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11/06/2020 01:42:36 PM


Rabbi Barry Gelman

Don't Get Stuck!

11/06/2020 11:45:40 AM

Rabbi Barry Gelman

This week’s sermon is sponsored by Naomi and Mike Levy and Family In memory of Larry Jaeger, Naomi Father,whose yahrzeit is this weekend.

We are in the midst of a trying time in this country. The election has shown that we are a divided country. The election has indicated that it is hard to change people’s minds. 

All this talk of change on a national level has has brought me to think about change on a personal level. As I watched the slim margins on the electoral needle, I began to wonder about our personal change meter.

Rabbi Norman Lamm offered a fascinating take on the importance of openness to spiritual change.

He begins with analyzing the events that took place on Sodom told in this week’s Torah reading.

As the angels hurry to get Lot and his family out of Sodom, Lot and his family are wanted not to look back at Sodom while it was being destroyed. 

Lot’s wife, “unable to suppress her curiosity” violates the command of the angles and as a result  וַתְּהִ֖י נְצִ֥יב מֶֽלַח she becomes a pillar of salt. 

The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, wonders why this specific punishment, that of salt, was chosen. They say: 

בְּמֶלַח חָטְאָה וּבְמֶלַח לָקְתָה; אָמַר לָהּ תְּנִי מְעַט מֶלַח לָאוֹרְחִים הַלָּלוּ, אָמְרָה לוֹ אַף הַמִּנְהָג הָרַע הַזֶּה אַתָּה בָא לְהַנְהִיג בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה (בראשית רבה):

Lot, when the angels came to him disguised as human guests, asked his wife to serve the guests a bit of salt. She responded: "since when do you want to establish this new, evil custom in this place?" And so, since she sinned with salt, she was punished by being turned into salt.

Rabbi Lamm sees more in this Midrash than “just a criticism of inhospitality. She was so fixated upon old and conventional patterns of conduct, that she became mindless and heartless, insisting upon them even when they violated the most elementary rules of human conduct and ethical living, Sodom had an old custom of turning away strangers, and she resented the effort of Lot to change the "sacrosanct ways of her community. Not only was salt a sin and punishment, it was also the symbol of her psychological attitude. Salt is a crystalline chemical, which is very difficult to change...Salt it was, and salt it remains. Salt symbolizes the lifeless rigidity of Lot’s wife. No wonder the Torah describes the event with the words וַתַּבֵּ֥ט אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ מֵאַחֲרָ֑יו , "his wife looked behind him." She was always looking backwards, consulting the unchanging past as a guide to an equally unchanging...future.”

In a beautiful passage Rabbi Lamm explains how Lot’s wife’s mistake applies to us.

" is important to stress that while there is little likelihood of significant change in the Halakhah, it demands of us that we change! When you stop changing, you stop growing, and when you stop growing you in effect stop living. Of course, tradition -- the Tradition -- encourages innovation and change within us, and calls it, teshuvah, repentance. Spiritually, the Jew must always be in a state of flux, in movement, in dynamic progress."

The importance of change in our spiritual life is poignantly expressed in Masechet Berachot.

The Mishna (4:4) teaches:

רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר, הָעוֹשֶׂה תְפִלָּתוֹ קֶבַע, אֵין תְּפִלָּתוֹ תַּחֲנוּנִים

Rabbi Eliezer says: if a man makes his prayers fixed, it is not [true] supplication.

The Gemara (29b) then explains what “Keva” - “fixed” means

רַבָּה וְרַב יוֹסֵף דְאָמְרִי תַּרְוַיְיהוּ: כֹּל שֶׁאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְחַדֵּשׁ בָּהּ דָּבָר.

Rabba and Rav Yosef both said: It refers to anyone unable to introduce a novel element.

This is really an amazing statement. Each encounter with God can be, should be, something new.

This is one of the great lessons of Avraham and Sara’s life as well. The Gemara talks of a coin that existed in their time that on one side had a picture of an elderly couple and on the other side had a picture of a young couple. Perhaps the point is that in some realms of life, what was done and what represents the past is the most valuable, while in other areas of life, like spirituality and prayer, constant renewal is needed. 

Let’s ask ourselves what areas of our spiritual lives can use some rejuvenation. 

Has shabbat gotten a bit stale? Can we renew it by singing Zemirot at the table or engaging in thoughtful discussions about important topics (see the weekly guide I create for this purpose and see here.

Maybe our Tefillah needs a boost. Here is what works for me. Try changing your siddur. This simple step has helped me focus more. When I get used to the new one, I go back to the original or try a third.

I also urge you to join our daily study of Shearim B’Tfilla and remarkable study about the different emotions we can use to pray. 

This Shabbat as we look at some of the deadlock in our country, lets unlock our spiritual potential. 

Tue, May 18 2021 7 Sivan 5781