Sunday, April 29, 2012

Aval Zeh Shelanu…

One of the last Sundays I officiated a baby naming for Hillary and Kevin, whose wedding I officiated back in December 2009. This is one inspiring couple. Here are the personal remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Her Hebrew name is Tovah Moriah. She is named Tovah, which means good, for Kevin’s grandmother Thelma, whose Hebrew name began with a T. She is named Moriah, which is the name of the bedrock mountain upon which King Herod built the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Hillary’s grandfather Robert, whose Hebrew name began with an M. This is the mountain the Torah imagines Abraham himself first offering a sacrifice.

Whenever I am asked to officiate a baby naming, I ask mom and dad to share their hopes for their child with me. Hillary and Kevin shared that they hope Peyton will be a learner, be happy with what she does in life, find things that she be passionate about, find groups she feel part of, find a soul mate, and last but not least live a life infused with Jewish values.

I wanted to touch specifically on the idea of a life infused Jewish values, what that means to the modern liberal Jew, and how that connects to Peyton's name. About 15 years ago, as the rabbi of the Wellington Hebrew Congregation in Wellington, New Zealand, I was privileged to host one of the most eloquent orators of our time, Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, and he told a fascinating story. He and his wife were touring Israel a few years prior to that, and they went to Eilat, the southern tip of Israel. One of the popular attractions there is to take a tour in a boat with a glass bottom, so you can see all of the corals and fish unique to that part of the Red Sea. The boat captain asked them where they were from, and upon hearing that they were from Britain, told them at length about all of the places he himself had traveled to in Europe, and how impressed he was with that continent's great beauty. When he finished, he paused, and a wistful look came over his face, he looked down at the beauty beneath them, smiled and said, "aval zeh shelanu", still, THIS is ours...

A modern liberal Jew recognizes that there is great culture, wisdom, wonder, and beauty in the world. So she seeks to live in that world and be part of it in every possible way. Still, she feels a need to infuse her life with Jewish values. She seeks to do this not because we are better than anyone else. No, she could be a good Christian or Muslim, and live a worthy life. She chooses to be a Yehudiyah Tovah, a good Jew, because zeh shelanu, THIS is ours. THIS is our heritage. Through THIS we reach back to the bedrock of our history to Moriah, where it all started in the days of our mythical forefather, Abraham.

Hillary and Kevin, and Tovah Moriah, may the three of you indeed be inspired to live your life in such a fashion, through which this child will make our People proud.

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