A D’var Torah for our Annual Meeting, on parashat Lech Lecha

FIRST STEP (LECH LECHA)

It’s not going to be easy.
All of your roadmaps are wrong.

That was another country:
those lakes have dried up

and new groundwater is welling
in places you won’t expect.

You’ll begin the journey in fog
destination unknown, impossible.

Don’t be surprised by tears.
This right here is holy ground.

Take a deep breath and turn away
from cynicism and despair

listen to the voice from on high
and deep within, the one that says

I’m calling you to a place
which I will show you

and take the first small step
into the surprising sun.

(From 70 faces)

In this week, in our Torah story, God calls Avram to lech-lecha, to go forth. Go forth from your father’s house, from your native land, to the place which God will show you.

Avram doesn’t have a road map. He doesn’t have any way to prepare himself for the journey — how could he? But he hears God’s call, and he feels it in his heart, and he journeys forth into a new life and a new covenant.

What a wonderful Torah portion for the week of our Annual Meeting, in which we celebrate our own going-forth, our own journey toward becoming the community we are called to be.

Others this evening will speak about the state of our congregation, our education programs, our finances. I want to mention the state of our communal religious life.

This year we had some of the highest attendance we’ve ever had at services during the Days of Awe. We experimented with some new things: sacred storytelling on Rosh Hashanah morning, yoga on Yom Kippur afternoon. And we remained true to some of our longstanding traditions: welcoming all who entered our sanctuary, plenty of singing, plenty of joy. The feedback we’ve received — and I want to thank everyone who filled out our High Holiday survey — has been overwhelmingly positive.

Our Shabbat morning services continue to evolve. This coming Saturday we’ll experiment with our first contemplative, chant-based service! Later this month I’ll lead services with the first of several invited guests, my friends and colleagues from ALEPH who will add their voices, their harmonies, and their joy to our davenen. I’m also grateful to rabbis Howard Cohen and Pam Wax, who’ve stepped up to lead prayer on weekends when I’m home with Drew.

Some commentors translate the first phrase of this week’s portion, lech-lecha, not as “go forth (from your native land)” but “go forth from yourself.” Extend yourself, reach beyond yourself. Strive for something greater than yourself. Take the risk of opening yourself to change. We at CBI are responding to that call.

I want to close with a brief prayer for board elections:

May our hearts open to one another and to the community we strive to serve.

May we be kind to one another.

May we give one another benefit of the doubt.

May we listen to one another generously.

May we be willing, when it is appropriate, to set aside our own desires in the service of consensus.

May we be willing, when it is appropriate, to stand up for what we know to be right — without diminishing the esteem with which we hold those with whom we disagree.

May we see the bigger picture of which we are all a part.

May we remember that there are things happening, in each person’s life, to which we may not have access.

May we be compassionate with one another.

May we honor and thank those whose hard work has gotten us to where we are, and celebrate those who are willing to take the baton and continue the work ahead.

May all who serve reap joy.

And let us say: Amen!

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