Installation Sermon: Har Sinai Congregation

Har Sinai Congregation

Our Shabbat bridges a borderline between Torah tales.

Morning will speak the story of Jacob.

Last week, Jacob sights angels ascending and descending a ladder at a place he names Beth-El.  This week, at the transit-point of Jabbok, he struggles with a “being”, and transitions in name from Jacob, “the heel” – to Israel, “one who struggles with the Divine”.

Did he dream it or did it actually happen? With Jacob, even his dreams are liminal. It is never clear if his visions are those of full-rem sleep, or half-waked moments.

If Jacob dreamt in semi-realized black-and-white, Joseph, his son, who debuts on Shabbat afternoon, at the transitional moment between Torah portions, dreams in full-multi-color. Prophetic thoughts.

Joseph’s own boastful visions – the dream of sheaves of harvested grain and the dream of the celestial firmament, forecast his rise to greatness. And in coming weeks, we will learn he possesses the God-given ability to interpret the dreams of others. Beginning with the dreams of those incarcerated with him in jail, and culminating with the prediction of future-plenty, and famine, in Pharaoh’s kingdom.

Our congregation, this Shabbat, bridges a boundary moment in its history. Rabbi Freelander, I am so moved and touched by your words of address at my installation as Har Sinai Congregation’s rabbi. You eloquently mark this moment of shift and change, as I officially, and joyfully, transform as the rabbi in this very pulpit.

Thank you.

In the black-and-white words, on the pages written by Rabbi Abraham Schusterman, in “The Legacy of a Liberal”, which tells of “The miracle of Har Sinai Congregation as it is recounted on the One Hundred and Twenty Fifth Anniversary” and in words of the brief history of the last fifty-years, found in Har Sinai’s employee manual; in the beautiful reminisces, shared by our multi-generational Har Sinai members; to the recollections of those who joined more recently;  the visions and values, of the last one-hundred-and-seventy-five years, reverberate from the past, through these walls of Har Sinai Congregation’s fourth home.

Predictive dreams, that began with our first rabbi, David Einhorn.

Dreams of mutual respect, and strong partnership, between rabbi and lay leadership. Dreams of moral conscience and social action. Dreams of intellectual curiosity and search for spiritual meaning. This has been the heart of Har Sinai Congregation from its beginning.

These are the values, which have sustained us throughout our proud history, furthered by great rabbis such as Samuel Sale and Charles Rubenstein, Edward Israel, Abraham Schusterman and our beloved emeritus, Floyd Herman, and so many others. I am beyond humbled to be chosen as the eighteenth Senior Rabbi of this community, building on the beautiful vision of so many “greats” of Reform Judaism who have come before me.

Our father Jacob dreamt at transitional moments – at his escape from his parent’s home, and as he returned to his parent’s home a changed man. Joseph, my sur-name-sake, dreamt predicate to the border moment of his outcast into Egyptian slavery.

Like Jacob and Joseph, I too have lived transition and dreams, been changed by them, outcast by them, and elevated by them. Each stage has been at the time, or in hind-sight, a blessing.

Wonderful memories from my growing up in Australia in a committed Progressive Jewish household; my studies as a World Union for Progressive Judaism student at Hebrew Union College; serving in my home-city of Melbourne as a rabbi; alongside my varied experiences in four congregations here in the United States; and the chance to serve our American Reform Jewish community through the Union for Reform Judaism.

My lived dreams, have bestowed upon me the privilege of being teacher, and student, of Jewish life and text. Each period in this series-of-dreams, enhanced with experimentation, learning, growth. Each phase in this series-of-dreams, improved deeply by partnership. Each moment in this series-of-dreams, forming and igniting new passions in me, that I bring to this new era at Har Sinai Congregation.

As Joseph’s Torah narrative continues in coming weeks, he moves beyond his dreams of self. He brings his expertise as dreamer, and becomes the interpreter of other’s dreams, at threshold moments in their lives.

He becomes known in jail for his predictive abilities, that he shares with inmates and jailers, with butler and baker, and ultimately, upon commendation, with the Pharaoh. By partnering in the decipher of dreams, Joseph fulfils the initial dreams of his own elevated destiny.

Like Joseph, I began with my visions. I interviewed with our thoughtful Rabbinic Search Committee at Har Sinai Congregation, articulating my desire for a partnership that takes seriously Jewish text, Jewish prayer, and Jewish community.

Like Joseph, in your midst I now move beyond visions of my own to become the interpreter of a merged vision which has begun to coalesce over the last five months.

Our time together must honor Har Sinai’s historic values of moral conscience and social action, intellectual curiosity and spiritual meaning. Our time together will speak of my expressed passion for text, prayer and community.

Our coming together creates a determinant moment to launch a future to dream a dream in vivid color that we will co-own together. We will vision, we will play, we will experiment: what makes Har Sinai congregation unique in Baltimore and in Reform Judaism?

We will dream into being, a distinctive voice, a creative soul, a Jewish neshama, for ourselves, and this generation, and the next. Not the stuff of full rem sleep or half-waked moments, a murky vision of our subconscious, to remain in sublimation. But a clear dream that will take root in reality.

Our congregation, this Shabbat, bridges a threshold moment in its illustrious history. An exciting moment. Oh, to dream!

Our task: to bring the Torah of Har Sinai down the mountain, (or in the case of the physicality of our building – out of the valley!), to the Jews of Owings Mills, Baltimore, it’s surrounds, and the Reform Jewish world, in a way that creates and compels excitement and meaning.

Such dreaming is the continuous ever-changing vision of Sinai, a purpose that has always been ours from the time of our founders, until today. Together, we will dream the black and white words I utter from this page, into a vivid, full-multi-colored actuality. Oh, to dream! Jewish meaning for the generations… together.

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