Shabbat thoughts- Parshat Chayei Sarah

One single act of kindness, though it may feel small, can change our entire world. Abby Kennedy and Carrie Krauss, our two leaders who reestablished Gan Shalom are teaching our children the importance of bringing love into daily life. While our two year-old children have no need to be informed of the shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue, they will be painting pictures and sending notes of love to the Tree of Life congregation. Carrie and Abby are requesting that any member of our congregation who would like to include a short note or picture bring it to the office by Wednesday afternoon. In this way we adults will join with our Shul’s toddlers in conveying the essential nature of doing deeds of kindness.

     Tuesday night I stood on the bimah, open-mouthed, as a flood of people continued to enter our sanctuary. They kept coming and coming! More quickly than we have ever seen before people jumped up to open the walls, to set up chairs, to welcome strangers, to embrace newcomers and neighbors– literally re-configuring our Sanctuary within a span of 10 minutes. 

     Never before has a flood been so beautiful, so uplifting and so encouraging. The flood of humanity which entered our Shul brought with it a flood of love and shared concern which embraced us all. You and I know how important it is for us to visit a grieving friend or relative. Such a visit can stabilize someone about to collapse due to shock and grief.

     But when a shooting in a Shul on Shabbas threatened to cause us all to collapse we were overwhelmed by hundreds of neighbors sharing our pain and yearning to uphold us with love and compassion. Seeing 500-550 people fill our House of Gathering (Bet HaKnesset) with human decency, concern, respect and gentle support left an enduring impression upon all who entered our building.  All who experienced the service Tuesday evening will know for the rest of their lives that a new and powerful element is part of the very make-up of our structure. Love now permeates our building- infused into the very walls and floor of our Shul by people with tears in their hearts and outstretched arms.

     All it took to transform Mobile's Jewish community’s Shivah into an experience of hope and love, replete with smiles joining tears, was the taking of time by people; to drive from their homes and from other places to our synagogue. Taking the time to travel to us removed some of the sorrow; sorrow within our hearts and the hearts of many caring people from many walks of life. One person’s drive from his home uplifted one local Jew- 500 drives by Mobilians lifted up the entire community.

     In this week’s Torah reading Abraham may be anticipating the end of Jewish life. Not having experienced gunshots, he does notice that his son is not married and he turns to a trusted unnamed non-Israelite neighbor and requests a favor; to travel to Syria in order to bring back a wife for his son Isaac.

     Perhaps Abraham is not able to make such a journey due to his advanced age.  Without a daughter-in-law there will be no Jewish people. The promise of Judaism would be extinguished even as it has just begun. This nameless non-Israelite takes upon himself the responsibility to travel to a distant land, identify the appropriate woman and bring her back to Canaan. Without the friendship, the support, the investment of personal energy and the love of one neighbor for another this community of Israel would not have survived. How powerful it is that one person can be essential for the perpetuation of another. This man’s name was not mentioned because it did not matter; only his act of caring mattered. What we experienced Tuesday night, what we experience daily in our world and what we need to experience and offer to others is the understanding that one person can be critical in the perpetuation of the life of another.

What a blessing we have received! What a blessing,  incumbent upon us all to share in the future…With God’s inspiration we will do so.

Shabbat Shalom

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