As Labor Day was observed across the country this week, and as many Americans debated and worried about whether the US would soon be fighting against Syria, Denver rabbis strove to put the finishing touches on the sermons they would deliver on Rosh Hashanah.
Although falling early this year — when the Colorado weather feels much more like summer than autumn — Rosh Hashanah is, as always, seen as a time of Jewish spiritual renewal and reflection.
Four Denver rabbis contacted by the Intermountain Jewish News this week focused their sermons this year quite precisely on those targets, although they came at it from dramatically different perspectives.
One was planning to speak of taking stock of the blessings that Judaism confers and being aware of the critical importance of imparting those blessings to the young; another drew upon lessons of American history to illuminate Jewish values; another addressed the subject of Jewish faith; yet another drew inspiration from his summer journey to deliver a sermon about warning signs in Jewish life.
All intended to urge their listeners to take advantage of the unique teaching and symbolism of Rosh Hashanah to become better Jews — and human beings.
Several Denver rabbis planned to make a special effort this New Year to emphasize the relationship between American Jews and Israel.
Rabbi Richard Rheins of Temple Sinai was planning to explore the path of spiritual insight in addressing his congregation this Rosh Hashanah, emphasizing “how important it is that we not take for granted the values, the blessings, the wisdom and the spiritual gifts of Judaism.”
“Unless we teach and inspire the newest generations about the miraculous journey of our people and the extraordinary rebirth of modern Israel, the cornerstones of our people and our faith will be endangered,” Rabbi Rheins told the IJN earlier this week in summarizing his sermon.
He wanted to stress to Temple Sinai worshippers their individual significance as “beloved members of the Jewish family and community — and that by working together we will ensure the strengthening of Judaism, Israel and the well-being of every community in which we live.”
At Aish Denver, spiritual leader Rabbi Yaakov Meyer was planning to use American history, and one of America’s most beloved historical figures, to illustrate his theme: “When goodness rises to greatness.”
Rabbi Meyer planned to urge his congregants to seek to act like G-d — to “walk in His ways” — and suggested that a great starting point for that quest is to emulate G-d’s kindness.
That kindness is powerfully illustrated, the rabbi said, by the example of G-d providing clothing for Adam and Eve, even after humanity’s first couple defied G-d’s commandment.
Fine tuning his theme to a personal example, Rabbi Meyer’s sermon was scheduled to concentrate on President Abraham Lincoln and how Jews and others can learn valuable lessons about how to walk in G-d’s ways.
The rabbi has gathered illustrations of how Lincoln personified a great number of positive human traits by telling historical anecdotes from the ex-president’s life, during the early phases of his career as an attorney and politician and through his years as president and commander in chief of US military forces during the American Civil War.
“The qualities that we mentioned — self worth, willingness to listen and empathy; not bearing a grudge; humility and bearing shame; taking responsibility and patience; and contemplation before taking action,” according to Rabbi Meyer’s sermon slated for the first day of Rosh Hashanah, “are drawn straight from the Torah and are elaborated upon in Ethics of our Fathers and throughout Jewish teachings.
“We could all emulate them to our benefit, and most certainly should strive to do so. Pick one, any one to improve on, and this sermon and your attentive ear will have been well worth the time and effort.”
Rabbi Ben Greenberg, spiritual leader of BMH-BJ, The Denver Synagogue, intended to speak about faith on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, describing it not only as belief, “but about understanding the historical arc of Jewish experience throughout the more than three millennia of our existence.”
The greatest proof of faith, Rabbi Greenberg was planning to tell his listeners, “is to be found by simply looking in the mirror. Jewish survival and continuity despite all the odds against us throughout our long journey is the greatest living testimony to the power of our faith and the profundity of our tradition.”
On the second day, Rabbi Greenberg was planning to offer a sermon very similar to Rabbi Joe Black of Temple Emanuel and Rabbi Bruce Dollin of the HEA, telling the IJN this week that “I believe this is the first time this has happened in our community and is most likely one of the few times this has ever happened throughout the country.”
This sermon is based at the centrality of Israel to Jewish belief and destiny, as “the holiest of all lands and the only place where Jewish peoplehood is fully realized and where we can experience the transcendence of the Divine.”
Rabbi Greenberg, like his colleagues, pushed the iEngage program from the Shalom Hartman Institute, telling worshippers that the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council plans to introduce the initiative locally in October.
“It is vital that we learn to engage the topic of the Jewish State together as a community, including all the voices within our broad and diverse community,” Rabbi Greenberg said.
“This program will provide the tools and equip people with the knowledge and language necessary to have this important community-wide conversation.”
Rabbi Bernard Gerson of Rodef Shalom was intending to draw on his summer vacation trip to Hawaii for inspiration on his Rosh Hashanah sermons, specifically the signs he saw while there — the literal road and pathway signs as well as lessons learned from the historical ones at places like Pearl Harbor.
Rabbi Gerson was planning to speak to worshippers about “all of the proverbial signs of warning and achievement in our Jewish lives that beg our attention.”
These included seeking to cultivate new interpersonal relationships, urging congregants to take advantage of Rodef Shalom programs that are designed to establish one-on-one relationships between fellow Jews.
“Ultimately,” Rabbi Gerson was scheduled to say, “the signs of our success will be perceived in the ways that we are transformed as Jews and human beings.”
For Rosh Hashanah’s second day, the rabbi was planning to deliver a sermon with the novel title, “From the Waters of Lollipop to the Shores of Israel,” to encourage congregants to develop a closer relationship with the Jewish state, using tashlich — “my favorite ceremony of the entire year” — to help accomplish that.
“We must not despair about the impossibility of change when it comes to Israel’s near-term future, both in its domestic affairs and its relationship with other countries,” Rabbi Gerson said.
“In cooperation with my Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council colleagues, I will describe the forthcoming iEngage series to be offered to the community as a way of raising our level of conversations in both intellectual and spiritual ways.”
Services at Rodef Shalom on Friday are scheduled to conclude with the congregation singing the final lines of Hatikvah as a lead-in to the sounding of the shofar.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News