Friday, October 25, 2013

Shabbat Message - Hayyei Sarah 2013/5773

On Wednesday evening, I had the honor of sitting on a panel of rabbis in our community for the SPBC Jewish Federation's Young Adult Division "Courage to Remember" Event.  The event was held to show the Courage to Remember exhibit, a traveling Holocaust remembrance exhibit from the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Tolerance in Los Angeles.  I was one of four rabbis from our community who was asked how we personally kept our faith in God when we dealt with adversity in our lives.  Looking through my notes, I found the dvar torah I gave for this week's parashah, Hayyei Sarah four years ago.  As I read the dvar torah, I was instantly transported back in time to those moments.  That Shabbat in mid-November was the first shabbat that we came back to Shaarei Kodesh after our son Avi was in the hospital for over a week at the Pediatric ICU at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital.  I urge you all to read these words PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE DVAR TORAH - "SOMETIMES, ALL YOU CAN DO IS PRAY".  

By the time, Avi had still not been diagnosed, and it took another nine months to diagnose him.  Those were truly trying times for our family.  So how did we overcome the adversity?  Looking back, I think it was kindness, prayer, and community that helped us through those months.  It was the kindness of our community, whether it was trying to feed us (of course, we Jews always try to feed a problem), but more than food, the stories that we heard of people's own family struggles with health.  Prayer, which I spoke about in my dvar torah in 2009, also helped us get through those times, and this prayer had to do with community.  

Last week, during our License to Chai teen education course, we learned about the importance of communal prayer in Judaism, as opposed to praying alone.  In Judaism, the answer is quite clear - praying in a minyan is better than praying alone, but it might be more difficult.  It might be harder to focus because you hear other people's voices, or you might be distracted with someone's shuckling (body movements), and yet, to say holiest parts of the service (the kaddish, the kedusah, the barchu), you need a minyan, 10 Jews.  To me, the message is clear - prayer is also about support of others.  During those nine months of waiting, I was at a weekday morning minyan at another synagogue in town, and it came time for the prayer for the sick (misheberach for the holim).  The gabbai pointed to each person, and eventually, he came to a man who I did not know and he said the name, Avraham Yitzhak ben HaRav David Zalman.  I was puzzled because my son's name is Avraham Yaakov ben David Zalman.  I went up to him and asked, "this is crazy, but my son's name is Avraham Yaakov ben David Zalman, and the person you are praying for has almost the same name, but off by one word, and the guy is a rabbi too!"  The man replied, "I'm praying for the son of a rabbi in town who is sick."  I looked at him in amazement, and I said, "Thank you for praying for him; I'm sure he appreciates it."  It taught me that the Jewish community is greater than Shaarei Kodesh alone, and I was reminded of the line, Kol Israel Arevim Zeh BaZeh - every Jew is responsible for one another.  When you go through adversity, remember, you are never alone.  A holy community comes together to support one another, to say amen to your prayers, to feed you, both physically and spiritually when you are hungry.  This is the definition of what we strive to be here at Shaarei Kodesh - a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community, where we support each person, both in good times, and during times of adversity.