With the permission of Rabbi Ron,
With the permission of the leadership of this community,
With the permission of the Reverend and the Imam,
With the permission of all friends and members,
In memory of Ezra Shwartz z"l
A beloved son of this community of Sharon MA,
It is a true honor to stand here today as a witness to an ancient moment reoccurring again and again in our peoples history as a miracle: a community choosing its rabbi, a rabbi taking upon himself the leadership of a community, saying to each other one word that echoes in the world by Jews for generations: Hineni. I am here, ready.
But what does that mean? Ready for what?
On our table at home, in Jerusalem, stands a small straw basket filled with beautiful golden oranges of Jaffa. In these days of the beginning of the Israeli winter, you cannot walk next to the basket without stopping for even one moment to sniff. And when you do, it's not only the orange that you smell. But the whole field. You smell the hard work of the farmer plowing it, you smell the heavy soil, the rain, the growth of life quietly within the ground and amongst the leaves and then bursting above them in color, you smell the sun, the sweetness, and then you can even smell the little child running to this beautiful fruit wanting to touch it for just one moment.
For in his little eyes this fruit seems like the golden sun itself and he wants to hold that golden sun in the palm of his little hands for just one moment. But the true secret of the orange, so very Israeli, so very Jewish, is its inner structure. There is really no one orange. Beyond that golden peel there are many slices, all assembled together, completing through each other the one perfect round fruit. Every slice rests on the one next to it, every slice needs to grow for the sake of the other, and must for its own sake allow the other to grow. There is no fruit like it. And if our greatest thinkers invited us to look closely at creation in order to sense a glimpse of the divine - then this one fruit holds in it the secret of the whole universe. That all slices can be held together in one palm of a hand, if they can all be enveloped by a golden peel, making them all into one fruit. That is the secret of the orange, which we call in Hebrew תפוח זהב, the golden apple.
This secret, according to R. Yaacov Yosef of Polnea the great Hasidic teacher, is the unique task of the rabbi. Rav, he says, derives from the world הרבה, many. His duty is to bring the many closer and give them a sense that they are always, one fruit.
Because for generations in our tradition there is a sense that we human beings can be the worst threat for each other, or a source of deep trust. Threat or trust, what are we for each other? When we fight each other, for food, water, power, wealth, wisdom, life then becomes a terrifying jungle with no place in it for gentleness, and we have then only one mission: to survive. Yet our ancestors did not wish for us a life of survival. Rather, they wished for us, and one day for humanity, a life of trust. One in which we are not animals threatening each other's existence but human beings making out of the meeting between us all the very essence of life. In such a life we are revealed to ourselves through the eyes of the other. With him we study Torah and discover our thoughts, with her we join in prayer and discover our dreams, with them we act and discover our ability to shape the world together. Jewish life is a spiritual and moral instinct, standing against the biological instinct to survive through struggle, teaching us to live through trust.
The Jewish community is a living picture of human life as it could and should be. It refuses to teach its children that life amongst people is a jungle. It refuses to look at life as an endless battle for survival. It refuses to despair from the possibility that there is true good that lies within the world. It refuses to deny that there is a glimpse of God awaiting to be revealed through every living creature and make us all one.
Emunah, faith in Hebrew, derives from the word אומן, to train. It is a spiritual system training generations after generation to rebel against the natural notions of despair and to deliberately choose to be a nation of dreamers and makers of hope. Making one fruit out of the multiplicity of human beings and life.
The labor of faith is the labor of turning fear into faith, threat into trust, slices to fruit. It is trusted in the hands of the Jewish community which takes slices, many strangers, and turns us into one. It is trusted in the hands of the rabbi who looks at the many with endless belief always bringing us closer to ourselves, closer to each other, cultivating the spiritual instinct of hope.
Not long after the Holocaust, in 1952, Martin Buber came to New York to talk to the Jewish community. He claimed then, that the deepest damage of the holocaust was the fact that it destructed our instinct of hope. Jews, he said, will slowly find it more difficult to have faith in themselves, in their communities, in the human community around them, in life. The world after the world wars, he said, has lost its trust in human kind. Slowly it will go into deep darkness. Many will accept despair and see life as a jungle of survival. And since the ancient Jewish destiny is to be the guardians of hope and faith, we must be cautious not to let that light of hope diminish and find all strength to rekindle it, and light ourselves and humanity with it.
I am afraid Buber was right. The world we live in today struggles deeply between despair and hope, distrust and trust. Amongst us, we give each other points in Jewishness, checking each other, blaming each other, are we Jewish enough, are we Zionist enough, bringing each other apart while the world is falling slowly into darkness and despair, forgetting our role to hold together the torch of light. A torch that is made of the fact that we are many, and different, and disagree on so many levels, but we are committed to be one. Forever trusting each other, forever growing together, with one orange peel of Emunah covering us all.
That is the secret of Hanukkah. Not the oil but the Hannukiah which teaches us that we Jews carry for generations a torch made of many lights and nothing in the world, no Isis no terror no fear, will make us let go of our ancient instinct of hope. We Jews have the sacred mission to hand that torch of light to our children and through them to the whole world, always. For light of hope, as our ancestors taught us in the laws of Hanukkah, must not be lit within the house only, but between the house and the street, within the world. One light always made out of the many candles and for them all.
The labor we now hold in the palm of our hand will influence the course of history. Are we still one people of faith, do we still believe in the reflection of oneness through the many, can we see how essential multiplicity is to build the instinct of hope, will we split over Jewish identity and Zionism or will we cling to each other especially now, refusing to dream apart, overcoming ideology with faith.
That is for us to decide. We have received a torch of ancient hope made of many candles. Now it's for us to decide. Are we still holders of the Hannukiah. Are we still farmers of the orange. That is for every community to determine, for every rabbi to determine, for every Jew to determine.
You, who say Hineni today, are entering the gateway of hope. Rabbi Ron, who is a dear friend and teacher to me, is one of those rabbis who hold the torch high up with a devotion that is rarely met. Doing it for years not alone, but always surrounded and supported be his family - Leah, Hani, Dori, Nili, Lavi, his mother Joy, our dear friends Gloria and Mark, and his family and friends - manifesting a life of trust and hope. With this wonderful community together, I stop for the glimpse of a moment, and smell a fruit. the ancient smell of a field, the hard work of the farmer, the heavy soil, the rain, the growth of life quietly within the ground and amongst the leaves and then bursting above them in color, the sun, the sweetness, and then the little child running to this beautiful fruit wanting to touch it for just one moment. For in his little eyes this fruit seems like the golden sun itself and he knows that he can, for one moment, hold the sun in the palms of his hands.
May all the goodness you bring into the world grow orchards all around you, and fill our world with hope.
Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum
Zion: An Eretz Israeli congregation in Jerusalem