What follows is my sermon and message on the occasion of dedicating our congregation's newly renovated sanctuary.
This is indeed a blessed evening. We are thankful to those who volunteer to serve our congregation and help it make it even better. We are thankful for this holiday of Hanukkah that sheds light on our lives during the darkest time of the year. And we are thankful that not only can we gather together, but that we do so in this beautiful, newly renovated sanctuary...
Ten years ago, this is not what anyone at the Jewish Congregation of Brookville ever imagined. Ten years ago, this is not what anyone at Oyster Bay Jewish Center ever imagined. And yet here we are and now we are Congregation L’Dor V’Dor and we must no longer look back to what we imagined long ago, but instead only forward to what I believe will be a strong future filled with much song, many celebrations, lots of lots of Jewish teaching, and plenty of spiritual uplift.
In this sanctuary, we will celebrate the milestones in our lives, we will mark the holidays of our people, we will mourn our losses, we will watch as our children hold the Torah scroll close to their hearts as grandparents shed tears in the front rows. Here we will mark our years and fill our hearts with the lessons and values we have taught for millennia. It is this place that has ensured that the teachings contained in our Torah have survived for generations. This synagogue will stand in line with every synagogue that has stood before it.
Long ago, when King Solomon offered words at the dedication ceremony of the very first Temple, finished in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, he said, “O God, may Your eyes be open day and night toward this House, toward the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall abide there’; may You heed the prayers which Your servant will offer toward this place. And when You hear the supplications which Your servant and Your people Israel offer toward this place, give heed in Your heavenly abode.” (I Kings 8) Solomon’s prayer makes perfect sense. He said in essence, when we offer our prayers from this place, please, God, hear them.
And that is likewise our prayer about this synagogue and this sanctuary. Let our prayers be heard. Let this place work its magic on our souls. If we need uplift let us find it here. If we require rejoicing let us find it here.
Solomon actually began his dedication speech with a question. I know. How Jewish. Imagine that. Surrounded by all those who worked tirelessly to build that holy Temple, who slaved (some quite literally) to make sure the project was completed, Solomon asked, “But can God really dwell on earth? Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, O God, how much less this House that I have built!” Leaving aside his preference for “I” over “we” it is a remarkable statement. His message is clear and should resound in our ears thousands of years later. No project, however beautiful, however awe-inspiring, can truly contain God’s presence. Everything we build is but a glimmer. Our best, and most beautiful, sanctuaries only offer us a glimpse of the divine. And no matter how much I, for example, may continue to fixate on the smallest of details within these walls, this beautiful sanctuary is but an approximation. It is not an end, but instead a means to an end.
This place must serve to fortify our souls so that we go out and make this world an even better place. Our blessings begin here. Our responsibilities start here. They do not end here.
The Talmud instructs us to give thanks for the good. And I know that everyone joins me in offering hearts filled with gratitude for this beautiful, newly renovated sanctuary. But even more important the rabbis of the Talmud also insisted that we offer thanks for the responsibility to fix the bad. And that blessing, and yes, burden, of fixing the bad—whether it is offering a healing prayer for those who are sick or getting out into our broken world and repairing its many cracks. The hungry in our very own town are our sacred responsibility. That is the blessing this place must serve.
It is not about assuaging our own hearts but instead about helping to soften the harshness that torments others’ hearts. If we leave here fortified to do more repair then all of our hard work, and even our years of frustration and setback, will be redeemed. May this house, may this beautiful sanctuary fortify our souls to give thanks for all the good we have received but also, and most especially the responsibility to fix the bad. May this synagogue strengthen us for many, many years to come. Amen v’Amen.