Rabbi Lutz’s February 12, 2016 Sermon – God’s Loving Gift: A Valentine’s Day Reflection
“Love is in the air …” How did Tom Jones sing it? “… everywhere I look around. Love is in the air every sight and every sound …”
Expressions of love – coming from our hearts. You know, our tradition has a thing or two to say about love. First that it is much more than a feeling (Okay, I won’t start singing Boston lyrics now …) The v’ahavta which asks us to show our love for God doesn’t ask that we send God valentines or chocolates once a year but rather that we daily express our love for God through the way we treat the world around us. That we express our love for God in the words we speak and in the way we act both when we are home and when we are away.
The Torah, of which the v’ahavta is a part, is God’s valentine to us, in great, everlasting love, as we read in our prayer book, God gave us Torah. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, “Praised are you Adonai,” we pray in thanksgiving for Torah, “who has shown great love for Your people Israel.” Indeed, Torah is our Valentine – it is a great loving act to teach it to our children וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶֽיך and each week, if we take the time to consider its words and teachings, we find new insights and understandings, expressions of love for us to carry into the world. Take this week’s Torah portion, for instance, it is all about acts of love. It is called T’rumah – meaning gifts.
How appropriate that we read about the giving of gifts on this weekend. In fact not just any gifts, but gifts given from the heart. How appropriate is that? Valentines, or at least our ancient version of them. Loving gifts given by “those whose hearts are so moved.” כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ What is the occasion for the giving of these gifts? They are to build a dwelling place for God in the midst of the community. Actually not just in the midst of the community, but at the very heart of the community. There, in the middle, at the very heart of the community, surrounded by all the tribes those whose hearts were so moved were asked to bring gifts in order to build a place where they could come together as community to meet God, to offer thanks and praise and express their love. וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם: “Make me a sacred space,” those of you willing to give from your hearts, “and I will dwell among [you].” Give me your heart. They expressed their thanks by giving from the very best that they had, first materials from which to build the Sanctuary and then from the best of the herds to be offered as a gift to God in it. All in an effort to express their love.
Over time, of course, the loving gifts that we have offered have changed. Animals from our herds have been replaced with the word of our hearts. Sacrifice replaced with prayer as our expression of love and devotion. And the rituals that surrounded the act of sacrifice were replaced in time with the loving words of praise and gratitude that we have just said – the Amidah, the very heart of our worship. Words offered by those whose hearts are so moved in that place which resides at the heart of the community: here, in our sacred space, our sanctuary. See, there are hearts everywhere – and expressions of love all around us, just like Tom Jones sang!
But, there is another heart as well, another heart to which the words of this week’s portion refer. וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם: “Make me a sanctuary that I might dwell בְּתוֹכָֽם within them,” in their heart. After all, it begins with us, doesn’t it? Those whose hearts are so moved create sacred space where God’s presence can be felt. God has to reside first within us in order for us to bring God into the world.
Now, that is not an easy thing is it? It is not something that we are always so good at, there are lots of distractions, lots of annoyances, lots of opportunities for us to respond in ways way different than sacred, ways that certainly don’t leave those around us feeling God’s presence. I mean if we were so good at it, if it always came so naturally to us, If we were, in words and actions, giving each other valentines every day what need would there be for a special day to express it?
Because it doesn’t come so naturally to us humans, our tradition does not leave it to chance, long before Hallmark there was the Amidah reminding us to pay attention to the sacred space within our hearts from which we can bring forth words and actions expressing our love – for God and most importantly for each other. (Which, of course, is the most significant way in which we express our love for God) It is all so very carefully crafted, really much better than the best phrased Hallmark card. Look for a moment just at the words with which we begin the Amidah On p. 164: אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ. “Adonai, Open up my lips that my mouth may declare Your praise.” And on p.180, the words with which we end the Amidah יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי פִי וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶֽיךָ, יְיָ צוּרִי וְגוֹאֲלִי. “May the word of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to You.” We begin and end the Amidah praying that our words and actions be always a reflection of God’s place, within our hearts. We say, in essence, “May I be daily, Your valentine God, an expression of your love and grace and blessings.”
I thought about all of this strangely enough, the other day, as I was watching the political debates. I have never been entertained by the ongoing character assassinations, the defamatory comments and outrageous accusations that seem to get worse with each political season. Ultimately to what end? Oh yes, I know it serves a particular momentary goal, to get elected, But, in doing so, these words and actions leave our nation polarized, pushed apart, and the ultimate consequences is a nation, where there is little common cause, certainly no common conversation – where there is growing blame and accusation and mistrust of others in our community. And just today I heard warnings about how much worse it is going to get this weekend particularly in the regions of the next primaries. How incredibly different is this from the vision, instructions and words of our Torah and our siddur calling upon us to create sacred space and sacred relationships.
A funny image came into my head as I considered all of this: what would our political rallies look like if, before they took the stage those vying for our votes stopped and said, אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ. “Adonai, open up my lips that my mouth might declare Your praise?” Or what if, before a debate they each stopped to pray: יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי פִי וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶֽיךָ, יְיָ צוּרִי וְגוֹאֲלִי. “May the word of my mouth be acceptable to You, God.” What if, between the red and green lights of the debate moderators was a sign that read: וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם “Make me a sacred space that I might dwell within you and among you.” What would they say? What would their commercials sound like?
I know, the crazy, impossible musings of a rabbi. And yet, is it so crazy? Right behind me, here in our ark, is our valentine, a loving greeting card from God – asking us every day, in every way to make God’s sacred presence real in our world. And these men and women who want to lead our nation all profess to be God fearing, devoted followers … Well what if we actually called them on it? What if we actually demanded that they act like it? What if we demanded that they act on their expressed beliefs and values? What if they actually made these words more than just for the Sabbath but for every day of the week? What if they made them more than words?
A great Republican of another age whose birthday happens to be today well understood this biblical injunction when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Certainly the challenges that Abraham Lincoln faced were enormous and horrific and exceedingly difficult. Yet, we, today, in many ways are also a house divided, where we cannot discuss politics, where there seems to be little common cause, where government has been rendered ineffective because it is far better these days to obstruct than discuss, to tear down rather than build up, better to incite anger and suspicion than to call for compassion and understanding, where compromise is a word no one dare utter.
This is not the world envisioned by our tradition. Our Torah portion this week asks us to create a place for God at the center, a sacred space both in our hearts and at the heart of the Community. This isn’t just some nice idea, it is a core value. it is essential to the health of our relationships, the strength of our families, our communities and our nation. As the prophets of our tradition remind us, we ignore this call at our own peril – for its end is, indeed, a house, a community, a nation divided.
וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם “Make me a sanctuary that I might dwell with you.” We should demand it! Demand it of ourselves and certainly of our leaders. And so this Shabbat, this weekend on which we honor great leaders of our country and this weekend devoted to love and chocolate I pray that we heed the call of Torah – and the words of our prayers and express not just once a year, but continually in word and deed our love for God and for each other express in word and deed our desire to create a sacred space for God to dwell within us and among us that we might build for ourselves and our children a world in which God presence and purpose is always at and in our hearts.
Shabbat shalom, Happy Valentine’s day! – Enjoy the chocolates!