The one who watches the wind will never sow, and the one who gazes at the clouds will never reap. – Ecclesiastes 11:4
Perhaps the oldest responsibility of a rabbi is to teach, and I’d like to begin today by doing that and talking about Moses. He has been a central character in the Torah narrative that we have been reading in the Synagogue the past several weeks. The dictionary definitions of “taking a chance” are to either risk something of value in pursuit of a particular goal or to place one’s trust in someone or something. Using those definitions, it recently struck me that Moses is a man who has taken a lot of chances. He was raised in the royal Egyptian household after being adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter. If anyone had a reasonably secure future from a young age, it was Moses. If Moses had played it safe, he would have had a very easy life, trouble-free, and we’d probably have no idea who he was today. Yet Moses risked everything he had, including his own life, when he saved a Hebrew slave from a brutal Egyptian taskmaster. He did it because, as the Torah tells us, he looked this way and that and saw no other man. Meaning, he saw no one else willing to take a chance and stop the beating. In quick order, he took many actions to effect change. He tried to mediate a dispute between two Hebrews. When he fled Egypt and arrived in Midian, all he wanted probably was just a drink of water. Yet he saw local shepherds giving some women at a well a difficult time. He could have turned a blind eye and who would have blamed him, being exhausted and alone? Yet he took a chance, helped the women and ended up marrying one of them, Tzippora. Over the course of his life, one could mark many chances that Moses took. He took a chance on a God that he never knew—the God of Israel. He is now remembered as our greatest prophet. He took a chance on a people, the people Israel. Had he not, the Torah tells us, we would have long ago been destroyed, if not by the Egyptians or the Amaleks, then by God. For some reason, God did not think the golden calf was “cute” or all of the complaining to be endearing. The proclivity to taking chances is not unique to Moses. Perhaps his circumstances amplified the risks and rewards, but he is not the only one to take a chance.
We all take chances every day. We take a chance on public or private transportation, knowing that there is a risk, even a very, very small one that something terrible could happen. We take a chance on the food that we eat, that it is not contaminated, that it will nourish us, or at least not harm us too, too much in the short term. We take chances on whom we are friends with and whom we do business with. We select a career path, usually at an age and with a level of experience, that we cannot fully grasp what it is like to have that career. Some of us face the choice of selecting schools, and so we take a chance there. People take a chance when they get married. They may know that they love a person, but there is a difference between loving someone and being married to them. If I may be a bit personal, I should say that marriage was the best chance I ever took.
We all take chances—hopefully we take the right chances and make the right choices, and it all works well. Of course it may not. So how do we know when to take a chance and when not? We don’t get to see the future when we make our decisions. Yet we know that often times not taking a chance has its own costs. Moses would have lived a gilded, yet meaningless life without the chances he took. The Biblical book Ecclesiastes had something like this in mind when it states, “The one who watches the wind will never sow, and the one who gazes at the clouds will never reap.” We can wait and wait and wait for the perfect time to plant our crops by looking at the weather reports but if we do that we may never plant and there will be no food and no future. Or, we can make a choice and take a chance.
I recognize and am grateful for the chance that all of you have taken in selecting me as your rabbi. I am from another country. I came with no experience in the British Reform movement. I am relatively young, not always considered to be the best quality in a rabbi. Have I worried you, yet? Regardless, you took a chance on me. Thank you.
I am not the first chance that members of this community have taken. The members of this synagogue took many chances in creating, growing and nurturing Jewish life in South East London and beyond for the past fifty years. They—you—invested your time, resources, and energy into this place, hoping and dreaming that it will be turn out to be meaningful and successful. And look at what a place we now have.
This year marks our Golden Jubilee, fifty years as a congregation and we have every reason to be proud of the synagogue’s history. To the synagogues founders, and to all of its leaders since the founding, I say thank you.
Yet, just as we as individuals need to take chances to live life well so too do communities. We will work to maintain the best that is Bromley Reform Synagogue—the commitment to learning, the empowered and vibrant lay leadership, the participation in worship, the caring community that does such a good job at being there for our members, and I could go on and on. I am absolutely dedicated to continuing these traditions and values. At some point, though we will need to take some chances. Rabbi Hayim Herring, the former director of STAR: Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal, writes about synagogues and envisioneering—a mix between envisioning and engineering—a combination of being well informed about societal trends, thinking deeply about values, dreaming big, and then creating and recreating a community of meaning.
In due time, I would like for our synagogue to be involved in this work. Let’s have conversations about the most important things in our life. Let’s talk about our aspirations. Let’s talk about our hopes for our synagogue and its place in the larger world. We can discuss what it is we want for our families and ourselves. We can talk about what we feel is asked and required of us—our own responsibilities. And then lets take some chances and see how we can realize our dreams and meet our responsibilities together.
I would like to close by saying thank you to a few people in no particular order. First, to the members of the rabbinic recruitment team, led by Toby Allin and the Synagogue Board, led by Matthew de Lange, for bringing me here. Thank you to the staff of the Movement for Reform Judaism who also helped in the process. And thank you to Sandra Hurley, who was the very first person from the synagogue that I spoke to. You can blame her for sparking my interest in coming! Thank you to Hugh and Shane Lask who were immensely hospitable to Jodi and I when we first arrived. Thank you to Janet Burlem, Vicki Ashmore and Linda de Lange who are such a pleasure to partner with at the synagogue. To those who helped plan this afternoon and are taking part, including Janet Burlem, the choir, Larry Shall and the members of the Ritual and Religion Committee, Barbara Kurtz and, Rhona Green who put together the service packet, as well as many others, thank you. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, thank you so much for being here today, for your very kind words and for your support since I have come. To Rabbi David Freeman, to Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild and to Rabbi Tony Hammond, have multiple things to thank you for. Firstly, your leadership has shaped the synagogue to be what it is today, a thriving Jewish community. I am so proud, yet humbled to be following in the path that you have blazed. Each of you has been gracious to me, spending time with me and helping to provide guidance as I transition. Thank you so very much. Finally, I want to reiterate my thanks to the community. You have welcomed Jodi and me here with open arms and we are so grateful to be here.