNTRY TO PROTECT THE WEAK AND THE VULNERABLE SO IN MANY WAYS- THEY BEAR THE BRUNT OF THIS TERRIBLE PANDEMIC.

I AM SURE YOU KNOW THAT OUR INSANE AMERICAN IDOLOTROUS WORSHIP OF THE WEALTHY AND THE FAMOUS, OUR ELEVATION OF HEDGE FUND MANAGERS, AND WALL STREET SHARPERS AND EMPTY HEADED CELEBRITIES HAS NOT AVAILED US IN THIS CRISIS. IT IS NOT THE HEDGE FUND MANAGER OR THE EMPTY CELEBRITY WHO IS SAVING US AT THIS MOMENT. IT IS THE DOCTOR THE NURSE, THE GROCERY CLERK.

WE ARE A SOCIETY WHOSE FUNDAMENTAL FAILURES HAVE BEEN BRUTALLY EXPOSED AS THE CURTAIN HAS BEEN RIPPED OFF OUR SUPERFICIALITY.

OUR HIGH PRIESTS OF THE LAST DECADES – THE WEALTHY, THE FAMOUS, THE CLEVERLY CORRUPT HAVE BEEN EXPOSED FOR THE HELPLESS FRAUDS THEY ARE. YOUR NEIGHBORS TO THE IMMEDIATE SOUTH ARE TRULY AWASH IN FAILURE.

THIS WEEK’S TORAH PORTION IS A DOUBLE PORTION

CALLED ACHAREI MOT KEDOSHIM: TWO TORAH PORTIONS USUALLY READ TOGETHER AS ONE.

“ACHAREI MOT”-THE FIRST PORTION, MEANS AFTER THE DEATH AND IT DEALS IN PART WITH THE TRAGIC DEATH OF THE SONS OF AARON- NADAV AND AVIHU, LEAVING THEIR FATHER STRUCK SILENT WITH INCOMPREHENSIBLE GRIEF.

KEDOSHIM-THE SECOND PORTION, MEANS HOLINESS AND IT CONTAINS THE FAMOUS HOLINESS CODE OF LEVITICUS 19 CALLING UPON US TO LIVE A HOLY LIFE. “LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF” IS ITS MOST FAMOUS LINE.

IT SEEMS SUCH A CONTRAST: THE VIOLENT AND TRAGIC DEATHS OF THE SONS OF AARON, FOLLOWED BY THE RULES FOR LIVING A HOLY AND MEANINGFUL LIFE. THE SAGES, HOWEVER, SEE IN THIS UNUSUAL JUXTAPOSITION A LESSON.

ACHAREI MOT KEDOSHIM, THEY SAY: AFTER THE DEATH-HOLINESS.

PERHAPS THE TORAH IS TEACHING US THAT ACHAREI MOT – EVEN AFTER PAIN AND SORROW AND SUFFERING – THERE IS THE POTENTIAL FOR KEDOSHIM – HOLINESS AND GOODNESS AND JOY ONCE AGAIN.

ACHAREI MOT-KEDOSHIM

AFTER PAIN AND SORROW THERE IS ALWAYS THE POTENTIAL FOR LIFE AND REDEMPTION.

I CAN THINK OF NO GREATER LESSON FOR US THAN THIS – AND THERE IS A PRECEDENT.

IN THE FACE OF THIS TERRIBLE PLAGUE MANY HAVE BEEN CITING THE GREAT EPIDEMIC OF 1918. MY FAMILY BELIEVES MY OWN GREAT GRANDPARENTS DIED DURING THAT EPIDEMIC IN PHILADELPHIA. WHAT IS LESS KNOWN IS THAT THE EPIDEMIC OF 1918 LED TO CERTAIN REFORMS AT LEAST IN THE UNITED STATES

WORKERS WAGES WENT UP AS BUSINESSES HAD TO FIND LABORERS TO REPLACE THOSE LOST. WOMEN FLOODED THE WORKPLACE LIKE NEVER BEFORE ENTERING FACTORIES AND BUSINESSES AGAIN- TO REPLACE WORKERS LOST. MANY OF THESE WOMEN BECAME LEADERS AND SOME HISTORIANS HAVE ARGUED THAT THE 19TH AMENDMENT TO OUR CONSTITUTION PASSED IN 1920 THAT GAVE THE WOMEN THE VOTE WAS A DIRECT RESULT OF THE EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN DUE TO THE SPANISH FLU EPIDEMIC.

SO YOU SEE THE SAGES WERE RIGHT: AFTER DEATH THERE CAN BE

HOLINESS AND REDEMPTION.

THE QUESTION IS CAN WE-

WHO ARE NOW LIVING THROUGH THE GREATEST CRISIS OF OUR LIFETIMES – MANAGE REDEMPTION – HOLINESS AFTER DEATH.

CAN WE LEARN THAT DENYING A SIGNIFICANT PROPORTION OF OUR CITIZENS ADEQUATE FOOD, CLOTHING, MEDICAL CARE, SHELTER, LIVING WAGES, ONLY LEADS TO A WEAKENING OF OUR SOCIETY AND EVENTUAL DISASTER AND COLLAPSE?

CAN WE CEASE IDOLIZING THOSE PEOPLE OF INORDINATE WEALTH GAINED THROUGH DUBIOUS AND RAPACIOUS MEANS, AND ONCE AGAIN COME TO ADMIRE AND SEEK TO EMULATE DOCTORS AND SCIENTISTS AND NURSES- SCHOLARS AND TEACHERS?

AND MOST OF ALL CAN WE FINALLY, AT LONG LAST CEASE TO ENABLE THE IMPOSSIBLY CORRUPT, LAWLESS AND CONSCIOUSNESS POLITICAL LEADERS WHO ACHIEVE OFFICE ONLY TO SEEK PERSONAL GAIN?

CAN WE LEARN AS IT IS SAID IN THE TORAH PORTION FOR THIS VERY SHABBAT:

VE-AHAVTA LEREACHA KAMOCHA

LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF

CAN WE LEARN THE LESSONS OF- YES- THREE THOUSAND YEARS AGO WRITTEN IN THE VERY PORTION FOR THIS SHABBAT:

DO NOT DEFRAUD YOUR NEIGHBOR

DO NOT ACT CORRUPTLY N BUSINESS

PAY THE WAGES OWED TO YOUR WORKERS

LEAVE PART OF YOUR PRODUCE FOR THE POOR AND THE STRANGER.

CAN WE LEARN?

IF WE DO, THEN WE WILL FULFILL THE PROMISE AT THE VERY BEGINNING OF THIS WEEK’S PORTION – KEDOSHIM TIHIYU – YOU WILL BE A HOLY COMMUNITY AND A HOLY PEOPLE.

ACHAREI MOT KEDOSHIM

AFTER DEATH CAN COME HOLINESS

BUT IT IS TRULY UP TO US.