Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Story of the Rabbi's Daughter

Here's me telling a story based on the classic tale about the Seer of Lublin, who as a child would go to the forest to pray. God is the same everywhere, but we are not. Enjoy! 

(Full Transcript after the jump)

(based upon a tale told of the Seer of Lublin)

Once upon a time there was a great rabbi, who had two wonderful daughters.

Everyone in community loved their rabbi and no one loved him more than his own children. 

The rabbi would proudly look out at the congregation during services, and see his daughters sitting in the front of the Sanctuary, singing along with the prayers – even the hard ones with a lot of Hebrew.

But then one Shabbat, as the rabbi was giving the kind of sermon where everyone hung on his every word -- he noticed that his younger daughter had taken a seat way in the back of the congregation. 

This surprised him, but when the service ended, she was back with her sister in their usual row towards the front. So he shrugged his shoulders, and didn’t think anything more about it.

The next week, as the rabbi was leading services, he again spotted his younger daughter way way in the back of the balcony, actually, in the very last row of the balcony. He thought that perhaps he should say something to her, but then in the hubbub and excitement of the Oneg Shabbat, he forgot all about it.

But then, the following week, when the rabbi looked out at the congregation during his sermon, his daughter was nowhere to be seen. He couldn’t find her anywhere. This almost – almost – caused him to lose his place while giving the sermon. But at the end of the service – there she was, singing Adon Olam loudly and joyfully. 

After services, this time, the rabbi just had to ask. My daughter, he said, I’ve noticed that you weren’t in the Sanctuary during my sermon? Is everything ok? Oh yes, abba, she said, everything is great. Well, he asked, is it that you don’t like my sermons? Oh no, abba, I love your sermons. It is just that I had something so important that I just had to do. And she ran skipping off to play, as the rabbi stood there wondering…more important? What could be so important?

Well, it went on like this for the next three weeks – the younger daughter disappearing and reappearing during services – until finally the rabbi’s curiosity became unbearable. So the next Shabbat, when it was the time when he usually delivered the sermon, the rabbi had his Director of Lifelong Learning tell a story instead. The rabbi snuck out the side door of the Sanctuary, where he spotted his daughter making her way to a large, wooded park not far from the synagogue. 

The rabbi followed his daughter into the park, being careful not to be observed. He watched her as she made her way to a secluded area amidst a small grove of trees, among beautiful flowers and bright green grass. The rabbi became a little bit worried, actually, because he knew that the park could be a dangerous place for a child to be on her own. He wondered, what could she be doing here in the park by herself?

As the rabbi watched, his daughter took out a prayerbook, and to his amazement, she began to sing the Shema with great intensity and passion. “Hear Oh Israel, Adonai our God, Adonai is One,” she prayed. 

The rabbi could hold back no longer.  “My daughter,” he cried out “I hope you will not think it wrong of me, but I just have to know, what exactly is it that you are doing?!?”

Abba, she said in a surprised voice, What does it look like I’m doing? To be honest, perhaps this was a little sassy of her. 

Well, said the rabbi, it looks to me like you are saying the Shema, just like we say in the synagogue.

That’s exactly what I’m doing, she replied. I came here to the park to talk to God. 

But my daughter, the rabbi said, don’t you know that the Shema is the prayer that teaches us that God is one? 

Of course I know that, abba! She said.  I’m in third grade!

But my daughter, don’t you know that if God is one,  that means that God is the same everywhere? You can talk to God in the Sanctuary – you don’t have to come to the park.

Abba, she said, I know that I can talk to God anywhere. I know that God is the same everywhere. But abba, I’m not the same everywhere.

And the rabbi looked around and saw all the trees, and flowers, and the children playing, and the rabbi asked, my daughter, do you come to the park to talk to God because it is so beautiful? Is that why you are different here?

And his daughter said, Abba, it is beautiful – and our Sanctuary is beautiful too. But, Abba, look at those children playing – do you see the woman napping on the bench next to them? that’s their mom, she’s been working all night and is heading to a second job soon. And you see that fellow sleeping on the grass? I don’t think he has a home, he’s here every time I come to the park. I come here to remember that God is everywhere, here with these people in the park just like God is with all of us in the Synagogue. When I am here, I remember how our God is the God for everyone.

And I don’t know if the rabbi learned something new from his daughter that day, or maybe the rabbi already knew it. But one thing I do know is that we here at Temple Emanu-El, we know how right the rabbi’s daughter was.

Because we find God when we’re here in the Sanctuary, or when we’re at a family service in the Beth-El Chapel, or at the daily service in the Greenwald chapel. We find God in the religious school classrooms when we study the words of Torah with our dedicated teachers, and in the IM Wise Kitchen when we volunteer to make meals for the Sunday lunch program. We find God on our family and Streicker trips to Israel, whether we’re at the Western Wall or the Dead Sea. And we find God when we’re knitting the warm scarves and sweaters that this very evening, our teens will bring on their Midnight Run to cold and hungry people in our public parks. And And so I invite you to join with me, and say together the watchwords of our faith, the most important lesson of the Torah, the Shema, “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad,” “Hear oh Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is one.

Shabbat Shalom.

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