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Rosh Hashanah Sermon

09/13/2018 07:59:04 PM


Rabbanit Alissa

A teaching of the Piaseczno Rebbe:
ב׳ בחינות באמונה ישנן באיש , “There are two types of faith in a person” כשהוא
בהתחזקות ומכל שכן גם בשמחה, אז גם מרגיש את האמונה בודאות , “When you are strong and
especially when you are joyful, you feel faith with certainty”. כשהוא בעצבות ומכל שכן כשחס
וחלילה כולו נשבר, יש שאינו מרגישה , “But when you are in sorrow or God forbid completely
broken, there is a faith within you that you do not feel-- that you aren’t even aware of”.
A faith that is certain. And a faith that is unknown. The first makes sense-- when
things are going well for us, believing in and loving God and living a life of mitzvot can
come naturally. But what does it mean to have a faith that we cannot feel-- that’s
unknown specifically when we are struggling?
וַיִּקְרָ֧א אַבְרָהָ֛ם שֵֽׁם־הַמָּק֥וֹם הַה֖וּא ה’| יִרְאֶ֑ה אֲשֶׁר֙ יֵֽאָמֵ֣ר הַיּ֔וֹם בְּהַ֥ר ה’ יֵֽרָאֶֽה , “And Avraham
named that place ‘God will see’ as it is said to this day, ‘On the mountain, God will be
seen’” (Bereshit 22:14).

Why is this the name Avraham chose for the place where the Akeidah happened?
Avraham chose this name as a source of guidance for us when we are living in
the Piaseczno Rebbe’s second kind of faith-- when we face the unknown-- transitions, a
new year, even struggle and disconnection. When we feel, as Avraham once did, like we
are part of a story with an unknown ending, or like we are climbing a mountain of
sacrifice and sorrow. Through this name, Avraham speaks from the Akeidah directly to
each of us: Don’t worry. ה’| יִרְאֶ֑ה , “God will see” and as later generations will say, ה’ יֵֽרָאֶֽה
“God will be seen”. יש שאינו מרגישה , “There’s a faith within you that you cannot feel
right now...but you will again”. This is why the verse says, אֲשֶׁר֙ יֵֽאָמֵ֣ר הַיּ֔וֹם , “As it is said to
this day”-- the lesson of the name was meant for posterity, to apply right now for us.
Pesikta Zutarta reveals that even for Avraham-- the man known for his overt
faith in God-- maintaining emunah as God led him on an emotional rollercoaster was
hard! Pesikta Zutarta teaches that Avraham said to God: רבש"ע משעה שאמרת קח נא את
בנך, היה לי מה להשיב , “God, from the moment You said ‘Take your son’, how could I
possibly respond?” אתמול אמרת לי כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע , “Yesterday You told me that my
descendants would come from Yitzchak,” עכשיו אתה אומר קח נא את בנך , “now You say,
‘Take your son to sacrifice him’?”.

In these words, we see Avraham at the Akeidah as the paradigm of a person who
is challenged to put one foot in front of the other, led by a faith he cannot feel-- an
unknown faith specifically when he is struggling.

A new year is ahead of us— which is exciting and God willing full of life and
potential! And for some of us in this room it might also be filled with trepidation and

Truth is, like Avraham, each of us has to climb our own unknown mountain. We
are all standing at the precipice of the new year. Who will live and who will die? None of
us knows what will be, and so we stand in our pews davening with all of hearts that we
be written in the book for a good life. Yet, like Avraham we feel the anxiety of Yom
HaDin, and the possibility of needing to live with faith we cannot feel. We draw
strength from Avraham who went through the worst case scenario and lived to bless the
place where it happened. He left us words of comfort and promise: ה’| יִרְאֶ֑ה , “God will
see” and ה’ יֵֽרָאֶֽה “God will be seen”.

As I hear Avraham’s words, I want to share with you personally what is on my
heart this morning. At the end of August, Akiva and I were three months pregnant. But
we found out that our baby no longer had a heartbeat. We had a miscarriage and had to
have a surgical procedure. We know that we are among many in this room who have
mourned such a loss. We had hoped to share joyful news with you at this time, but
instead, we share our broken hearts. It’s been devastating-- there has been denial,
anger, deep sadness and depression, as well as love and respect for each other, and
gratitude to God for the gift we had, for the time we had it. I share my reflections with
you because we are a B’nai David family. And also because ours is not the only story.
What makes transitional times so hard-- whether times of loss or change-- is that
in them, we surrender control. Control-- even the illusion of it-- is grounding. We want
to know why things happen to us and what will be. Yet a life of the spirit, a life of faith
requires us to accept that we are part of God’s greater story-- a narrative, in which we
don’t know in advance what will be-- but that will end with God’s mercy. God writes the
book we are inscribed in, and to have a faith that we cannot feel.

This doesn’t mean we won’t suffer or struggle. If we are struggling, it may be that
we just aren’t done climbing the mountain. And so, we repeat the mantra of the faith we
cannot feel, ה’| יִרְאֶ֑ה , “God will see” and ה’ יֵֽרָאֶֽה “God will be seen”.
And it also takes effort-- opening our eyes (physically and spiritually), as
Avraham did to see the lamb. In order for God to be seen, we have to look.
When we were in the hospital, Akiva asked me a question that I have asked many
patients in my chaplaincy work in one form or another: Where is God in all of this for
you? At first I hesitated, but I realized that answering this question myself was essential
to my spiritual journey and healing.

So from my heart to yours, I open the question: Where is God in all of this for
you right now?

Each of us will have our own unique answer. For me-- Akiva, my mom, family,
friends, Rav Yosef, and my connection to this community have been reminders of God’s
Presence. And I find comfort in the Piaseczno Rebbe’s teaching-- there’s a resilient,
strong emunah within me that will sustain me even when I don’t realize it.
Where’s God for you? In the people who support and care for you? In the silence,
in the growing pains, in surviving? Or in nature, in hope, or maybe very obviously at
your side? In Judaism and mitzvah observance? Or maybe in a memory of feeling
loved, safe, and valued?

In answering, God willing, we will begin to reach the top of the mountain. The
place we can name and bless. The place where Avraham will greet us. Where we can
draw strength and hope. And then...after taking a breath and seeing the view from the
top...we will continue to walk on God’s path forward, with faith.

Mon, June 17 2024 11 Sivan 5784