D’var Torah 2010

Abraham is said to be the first Jew. Maybe that’s one of the reasons his story is told on Rosh Ha Shanah, the most important of our assorted New Years. He wandered far and certainly had a full life. I have come to envy him greatly.

Abraham had resources we can’t even imagine He lived in a world in which the earth was the center of the universe, and his two-bit desert patch, the center of the world. Abraham could make God change His mind and he had no one around to tell him that he was responsible for Isaac’s squint and stutter, or for Ishmael’s going off in a huff to start his own religion, or for causing global warming. Not only was Abraham certain of the centrality of his world, but of his pre-eminence in it.

Now, consider my situation: When I was young, there was a fence against which all of us, could lean while contemplating a comforting reality. It was the barrier between us and all other animals. We were smarter, more compassionate, and better smelling. We had been given dominion over them by divine mandate. Except for Balaam’s mule, which was smarter than Balaam Anu, the phrase “dumb animal” expressed that difference.

In my time, that fence has been shredded. The science that we ourselves have developed tells us that we are a dot in the universe, that we are no smarter than the average dolphin, and no more well disposed than the average elephant, but that we have the power of the average volcano. It’s enough to give learning a bad name.

Under Rabbi Jamie’s guidance, we have been contemplating Abraham, whose symbolic sacrifice of a son, sons, actually, we have been mimicking for quite some time. The Holocaust took away our certainty about human progress and recent environmental changes have disabused us of the notion that our technical progress is all good. And you know who gets the blame? God!

Here we are, saying and singing, “Sim shalom alenu—cause peace for us.” I can hear a deep, powerful but muffled voice in answer: “Sim it yourself. Simming your chalom isn’t in my job description.”

What makes it worse is that my cat, Ripoff, knew herself as a skilled and intrepid hunter, an exceptional reader of my moods, and one of the great sleepers. We don’t know what we are. Science says a naked ape, religion says a little lower than the angels, Existentialism says we are here at random and for no purpose whatever, and my dear Rabbi, olav ha sholam, said that God never finished us on the end of that long sixth day, not because of exhaustion, but because of enchantment with us, and out of that enchantment, gave us the gift, perhaps mistakenly, of being able to complete our own creation. This makes God more optimistic than any of my teachers and half the Jews in this congregation.

On the other hand, in this month in Colorado, nature fills the sky with every kind of cloud it makes and then dares us to predict the weather. We have the smell of autumn to lift our spirits and the faces of our friends and those we love to see and enjoy, we have music, some of us have football, and we have chocolate covered raisins.