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Behaalotecha Sermon

Some brief words of Torah before we conclude this special Shabbat service and celebrate this year's confirmation students.

Have you ever walked around the cocktail hour at a bar/bat mitzvah party and said, “What no lamb chops?”

Our Torah portion states: “Then the Israelites wept and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.  Now our gullets are shriveled.  There is nothing at all!  Nothing but this manna to look to!’”  (Numbers 11:4-6)

It is remarkable that people are so often ungrateful for the many blessings they have.  The Israelites had just earned freedom, and yet all they wanted to do was go back to Egypt.  They complained and complained and said at least there they could cucumbers and melons.  

Freedom is of course an enormous blessing.  It is part of what we celebrate as we mark confirmation this evening.  But freedom comes with enormous responsibility.  At times this responsibility overwhelms the blessings.  We rebel under the weight of the responsibility.   We complain, “I have so much to do…”

Abraham Joshua Heschel called this the “insecurity of freedom” in his book about our responsibility to speak out against injustices.  Freedom is not about doing whatever you want.  It is about doing what you need to do.  Moreover it is about doing what the world needs you to do.

My hope and prayer on this Shabbat is that we look more at what we have than what we don’t have.  I pray that we affirm all our blessings each and every day.  And not curse the few things we have not yet achieved.  My hope and prayer is that we live up to the responsibilities of freedom.

Then we will never say, “What where are the lamb chops, or the cucumbers or the melons?”  You can look at the world like the Israelites did in our parsha.  Or you can look at the world and the many things you do have and count your blessings.  I believe they are always plentiful.  Our blessings are especially plentiful when you look at all the things that you must do and see them as blessings.  You can look at the world and say, “Wow look at the many blessings I can achieve by virtue of the responsibilities I have.”

Then nothing is a burden and everything a blessing.

The 19th century poet and minister, Phillips Brooks, wrote (I thank Rabbi Marc Gellman for bringing this poem to my attention):
Do not pray for easy lives;
pray to be stronger men [people].
Do not pray for tasks equal
to your powers; pray for
powers equal to your tasks.

Then the doing of your work
shall be no miracle, but
you shall be a miracle.

Every day you shall wonder
at yourself, at the richness
of the life which has come to
you by the grace of God.

Amen v‘amen!