This is the last sermon I will give before I cycle off for my maternity leave and so I’m taking my chance by making it a little more personal and I hope you will forgive me for doing so.
I went to see Gusti today. The hospice people told Gusti’s daughter “final days.” Gusti looked comfortable when I saw her, quiet and small and breathing well. No IV, no tubes, no oxygen. Just her face, soft and old, and her skin, thin and crinkly. She looked like she could open her eyes at any moment and smile, but she could not hear us and seemed to be starting a trip, an inward trip across an ocean.
There’s a healthy amount of trepidation I feel as a Rabbi preaching a sermon on medical issues in a congregation with plenty of doctors. So this is my obligatory disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Any advice dispensed from the bimah is not valid medical advice. This is where my rabbinic authority ends.
When the Torah tells us to ‘sh’lach l’cha’ or ‘lech l’cha’, to send from ourselves or go into ourselves, as in the case of Abraham’s calling, we know that something transformational is about to happen.
Over the years, I’ve grown fonder of Numbers. Called ‘Bamidbar’ or ‘in the wilderness’ in Hebrew, there is something untamed about its stories. This is the book in which the Israelites become unhinged. Complaint follows complaint, rebellion follows rebellion. It’s a brilliant study of human nature and group dynamics. In Parashat Beha’a lot’cha, we are starting to see the cracks.
In 1930 Solomon Gandz claimed that Incas and Hebrews had invented in parallel, on separate continents, a common root of all literacy: knotted cord records. Gandz’s conjecture isn’t taken seriously today. Yet neither was it foolish of Gandz to wonder how threads and knots became a way to declare truths without words – and why knotted threads convince and compel us (and the Incas) in a way that seems self-evidently powerful.
I remember that first Shabbat after my first child was born. Cradling my newborn, I had lit an extra candle for Shabbat, as per a custom to light an extra light for each child one brings into a family. Now it was time to bless him. Overwhelmed with everything that young parents confront, I now realized that I had the Shechinah dancing on my finger tips as my husband and I rested our hands on our baby’s soft head and uttered the ancient words from this week’s Torah portion.