Sermon: Rosh Hashanah 5769 by Rabbi Joe Blair

Rabbi Joe Blair

Our Community & Miracles

September 30, 2008  


Our Community & Miracles            5769                            Rabbi Joe Blair

This past year was a year of much activity in our community, much going on. Most of you can think back and recall it.

This past year, we have had more than our share of illness; we suffered deaths, close calls, health scares, a number of personal tragedies, and many troubles. We saw job losses, estrangements, and accidents. The number and variety of traumas among our community has been greater than anyone could have guessed. We have seen many lives of those among us changed in significant ways; much sadness, sorrow, and loss. And we have ALL been touched by it.

At the same time, some (even much) of what has occurred has been good, sometimes even wonderful. Our community has been strong, and supported each other and those in the larger community.  We have given; financially and personally. We have striven to make a difference, to help others, to live out the Jewish values we hold dear.

A few examples: We held healing services for our community to help address the pain we felt. The caring committee came into formal being and has been active ever since. We established the Chevrah Kadishah, the holy burial society, and the members stand ready to perform, offering the most selfless act possible – for those whom they help in this way can never give anything in return.

We added regular Shabbat morning services to our calendar, providing another opportunity and way to join together and to share the peace of Shabbat. We had the first Holocaust Education Week, and worked with the larger community to make known the fact that it is everyone’s responsibility to support the idea of ‘never again.’ The Staunton Jewish Film Festival was successfully initiated, reaching out to Jews and non-Jews alike. We added many opportunities for education and Jewish learning at all levels.

We were blessed with several new Jewish souls, and in the course of this year we celebrated at least one naming, one bris, one marriage, and one B’nai Mitzvah.

We know that our community is a blessing. In times of trouble our community supports and sustains us. In moments of celebration the same members of the community share our joys and uplift us.

What we don’t know until it is our turn to be supported is just how much of a blessing our community really is. We can not even imagine how important, how meaningful, how supportive it is to have the community members there when they are most needed to keep one from feeling utterly alone and abandoned. At those times, when we question G-d most, at times of pain and trouble, to have others stand beside you as you face those feelings is more than anyone can describe. It is a deep, loving, and life-sustaining link that is felt and understood, but is inexplicable and unexpressible.

Our community is more than those we happen to live amongst. The community we live in is our place of prayer, and often, as we have seen, it is also the answer to our prayers. It is the locus for our life cycles, and the stage where we live out our life. Our joys and sorrows play out against the backdrop of that community. Community is always there, around us. Without community, we would be lost.

Just as others are there for you, you have also been there for those others. Make no mistake: you are as much needed by them, as they are by you.

Recently I have heard someone say, ‘but I was just doing what is right, or what I should’, or ‘I really didn’t do anything, I just said a few words’ or 'I just brought by some food because I knew they wouldn't have a chance to stop and get something', or ‘I just called or dropped by to let them know I was thinking of them – they didn’t really need me to talk to them, and I couldn’t do anything for them.’ 

Not so, my friends. Not so at all. You can have no idea how much your simple presence, or your smile, a friendly word, or a small gesture can mean to someone as they face the dark moments of the soul. What you do is NOT a small thing.  Never say, ‘just’.

A story to help me illustrate this point:

            [Here I retold the story of “Just a Miracle” by Rabbi Mitch Chefitz about the 

            Prophet Elijah and recognizing miracles, where the word 'just' blinds everyone 

            to their presence.]

My friends, never imagine that there is not a miracle in the very existence of each one of us. Every moment is full of miracles – what I call ‘everday miracles’. The smile of a child, the beauties of the setting of the sun, the rainbow after a storm, the mountains and foothills rising up, the mist lifting above the trees in the morning, and the waves on the shore.

It is up to us to make the effort to find them, to see them, to recognize them for what they are. Each one is a tiny, perfect moment, a glimpse of what is and what can be, and we can find them when we look. That is why there are specific blessings for such experiences in our tradition.

And sometimes, just sometimes, we are fortunate enough to discover and to see that these tiny everyday miracles join together to form larger miracles. When we think of the wave, we see this in microcosm.

At the moment, we look and see that there is one perfect wave, one tiny miraclethat hits the shore. If we continue to watch and see , we see another, and another, and another - an unending stream of waves that each roll up and crash upon the beach. This endless ebb and flow of wave following wave following wave is what makes for the larger miracle, an ongoing miracle.

Each single event is a tiny miracle. Together they create something much more than the sum of their parts.  So it is with us and our community.

When you look around you in this sanctuary, when you see the others here, and feel the sense of kehillah kedoshah (holy community) that together we create, you sense how all of the other people are here and supporting you in creating this community. Their presence is important to you now, today. Equally so, you are supporting them, and your presence is important to each of them.

That sense of mutual suport is one of the ways that you know that our community would not be as strong, and vibrant, as healthy, or as full of love as it is without you, as it is with you as part of it. Your very presence is one of the tiny miracles, as is the presence of each other person here. All of us together are what makes up this community. And we all, together, add our tiny evertday miracles one on top of another, building up, and creating the larger miracle that goes on and reaches far beyond any one of us can imagine.

So always remember: you are not ‘just’ anything – you are a tiny miracle to others, and an integral part of the larger ongoing miracle of our community. Our community is there for you, as you are there for it. Chazak, chazak venitchazek. May our community go from strength to strength in strength.

Leshanah tovah umetukah tikateivu

Rabbi Joe