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Taking Care of the Wheat – Erev Rosh Hashanah 5778

09/14/2017 04:19:52 PM

Sep14

There was once a farmer who had three children. Before she went on a long journey, the farmer called to her children to speak with them. “While I’m away”, she said, “I’m entrusting each of you with a third of the wheat harvest we have taken in. The one who can best care for the wheat while I’m away will inherit this whole farm.” 

So the farmer went off for some time. But when she returned she called to her children. As they assembled she asked, “What have you done with my wheat?”

Her first child raised his hand and said, “I’ve taken care of the wheat. Let me show you.” With that her son took her to a barn and slid open the door. Sure enough there was the wheat, but the child hadn’t cared for it. You see it was rotten, and smelly, and bug were flying all over it. The child had simply stored the wheat in an old barn.

Well her second child reached out and said, “Let me show you how I’ve taken care of the wheat.” So he pulled his mother over to his barn. As he opened the door, the farmer could see that the wheat was nice and healthy. Her son said to her, “You see, my barn is climate controlled!” And sure enough the wheat was as pristine as it was the day it had been harvested.” The farmer liked this approach, but was curious about her 3rd child, her daughter.

Her daughter, almost embarrassed, looked down to the ground and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the wheat anymore. You see, when I went into town I saw all these people without food or nourishment. So I took the wheat and made bread- lots of bread! And I gave that to the hungry people in town. And then I took the left over bread and sold it for money. I’ve saved some of both for you, but the rest I gave to charities and to other people who could use it well.

The farmer thought about this for some time. But she gave the farm to her daughter who baked and gave away the bread.

You see, her daughter understood, it was not about preserving the gift she had been given, it was about using them for one’s own benefit and, more importantly, for the benefit of the whole world.

I wonder, what are the ways we take the potential in our lives and share it with others? Surely we all stand to benefit when each of us shares a little piece of our harvest with one another.

It may not be easy to see, but when you use the gifts that God has given you, it is an act of worship.

One doesn’t have to be a farmer to know what this idea of taking care of the wheat really looks like. But one does have to be attuned to the inherent blessings in our lives. To sense that there is more beneath the surface of things. And to notice that the opportunities to thrive and blossom are ever present.

Ask anyone, our community does a pretty good job of taking care of the wheat. And that “wheat”, in turn, nourishes so much more.

When you look back and think about our harvest one can see the gifts that each of us benefit from. Those of us who take in this nourishment will pay It forward through their our own gifts in time.

Did you know that our youth, our 7th through 12th grade students, spend at least one whole day during the year, from 9am-9pm doing nothing but back-to-back-to-back acts of community service?  It’s called “Into the Day”.

Throughout the day they are going to make and sell baked goods to raise money, visit community members living in elder care facilities, attend to the needs of abandoned animals, and assist our city’s homeless population- all in one day!

And if you think that’s the bread and everything produced from the wheat, think again.  “Into the Day” is the seed the gets it all going.

How do we know this? We know this because the greater region of United Synagogue Youth is attempting to turn this into a regional event. They are hoping that chapters from all over Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada will all organize a day of service, on the same day, in different locations.

But that’s not the only loaf of bread produced from that bundle of wheat. You see the energy produced from experiences like that builds in amazing ways. It’s not enough for our children that they grow into people who make the world a better place. For our children, they wish to also make the world a more beautiful place.

Listen carefully to the voices guiding us through our services during our holy days. Those are the voices of people who are moved by a spirit so powerful the only way to articulate it is through song. And sometimes that song bears no words, but touches the heart nonetheless.

If you’re moved to clap your hands, stop your feet, sway back and forth, jump up and shout, “praise the lord!”…. ok maybe not that. But if you heart beats a little bit faster during services it’s probably because these folks up here, made up of our teens and adults, are giving your heart something to dance about. When that happens, go with it and watch how the room sings with you.

At the heart of our congregation is a community of women who are joined together to do more than each could do alone. Our Sisterhood transforms our space from being merely a transactional environment, to a location for relationship building. In so doing they fill our home with love, warmth, courage and strength. And they remind us of our purpose, and to find meaning in something greater than ourselves. These are the bonds that make us a kehilah kedosha – a sacred community.

When we are attuned to those blessings in our lives we can see how abundant life really is. That inspires us to give back even more, contributing to this abundance. If you have ever been to the first day of religious school in our community, abundance is the word to use when you describe the Men’s Club pancake breakfast, Night at the Races, or anything else they put their minds to.

And it is love in abundance that motivates our men’s club to do everything they do to support our community, in particular our youth.

Do you know why they do what they do? Simply because they want to see people in our community having a good time and deepening their relationships.

When we deepen those relationships, we can sense our natural obligation to one another and the world grow- To care for each other.

Nothing embodies that more in our community than through the acts of our Membership Assistance Committee when they sit at the bedside of our elders, and visit those of us in mourning.

And by our Social Justice Committee that collected and delivered various items for Syrian refuges. This compassionate effort demonstrated the commitment to care for those who are vulnerable.

Talk about an image of the oneness of the human family which exemplified the best of Jewish values. And this committee reminds us of our regular commitments to each other, our neighbors, and complete strangers.

We also deliberately harvest for our own needs, which benefits others in turn. At this moment, our synagogue is powered by solar panels placed on our roof. Every ray of sun we draw will power our facility and contribute back to the larger regional grid. This harvest of sunlight is a boon for PJTC and for the wider world.  By using power from the sun, we make the air cleaner, we reduce asthma and our carbon output, and we aid California in reaching its Clean Air standards.  These efforts speak directly to Jewish values encompassed in the spirit of Tikkun Olam- repairing, protecting and preserving our physical world.

Thinking about how the sun powers our facility makes me imagine rays of light emanating from every window of this building.

But there is already so much light in this building. Just take a look around you: at the people sitting next you, at the front or back of the room, or at people down the row from you that you may hardly know.

And look within. Each one of you has a gift, a light that shines in beautiful ways. And when you let it out we all benefit.

From my perspective, I can see all our lights shining together. We have people who stand proudly as Jews, young and old, and those who have done so for decades as part of our community. And I am in awe seeing that some of our most dedicated and active members are Jews by Choice, or friends and allies to the Jewish community. Each of them makes an important contribution to our work, willingly and with open hearts.

The light of each of us, the collective flame, is what is transformed into

love, compassion and generosity when darkness spreads in the world.

And we’re going to remind you of your potential tonight to push the darkness back with your light and your gifts. We will be handing out bags as you exit the synagogue. Your job is to fill those with non-perishable food items and bring it back so we can spread our harvest through Pasadena as well.

Our sages teach that when our forefather, Jacob, was on his journey to the city of Harran, he ended up somewhere that he had not intended to go. But it was late, and so Jacob found a few stones, made a pillow, and went to sleep.

There, he had his famous dream in which Jacob saw a ladder resting on earth, stretching up to heaven. Angels were going up and down on it.

When Jacob woke up, he said, “Surely the God is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16).

Jacob’s vision was more than just the revelation of the ladder between heaven and earth. It was also the instructions for how to climb it. Our tradition teaches that Jacob saw his own potential to reach the greatest heights or sink to the deepest depths.

On the ladder of life: you can go up, or you can go down. But here’s what you can’t do on the ladder of life: You can’t stand still. No one sits on a ladder. If you want to reach heaven, you will have to climb a little bit every day. You’ll have to work your way upward or else you will be headed in the other direction.

That’s the question we encounter at this moment. With our potential harvest in view, how will we treat what we reap? Will we pay it no head and let it dry up, like a dream deferred?  Or do we think that everything we do as it stands now is just fine? That there is no room or need for growth, or change, or wisdom. Or will we take our natural God given gifts and make something beautiful out of them.

Shanah tovah.

Tue, September 17 2019 17 Elul 5779