Friday night, the Rabbi of my small congregation was out of town for Thanksgiving, and I was honored to be allowed to lead Erev Shabbat service with our song leader. It had been quite a few years since I’d led an Erev Shabbat service, and leading the service in my own religious community really was a nice experience!
Being the geek that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about the week’s Torah portion! So I did some studying last week and drafted the sermon below. It’s not earth-shattering, but it coordinated well with the baby-naming that we had during the service. After my words, I asked our song-leader to play and sing “Return Again” by Neshama Carlebach, and I’ve attached a YouTube link for it below.
Here’s my sermon:
This week’s Torah portion is Chayyei Sarah, a portion in which we learn: First, that Sarah has died, which leaves Abraham weeping and mourning; and second, that Abraham has to send a servant to find a wife for Isaac, because Isaac — the son through whom Abraham is to become a great nation –- is 37 years old and unmarried. When I think about how Abraham must have been feeling in the midst of these circumstances, I imagine Abraham would not be in the best of emotional spaces . . .
And yet, the Torah tells us, in one simple verse dropped between these two stories– “Abraham was old, advanced in years, and Adonai had blessed Abraham with everything.” Genesis 24:1.
When I read that verse, I immediately wondered – “Everything??? If a man who just lost his wife and has no chance of grandchildren has been blessed with everything . . . what is everything?”
I checked my Torah commentaries and found one from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who said Abraham had been blessed with everything because he “attained peace.” (1)
Rabbi Nachman further explained the verse tells us that Abraham was both old and advanced in years because the Hebrew word for “old” (zaken) is not just a reference to someone’s age; it also implies a person has “obtained wisdom.” Abraham had “delve[d] deeply into [Life’s] mysteries and deepen[ed] his understanding of Godliness.” Through the heavenly wisdom that Abraham thereby gained, he obtained peace … and, thus, was blessed with everything.
And Rabbi Nachman explained one more thing about Abraham’s wisdom: It “devolves” or flows from “a person’s imagination and faith.”
imagination and faith…
When I think of imagination and faith, I think of children . . . . Unlike adults, young children see the world around them without a filter of pre-conceived expectation and judgment. They are not self-conscious or anxious. They simply live in each moment with emotional honesty and integrity – they are themselves, and they don’t feign being anything or anyone other than who they are.
And this, I think, is what Rabbi Nachman was saying about Abraham’s wisdom and peace flowing from his “imagination and faith” . . . that Abraham was an adult who, like a small child, was present in each moment and lived with emotional honesty, so that he could look at the world with a sense of wonder and awe, and was open to experiencing the miraculous.(2)
This mindset – this “living in the presence of Gd” – brought Abraham peace, even as he faced life’s challenges — and that, indeed, is being blessed with everything!
May we each strive to be more like Abraham, to be present in each moment and see the world through the eyes of a child, so that we may obtain supernal wisdom and live with peace…
Neshama Carlebach Return Again
(1) All the Rabbi Nachman explanations and quotes are from Rebbe Nachman’s Torah (The Berkowitz Edition), Genesis at 197-198 (Breslov Research Institute 2011).
(2) Phrasing based on language by Rabbi Marcia Prager, The Path of Blessing, page 31 of 231, Jewish Lights e-book (“When we look at small children, we see their sense of wonder, their openness to the miraculous.”).