- There is a story, of a man who lived in South Africa; he owned a farm there but the land was poor and filled with rocks and he had to work very hard to earn a living. He wanted to be rich and to seek his fortune in the world so he sold his farm and with the money traveled to many places to seek his fortune. He tried his hand at many kinds of work and investments but slowly his money disappeared and he was left penniless and begging in the streets. The man who bought his farm however took a closer look at the rocks on the farm and discovered that they were all diamonds and the land was a large diamond mine. He was the one who became wealthy and powerful.
- How often do we go out looking for our fortune and miss the treasures we already have? This is not about wanting more and more, never being happy with what we have. This is about those who think that their fortune must lie far away and they will have to go to great lengths to acquire it. There certainly are people who have sold off what they thought were old collections of comic books and baseball cards only to discover that they had given away the one comic or the one baseball card that was worth thousands of dollars. Remember the man who was browsing a garage sale and found a painting that he liked selling for ten dollars? He bought it and cleaned it up only to discover it was a lost painting of a famous artist and was worth ten thousand dollars! Imagine how the family holding the garage sale felt that what they valued the least was, in fact, the most valuable possession they owned?
- The stock market is another place we can kick ourselves for wishing we knew then, what we know now. It is so easy to invest in something, tire of it and sell it just before it takes off. We keep our eyes on the blue chip investments but, once upon a time Microsoft, Apple and even Home Depot stock could be bought cheap. Today they are all exceedingly valuable. Sometimes we have to hang on to what we believe in longer in order to see a great return on our investment. Sometimes we have to take a longer view to discover the ultimate worth of our investments.
- We don’t need to only talk about money either. Some things are just more valuable than money. Yes it is good to have enough to live on. Enough to feed the family keep a roof over our heads and provide for some comforts in life. But sometimes we overlook things that are more valuable than money. I know of people in their quest for fortune who abandoned the love of a spouse. The real meaning of the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge is not that he will die, but that he will die unloved and forgotten. It is not what you get that is often important, it is also what you give. If we take the time to love, our spouse and our children, then we have real wealth. My daughter’s name is Ashira. Most Israelis assume that it is spelled, in Hebrew, with an Aleph, and it means happy. She certainly is a happy person. But we spelled her name with an “Ayin” and her name means, “wealth”. She is our living reminder that Michelle and I are very wealthy where it is most important, in the love of our children.
- So what if I told you that everyone here has an inheritance coming to them and all they have to do is claim it? No, this is not a takeoff of the Oprah Winfry show where she gave away cars to everyone in the audience. And I am not talking about going on the internet to put your name into a website to see if you have any money or accounts that have been forgotten over time. I am talking about an inheritance from your parents and grandparents that is waiting for you to claim it.
- If this inheritance were money, what would you do with the money you are inheriting? Would you go out and spend it on stuff that would make you feel happy? Would you eat at more expensive restaurants? Buy a fancier car? Go shopping for expensive clothing or jewelry? Perhaps you would save it for a rainy day in the future when you might need the cash, sometime when you may be ill, or when your income no longer is enough to pay the bills. Maybe you might invest the money from your inheritance, letting it grow so that later you might live off the investment income or have it as a gift for your children or grandchildren. What would you do with money you suddenly discovered you had inherited?
- In this week’s parsha we read, “Surely this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say ‘who among us can go up to the heaven and get it for us and impart it to us, so that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to observe it.”
- The inheritance we are talking about is not money, it is our religion, our faith, our way of looking at the world. Our parents or grandparents were steeped in this tradition and they hoped to teach us the ways of Judaism and the treasures that are in our way of living. We often become so distracted by the outside world that we forget that we have this inheritance, one that other people wish that they could inherit. We are often like the man from South Africa, we don’t really understand the treasure that we already own.
- For some of us Judaism is not a treasure, it is a jail. Judaism has bars on its windows and a bolted door. It is filled with restrictions that seem to limit our every move. Don’t do this, Don’t do that. You must perform this ritual in exactly this way or else it doesn’t count. The modern world is evil and only Jews and Judaism can be trusted. This is the kind of faith that people run away from as soon as they are able to leave their home. When Jews came to this country at the beginning of the twentieth century, when they saw the Statue of Liberty, they not only rejoiced that they had left their lands of persecution, but I am told that the bottom of New York harbor was covered with tallesim and tephillin that were thrown overboard by Jews ready to start life anew without the burden of living as Jews. They were literally throwing their inheritance into the sea.
- But that is not the real inheritance that we receive from our ancestors. Judaism is not a dark force that drains the life and love from our world. Judaism is what helps us see the world as it really is, and it gives us the tools to help make it even better. Generations of Jews have found joy and peace in their Jewish practice. They see Judaism as a way of making sense of a chaotic universe. They see Jewish ritual as a way to keep life organized, with the most important parts of life placed well ahead of everything else.
- How can we inherit this living Judaism? This is a good question as the beginning of a new year will be next week. If we want to claim this inheritance, there are some things we should resolve to do. First of all we will need to know more about what we have been given. This means that in the new year we should resolve to read more Jewish books, not just novels, but books that will help us explore our Judaism in a deeper way. We use Jewish texts to sharpen our understanding of what it means to be a Jew.
- Second, we should set time aside for conversations about our faith. Jewish learning is not done in a vacuum; it is done in conversation with others who share our desire to learn. Temple Emeth offers many opportunities to study and learn together and the conversations are always meaningful and stimulating. Think about joining us for an hour or so of give and take on Jewish topics in our Adult Studies program. If your previous Jewish education is missing something, we can help you fill in the gaps.
- Once we take hold of our Jewish inheritance and learn how it can be important in our lives, we should then decide how we should use or how we should invest in what we have inherited. Temple Emeth is, at its core, a place where Judaism can not only be studied, but practiced. Find a day to join us for daily minyan. Extend your observance of Shabbat to include Mincha/Maariv and Havdala. Join us for a Shabbat Dinner, breakfast in the sukkah, or any other holiday celebration. We can learn here to read Hebrew, chant a haftara, lead a service, read from the Torah or many others ritual skills that will enhance our Jewish life. Certainly there are rituals that can be done at home and we can help you bring your Judaism into your own personal space.
- Let this new year 5772 be the year that we all learn to appreciate what we have inherited from our families and received from God. Let us learn to be knowledgeable and committed Jews, comfortable at all times with the faith of our ancestors as a faith of our own. Let us discover for ourselves that one of the most precious things in our life is what we already have, our Judaism.
May God guide us as we seek to come closer to our faith and to our people as we say … Amen and Shabbat Shalom