Friday October 27th, 2017
Lech Lecha 5778
“My spirituality and relationship with G-d has always been closely tied to my relationship with Jewish music. There is a sensation of transcendence in the moments between the notes. I feel closest to G-d when listening to the voices of the congregation lifted in tandem. As a congregant, it is the music of a service that draws me in and inspires me to pray. It is the kavanah, intention, with which we approach a prayer and the feelings instilled in us as we are guided by the Hazzan that bring new context to these hallowed verses. It is a humbling task to attempt this responsibility yet it is my highest aspiration to become a link in the chain of this sacred tradition.”
Those words were excerpted from my application essay to the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music in 2012. Since writing that I have traveled, studied, grown, and yet, the essence of those words still rings true all these years later. Since I was a very little girl, there has been something that calls to me about the music of our tradition. It has beckoned me and enveloped me and instructed the path of my life.
Now if you have studied with me for your Bar or Bat Mitzvah, you know that I have a theory that the Torah knows exactly which portion a person needs to hear and this week, for me, is no different. Tomorrow we will read the age-old story of Lech Lecha, in which Avram hears a Divine call that sets him on an uncertain path which if he chooses to follow, will carry with it a promise of abundant blessings.
Now to some the idea of hearing a call from God may sound illogical at best and when I first thought about the story, I too found it strange. He hears a voice that tells him to go, perhaps against his better instincts, and yet he listens. Why? What would make a person trust such a voice? Was the promise of blessings enough to take such an enormous leap?
In order to get to the bottom of this question, I began to reflect on what I like to think of as my own Lech lecha story and I’d like to share a bit of that story with you now.
I began saying that I wanted to be a Cantor when I was quite young. About 13 or 14. At the time, I don’t think I fully understood what the really meant. But I was responding to what I have come to understand as the early stages of my own call from God. Each year on the High Holy Days, as you heard from Rabbi Gewirtz, I joined my cantor on the bimah and looked out a sea of people, thousands of them, and though I felt the adrenaline pumping through my veins, I never once felt the sensation of stage fright. Even then, I understood that there is a difference between singing on the stage and praying on the bimah and thankfully I had teachers who saw something in me and urged me down my path. Like Sarah, they understood that sometimes we need partners on our journey to help us stay the course and like Abraham, I learned that though the call may come to us as individuals, the people that surround us inform our response and frame our journey.
Skipping ahead just a few years, over the last 3.5, this congregation has been my learning laboratory. You have welcomed me into your homes. You have told me your stories. We have learned and studied together and all lifted our voices in song. And each and every one of you has contributed to my growth into the cantor that I am so privileged to have become. One of the greatest lessons I have gleaned from all of you is my belief that God is made manifest in human relationships and that we meet God in our encounters with one another. Each time I stand before you on this bimah or beside you on sacred occasions, each time we deepen our relationship as a individuals and as a community; that… is God. That is holiness. And that is the blessing that I was promised.
Now I am no Abraham but I too took a leap of faith. 5 and a half years ago, I quit my job, broke my lease and embarked on a journey to a foreign land. And all these years later, I have indeed reaped abundant blessings. As you know, this summer I was ordained, I started a great job, I got married. If that’s not the definition of blessing, I don’t know what is.
However, like Avram, I too have a sacred responsibility. At the end of God’s command, God says “ve-h’yeh bracha” and YOU shall be a blessing. Yes, Avram must make sacrifices in order to gain great rewards but perhaps more importantly, He in fact, must be a blessing himself.. He must embody the values of his people and grow into the leader that God believes he can be.
When I joined this congregation 3 years ago, I placed my future in your hands. I asked you to welcome me and to give me a space to grow and in exchange, you too have placed your trust in me. You allow me to teach your children, to stand with you on sacred occasions, to comfort you when life defeats and celebrate your joys with you. Without covenantal relationship, none of this is possible. And so we find ourselves in the midst of our own lech lecha story. I promise that I will do my very best for as long as I am able to serve this historic congregation with all the tools I have. And I ask you, each and every one of you, to not only hold me to my word but to be my partners on this journey for I believe that if we go forth together, the journey itself will be a blessing.
May we all continue to cultivate our own lech lecha moments, to make space for one another to hear the calls from God and from inside ourselves that set us on the paths we are meant to travel. And May we join together in a beautiful chorus of voices that will sing this world into a place of wholeness and peace.