…we cannot reach any higher if we can’t deal with ordinary love. -Bono
I read a lot of high holiday sermons…other people’s. It’s nice to see what other rabbis choose to speak about when so many are present and listening. This year, I also read a flurry of news articles on the subject of whether High Holiday sermons should or shouldn’t address politics.
Since I began serving Congregation Beth HaTephila, this question has been a machloket l’shaym shamayim, a worthy and vigorous debate. Should the rabbi (me) talk about current issues (not candidates) or focus on Torah, Jewish tradition, the life of the spirit? There are folks who expect a rabbi to explicitly address what is happening in the world, and offer leadership on issues about which Judaism offers a perspective. Jewish values live and breathe anew when we can see how they influence and offer guidance for us to navigate today’s challenges. And some might even argue that if Judaism doesn’t address our lives today, it is just a relic. Others come to worship looking to have a couple of hours off from newspapers, radio and television and don’t want punditry to invade the bima and certainly don’t want politics to divide the congregation. They want to learn Torah and experience tradition for its own sake and be left on their own to draw the connections between ancient Jewish teachings and their own lives.
There is value to both of these points of view. As you may have noticed, there are times when I will speak about issues of the day, quite explicitly. But in general, I haven’t found that making those kinds of sermons a staple in our spiritual diet is nourishing or impactful. At worst, doing so entrenches people more comfortably in their political camps and at best, it raises awareness for a scant few.
Instead, I’ve comfortably set my sights on offering you something I believe we need even more in these trying times. We live in a goal-driven society that values productivity and busyness. And because we are so busy trying to know enough and do enough (and inevitably failing), we don’t have time or space enough to adequately nurture our humanity. As a result, I see too many of us who are hungry to feel safe and accepted, thirsty for wellbeing and ease, starving for affection and love. I firmly believe our Temple is uniquely positioned to nurture these human capacities, creating the context where we see what’s possible for us individually and collectively, when we feel still enough to drop in and pay attention to our hearts. If the human heart is where all transformation begins, then what could be more vital to us than regular opportunities to feel warmth towards our fellow human beings, compassion upon encountering the suffering of others, gratitude for our blessings and the strength of spirit to face our struggles? I agree wholeheartedly with Bono: we cannot reach any higher if we can’t deal with ordinary love.