Yitro sermon 19 Shevat 5768 – January 26, 2008 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum, PhD
Shabbat Shalom everyone,
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The sermon today is dedicated to the loving memory of the late Kneseth Israel President Donald Aronson whose yahrzeit is today. I remember Don as a devoted community member and good friend to all. Donald - David Ben Yehudah, May he rest in peace. Amen. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Well, did you miss me?
I would like to share with you this morning three moving and very important moments that occurred recently:
The first took place in Jerusalem on January 14, 2008. It was the night before my first son Eli’s wedding. One of my dearest friends, Rabbi Glick of Jerusalem, took me to the western wall - theKotel - for special midnight prayers. It is hard to describe the feeling of visiting the Wailing Wall at the Kotel on Monday at midnight. To see so many people, Jews and non Jews praying, some with loud voices and tears…At the Kotel my friend offered me a special treat: to visit the underground tunnel of the Kotel. Only the guard, Rabbi Glick and I entered that site. What an incredible feeling... I was standing at the front of a huge wall where our ancestors shed tears and prayers from all over the world for thousands of years.
"Here is the entrance of the holy of holies" the guard said "All the prayers for all the people of the world enter here…this is the place that the high priest went on Yom Kippur for prayer and atonements" I stood alone for a long time praying… scenes and pictures from my past appeared at the front of my eyes. My childhood in Israel, my family, my friends. I said "Here I am standing before you Oh Almighty and praying for my first son and his new wife to have a good, happy and healthy life. Please G-d bring them sustenance and peace. Remove from them any manner of illness or pain." And then I prayed for so many people…. I carried the sick list from Kneseth Israel and I mentioned each name with sincere intention. I put each letter and envelope you gave me inside the wall. The weather was freezing cold. I shed that night so many tears. When I returned to my mother-in-law’s home at 3 a.m., I was still trembling. Such a rare opportunity to be alone with the Divine Presence, thinking about my son marrying tomorrow…
A second moving moment was the eve of the wedding…it was also a freezing cold evening. There I was, holding my son Eli’s right hand on one side and the bride’s father holding my son’s left arm. Each of us were carrying a large candle escorting my son to the veiling ceremony of the bride. I was standing in front of the bride, then I looked at all my family and friends. I was overwhelmed… I was praying while so many tears came out of my eyes… then we turned around and went outside for thechuppah part of the wedding ceremony which in Israel is celebrated outside, regardless of the weather… and again I was trembling…it is my son that my wife and I raised for 21 years of life with so many happy and challenging moments and to think that just several months ago, I was not able to move without a wheelchair…and now here I am standing with all my physical pain, meriting to usher in my son for his new life… I prayed with a full heart that he and Ayala may find their skies to be blue with fair and sunny weather as they will continue day by day to walk through life together.
A third moving moment was when I returned here to Annapolis…and I am so happy to be here. Here I am, glad to be back after a magnificent trip to Israel where my family gathered together for such a joyous occasion. I returned invigorated and uplifted when I come home from Israel, but I have to confess, that coming home after celebrating such an incredible simcha is truly a blessing, a realMechiah! We should all be blessed, Bezrat HaShem, to celebrate happy occasions and share good news with each other.
While I was in Israel, I had each of you in my heart as I prayed for the welfare of our community and our congregation. I wish to have a personal gift for each of you but I have to be realistic… I also couldn't wait to discuss this week's torah portion with you, because for the first time, I gained an exceptional perspective I was unable to see before.
So, why am I so excited about this week's Torah portion? Why does Parsha Yitro speak to me? While it is true that we can always find something relevant to our lives within each Parsha, this year, Parsha Yitro holds a particular soft-spot in my heart. Yitro is Moshe's father-in-law. He is older, and therefore, by virtue of experience, wiser than Moshe. Yitro must carefully balance just how much of his worldly wisdom he can impart to Moshe versus how much Moshe must learn on his own. While trying to protect our children from harm, we also know that some lessons are only learned through experience. Parents and grandparents, especially in-laws, are usually in a balancing act, measuring how much advice to give out and how much silence is golden; when our input is appreciated and when it is not. And here is where Yitro and I cross paths. This year, just two weeks ago, I also became a "father-in-law." And while I want to inundate my son and his new Kallah with the myriads of my experiences and guard them from life's difficulties, help them prevent the challenges that arise in marriage, shield them from the hardships in relationships, I can only pray that G-d grants me the wisdom, as he did Yitro, to know when to offer counsel and when to gracefully bow out.
Yitro has a heart-to-heart talk with his son-in-law, Moshe. After Moshe tells him about all the great wonders that G-d performed in the desert, and all his responsibilities of leadership, Yitro sees that Moshe is overwhelmed, exhausted, overworked and carrying the weight of the Jewish world on his shoulders. As we might describe him today, he was "burned out." Yitro is a practical and intelligent man who recognizes that one man can not possibly "do it all." After all, he wants Moshe, the husband of his daughter Tzipporah, to preserve his health, and live to a ripe old age, so they can live happily ever after. Therefore, he counsels Moshe, carefully and tactfully, without stepping on toes – about delegating authority and teamwork. "The thing you are doing is not right. You will surely wear yourself out...Now listen to me. I will give you counsel and G-d be with you....and you shall enjoin upon them the laws and the teaching and make known to them the way they are to go..." (Exodus 18: 17-20). In other words, he tells Moshe, leadership is notabout doing everything, it’s about seeing that everything gets done! Yitro convinces Moshe that by appointing other senior leaders and spreading out the responsibility, with Moshe at the helm, life will be more tolerable for him. In the book called Sefer Hasidim (12th century), there is a warning "He who sits alone is worn out quickly."
As we ultimately find out each week, the lessons of our 3300 year old Torah are as relevant today as they were in the time of Moshe. Don’t we live in a complex world? Managing home, business, community, synagogue, family, relatives. The list is endless. It’s a world filled with multitasking. It’s no wonder there are no shortages of social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, finance experts, life coaches and so on to help people.
Where in your life are you? What are your pressures? Which areas are too taxing for you to handle? What causes you to have interrupted sleep, waking up at 2 and 3 in the morning, twisting and turning until it’s almost time to rise for the day? Is your heart pulsing too quickly or is it that pounding headache that keeps emptying the bottle of Advil in your medicine cabinet?
This week’s Parsha speaks to everyone and anyone who is overwhelmed, stressed out and on their way to be burned out. Can you relate? High mortgage rates. College tuition. A demanding boss. Costly bills. Car payments. Medical costs. Caring for elderly parents or very young children or maybe needing to help out with the grandchildren. People depend on you, expect things from you. The list is endless and growing. What do you do?
Yitro, perhaps one of the earliest counselors in history, pleads for Moshe to seek out help. He suggests that he build up a team of 120 leaders from the various tribes who could serve as his assistants. The men chosen would be intelligent, responsible, experienced, honest, and caring with a proven track record of accomplishments among their communities and families. He says that Moshe should surround himself with loyal and capable people who understand the mission and whose goals are the same as his. Yitro serves as the analyst instructing Moshe to identify the issues and how best to deal with it.
With any leadership role there comes awesome responsibility. Whether you are the head of a family, an executive, a business owner, an educator, a health care professional, the leader of a congregation or the president of a board, you are held accountable by others. Sometimes the pressure is enormous and may take its toll on one’s physical and emotional well-being. When others depend on us we are not always free to do what we please, whenever we want. Responsible, mature, predictable, conforming, and conscientious traits are important when we are in a leadership position.
Look at yourself in the mirror. Who are you today? Where are you in your life? To whom are you responsible? Yourself? Others? What does your to-do list look like? Do you carry a palm pilot to keep track of your days and your appointments. How do you maintain control? How do you face the day, get organized and move forward?
We read in the book of Psalms 121:1-2, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: from where shall my help come? My help comes from the L-d, maker of heaven and earth." Listen to the words of Yitro. When the pressure cooker is about to burst, you have to let the steam out. Build up your team. Take a breath and figure out realistically who you can rely on to help you. Surround yourself with people who share your goals and are like-minded in terms of values and ethics. Be with people who stand behind their words. People who care about you and will work to make you look good. Moshe was able to handle the big problems because his boards of advisors were willing to pitch in to assist him with projects and communal needs.
And I happen to know a little bit about having an excellent group of dedicated volunteers and staff. The torah teaches that communication is the key to both understanding oneself, and one's purpose in the world. Speaking with another about one's pain, suffering or one's dreams and joys is encouraged and healing. When Yitro and Moshe talk to each other, they voice and discuss concerns and accomplishments-of both a personal and societal nature. And we see how this dialogue works and the benefits. In Proverbs 12:25 it states," The heart of a person filled with anxiety is dejected, yet a good word brings it to a state of joy."
Like the biblical Moshe, I too am surrounded by loyal and dedicated people who are on the same page as I am with respect to the best interest for this congregation. While I was in Israel for the past two weeks, I delegated the weekly D’var Torah, to very fine people in this community, Mr. Glenn Carr, our beloved Gabbai and Dr. David Krimins. Thank you to all the Gabbaim, David Cohen, Jody Goldsmith, and Dr. Barnett Rattner. Our congregation is so fortunate to have them. Thank you, everyone, for your help whenever asked to serve.
It is my hope that together, inspired by Yitro’s words to Moshe, we will lead Kneseth Israel as a united team, working towards mutual goals that strengthen our presence in Annapolis and attain new heights for our strong Jewish future. Shabbat Shalom.