Rabbi Benjy simmonds sermon Rosh Hashanah 5772

We have read today of the story of the Akeida. I wish to focus on the Pesukim immediately following the command of the angel to Avraham that he should not sacrifice Yitzchok.

Let us consider carefully the Posuk.

Avraham raised his eyes and he saw, and behold here was (another) ram entangled by its horns in the thicket.
And Avraham went and he took the ram and brought it as an offering in place of his son.

Consider the pulse and energy revealed here by five verbs:
• He lifted his eyes
• He saw
• He went
• He took
• He offered

Avraham had just prior to this, reached an emotional and spiritual peak. He was prepared in compliance with the will of G-D to offer up his son, and then, suddenly, this did not happen. There was a spiritual vacuum. All the energy, the intensity and purpose were suddenly about to evaporate.

Avraham feels the moment. He must do something; he must find a way to express his intense spiritual longing and dedication to Hashem. He cannot do this through the akeidah as his mandate was not to do this, and yet he wanted to serve Hashem. He could have just ‘packed up’ and returned home at this point, jubilant that he did not have to sacrifice Yitzchok. That would have been the end of the matter, he would have passed the test.
And yet, for Avraham that would not have been enough. A unique moment of energy would have been lost forever. He just had to find another way to serve Hashem - and so he did.

And so it is for every individual. We have to be prepared and ready to ‘look up’ and ‘see’ and search for new opportunities to devote our energies and inner spirituality to serve Hashem. It is not sufficient to rely on doing the same in the same way as previously.

Obviously we have Mitzvot to observe which must always be kept. Within the framework of the halacha we must ‘lift up our eyes’, we must act energetically and inspirationally to find ways to enhance our avodas Hashem.
We find that the incense that the Kohen Gadol used on Yom Kippur had to be refined again and again. This demonstrates the idea of this time of year that we should be looking to refine and improve the Mitzvos that we are already doing and enhance their value.

Ladies and gentleman. There is an important message here for our community, Stenecourt, about which we are so passionately concerned.

I feel that the time has come when we have to face up to serious challenges.
Looking to our future, the very existence of our community in 20 years time is a real issue. With a proliferation of Minyanim all around us, the traditional idea of a community is itself under threat. Stenecourt faces an existential threat.

This Rosh Hashanah marks the 10th anniversary of when I ascended this pulpit. In this time I have seen pivotal changes both in this Kehilla and around its perimeter. The Jewish world has changed and we have to face new challenges.

It’s no use us pretending that these challenges will go away, or worse, to believe that they do not even exist. This would lead to negligence and an absolute betrayal of all that we have stood for.

Like Avraham, we have to look round and see, what are the ways in which, going forward we can continue to grow spiritually and think as a community. We simply cannot just carry on and avoid issues. We must consider, decide, and act with the energy and sense of purpose that Avraham did.

Doing nothing is not an option. This will lead to the erosion and the withering away of our community. We have many successes; we are a proud community with a strong sense of social justice, a strong sense of the value of Jewish life and a strong commitment to the wider community.

In the last 10 years many of our young families have made Aliyah - I think about 20 altogether. This is wonderful in itself, but leaves a gap, a large gap in our Kehilla. We have to win new members, committed to the Kehilla, not just those who come to daven at our thriving Minyanim.

Friends, here are real challenges to face. Just like Avraham the ‘ram is caught in the bush’ the problems are difficult to disentangle. But we are duty bound to do so for example the mechitza, the refurbishment, women’s election to senior Shul management level and Netzach amongst others.

It was of course the members’ right to reject the refurbishment plan. That is a matter you, as members have ownership of. What however is not possible is now to leave this issue and avoid further consideration of it. We know the shul itself is a problem that must be addressed.

Netzach - our young people should be given unqualified support - please do not ‘knock, and undermine Netzach, the 20-25 members represent our potential. Whilst we may think they would be better davening with the main Kehilla, that is not going to happen at the moment. But, I appeal to you all to recognise its role and accept , if not support it.
We have been working hard over the summer to attract new students. We are hosting a shabbaton in November to make students feel welcome and try to bring them into our community. Many of you came here as students, and stayed at Stenecourt and now are at its heart.

And so we have a number of challenging issues, above all, what is our future?
What do we stand for? What are our core values? What makes us unique? We are people who live in this world, professionals, and business people, realistic and real. We practise Tzedaka and chesed in a wonderful way. We believe in the supremacy of Halacha, balanced Halacha, and also recognise diversity within observance. We support a strong democratic state of Israel which is a basis for greater mitzvah observance and Torah learning, a home par excellence for the Jewish people.

We have a unique character as a community, yet we have to face difficult decisions and implement those decisions within this context.

The midrashim state Avraham’s ram had unique characteristics, from the time of its creation on Friday at twilight. This community likewise has a unique ‘DNA’, a spiritual ambiance like no other, a rare blend of talent and potential.
Rav Soloveitchic spoke about ‘Ish Halacha’ the halachic personality which longs to create, to make something new and thereby to become Hashem’s partner in the work of renewal’. We may extend the same idea to our community - kehillat halacha - the Halachic community - we have so many creative, talented and committed people, let us strive to create, create a renewed infrastructure, with renewed dynamic energy to secure a future for our beloved Stenecourt.

There are times, there are moments when a person, a family, a community has to face challenges and take decision, the impact of which will be felt for years beyond. Harold Wilson famously said ‘He who rejects change is the architect of decay’, how true this is.

The impact of Avraham’s decision, to lift his eyes and search for innovation - a new way to express his dedication to Hashem is still felt today. The notes of the shofar we are about to blow - a ram’s horn resounds and resonates that very ram, that very concept.

At this time, our community stands at a time when we have a ‘critical synthesis’, a synthesis of challenge and at the same time opportunity. Let us face the challenge! The ram must be disentangled from the bush!
Commenting on the name given to the place of the Akeida (but only after Avraham has extricated and offered up the ram). Rashi explains that this was ‘Yireh’ the place chosen by Hashem to rest His presence, May it be the will of Hashem that by facing and surmounting these challenges, and by nurturing and preserving our unique community profile, that His shechina, His divine presence will continue to rest upon this Kehilla.

Post script: Since this sermon was delivered in Shul, there has been a real and lively groundswell of interest and discussion in Stenecourt, involving many people who have genuine and thoughtful ideas and concerns. I only hope and pray that this intellectual energy will be harnessed and soon translated into practical changes.


Mon, 26/06/17 | 2 Tammuz 5777

 Shabbat Korach

Shabbat begins at 9:27pm

Candle lighting is between 7:56 pm and 8:05 pm

Shabbat ends 11:00 pm





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