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New Memories


Shabbat Vaethanan 5777 | August 5, 2017
Rick is the name of the mover who loaded our stuff onto his North American Van Lines Truck in Baltimore and delivered it here to La Jolla. He and his brother Sean regularly cross the country moving families from coast to coast. They could not have been nicer, more careful, more respectful, or more professional.
Rick kept us abreast of his progress and location. He showed up here exactly as we planned. All along our journey west, Robin and I met caring and thoughtful people who assisted our move. Each one of them affirmed for us the presence and possibility of goodness and kindness, a sensation sometimes lacking between people these days.
Our move west reflects the tone for how Robin and I feel about being here. We delight in the genuine warmth of this synagogue community and are eager to jump in, meet everyone, and play our part in helping to sustain Beth El and imagine the future. Before you or I change our minds, let me thank you for the privilege of becoming your new Senior Rabbi.
Back in Baltimore, Rick and Sean brought their Moving Van to the synagogue to load up my office items. Arriving here, as they drove down the freeway aware they would deliver to my new synagogue office, they noticed the large white spires of the Mormon Temple. When I met them at our home, Rick said, “Wow, we saw the big white building off the freeway. That’s a really impressive synagogue!” When I led them here instead, to this beautiful synagogue campus, we all laughed.
Rick’s cute mistake will be one of my first happy memories of being here at Beth El. Not the most significant memory I’ll hold to, just one of the first.
First memories are also very much on Moses’ mind this morning. Moses stands before the Israelite people on the eastern border of the Land of Israel. He is preparing the people to move west and to enter their land. Moses reviews their journey to a new home. His goal is to release the people from his leadership. To encourage their independence. To motivate their allegiance to God and to remind them of their responsibilities in freedom.
“But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live.”
What are we to be careful about? Rashi worries we, as well as the Children of Israel, might forget how we’re supposed to behave. Nahmanides vehemently disagrees. He worries we, as well as the Children of Israel, might forget our experiences, and as a result forget God. For Ibn Ezra, the worry is Torah. You may forget everything else, but don’t forget you stood at Mt. Sinai. In other words, above all else, we ought to remember why our behavior matters and what our experiences mean.
Why does what we do matter? Because we measure the purpose of our lives in the memories and results of our efforts and activities. What do our experiences mean?
Collected together, all that we experience becomes the story of our lives. As I hope to teach you, this is the core lesson of Torah: purpose for life on every day and meaning for each moment.
Understand, I carry a different worry about my memories. I believe memory is about meaning. We form our identities from our memories. Think about your role models and mentors. We interpret events to learn their lessons. Think about your successes and disappointments. Our memories help us to understand our place in the world. Think about your choices and comforts. Memories influence our values. Think about where your priorities come from.
More than this wonderful congregation’s history, I want to learn your personal Congregation Beth El memories. I want to remember them with you so we can make new ones together.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains why. “History is his-story. It happened to someone else, not me. Memory is my story, the past that made me who I am, of whose legacy I am the guardian for the sake of generations yet to come.”
Rooted in our individual and shared memories, you and I are guardians of the future. Which is why Moses continues his instruction. “And make them known to your children and to your children’s children.” Nahmanides again interprets. We don’t lie to our children or pass on to them worthless things.
Judaism has a rich set of compelling memories. The Bible and our other sacred texts contain religious memories that teach us meaning and relevance for our lives. The holidays we celebrate. The principles of faith we believe in. The ethics and hesed we seek to apply as we make our way through challenges and opportunities. The Jewish identities we affirm. The roots of all of these are our collective memories as members of the Jewish people.
Rick and Sean, my movers taught me this, too. Preparing to move, Robin and I looked at all of our stuff. Like all of you when it was your turn to move. We had to decide what to bring along with us and what to give away. Our memories guided some sentimental choices. Practicality guided many of our decisions. Yet, our daughter’s desires also influenced us. If they want something for tomorrow, we have to keep and preserve it today.
This is our sacred charge, congregants and a new rabbi. In order to set our eyes on the future, we have to cherish and honor all that blesses us today. As we spend the next weeks and months getting to know each other, I promise you comfort and familiarity with all you appreciate about this sacred synagogue community because if we want something for tomorrow, we have to keep and preserve it today.
From Moses to us, from Mt. Sinai to Israel, from Baltimore to La Jolla, honoring our individual and shared memories, I also promise new moments and modes of celebrating our Jewish lives so together we can make new memories.
© 2017 Rabbi Ronald J. Shulman
Tue, February 25 2020 30 Shevat 5780