When I mentioned my upcoming installation after one of our Temple study groups in recent weeks, one of the participants asked, “Rabbi, do we have enough room on our Temple hard drive to install you?” I can say with confidence that the answer to that question is “yes”! My current Bat Mitzvah student wondered why I am being installed in December when I have been here since July, which seems like a long time in some ways, but I have to say these months have gone by very quickly. So here we are – you have had a chance or will have a chance to meet our family – my brother the rabbi, our son Adam, our sister-in-law Cathie, and Rhonda’s Mom, Jean Marks, whom I do call Mom as well. We are grateful for special occasions that bring us together, and you have made this night memorable through your presence and participation.
The Torah reading for this Shabbat couldn’t have been more appropriate for the installation of a new rabbi at a Temple called Beth-El. As you have already heard tonight and probably know, that was the name of the place where Jacob is said to have had his dream. But the connections between this passage and an installation of a rabbi go beyond the name of the place. After his dream, Jacob prayed, “If God is with me and watches over me on this path that I am taking and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s house, then will the Eternal be my God, and this stone that I have set up as a monument shall be a house of God.” Some commentators accused Jacob of praying in a way that bargained with God. They felt that he was asking to prosper rather than just survive, and that he seemed to have little faith that God could really deliver on a promise to watch over him along his life’s journey. On this night of my installation at Temple Beth-El, I can relate to Jacob’s feelings at that moment. He was uncertain about what the future would bring. I feel that Jacob had heard God’s promises in his dream loud and clear. This prayer was his very human and cautiously optimistic response to his dream. I believe that Jacob knew in his heart that God would take care of him.. What he was asking was to have his own relationship with God, who had inspired his father and grandfather. He wanted to know that the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac would also be ELOHEI YAAKOV – the God of Jacob. We prayed those very words earlier in the service, so we know that our tradition holds that it all worked out between God and Jacob. Like the relationship between God and each of the patriarchs, this installation service gives us an opportunity to reflect on our relationship and its uniqueness. To quote one of my favorite Jewish poets and lyricists, Robert Zimmerman from Hibbing, Minnesota, otherwise known as….Bob Dylan, “You ain’t seen nothing like me yet.” That could be said of any rabbi. And I know that the same could be said of any congregation and especially, you – the members of Temple Beth-El and the Las Cruces community. All of you with whom I have studied, prayed, and taken part in efforts to improve this community are like no congregatiotoro community that I have seen before – in a very positive way. My hope is that our mutual and combined uniqueness will continue to bring us together.
There is a midrash about the stones in that place where Jacob laid down to rest before his dream. The translation now says that he took “one of the stones” as a headrest, but the Hebrew actually says he took “from among the stones” to make a headrest – possibly meaning more than one stone. One rabbinic story suggested that these stones argued about which one would be the main stone on which Jacob would rest his head. Hearing this argument, God made sure that all the stones, which had been pushing and shoving each other, merged into only one stone. That is why it said after the dream that Jacob took the STONE – singular – he had used as a headrest and set it up as a monument in remembrance of his dream and God’s promise. As members of a community, we are sometimes like those stones that became one. We need to be reminded that we don’t need to push, shove or argue when we are working for the same purpose. Whether we want it or not, God will inevitably bring us together through our common pursuit of divine commandments or doing what we might call God’s work of repairing the world, TIKKUN OLAM. What unites us should always overshadow what divides us when we are working for the same goal of enhancing the lives of members of our community. We offer a sense of security, inspiration and hope to each other as long as we remember that each of us is created in the divine image. That is what makes us all one community.
The line just before the one I already quoted from the Bob Dylan song “Make you feel my love” says that “winds of change are blowing wild and free.” That is exactly what I thought last night as the wind was whipping through Las Cruces. Of course, Las Cruces wasn’t changing because of the high winds – but the wind – in Hebrew RUACH – was making this seem like a totally different place. Sometimes the RUACH – the wind – can bring a positive change. RUACH also means spirit –and it is RUACH that we can and do demonstrate through our voices united in prayer and song, our optimism about how we can grow our congregation, our commitment to making our community a warm and caring place, and our energy and creativity that we bring to the Temple Beth-El table. May the spirit of change that we generate together preserve the best of the past and uncover meanings that will enrich our minds, enliven our souls, and brighten the years to come. And let us say amen.