Parshat Devarim | Shabbat Chazon
July 21, 2018 | 9 Av 5778
Delivered by Rabbi Neil Sandler

I used to be a young rabbi.

(I know, for some of you, that because I am young enough to be your child, you still think of me as ‘young’. I am not.)

Thirty years ago I served a congregation in St. Louis under the direction of Rabbi Bernard Lipnick, now of blessed memory.

I learned some important things from Rabbi Lipnick.

I admired him for a number of reasons, but I knew I could never emulate him … not the least of which was for the reason I will share with you in a moment.

First, a little background.

Congregation B’nai Amoona in St. Louis was the only congregation Rabbi Lipnick ever served.

He did so for forty years … and then a little bit longer when the congregation called him out of retirement.

But if you asked Rabbi Lipnick – “What congregation do you serve?,” he would respond – “I don’t serve a congregation, I serve God, Israel and Torah.”

Rabbi Lipnick had this deep, rich voice – “I serve God, Israel and Torah.”

I couldn’t say that.

I couldn’t be like him in that regard.

In my generation, rabbis didn’t and still don’t talk like that – I’m not referring to the deep, resonant voice.

We are committed to God, Israel and Torah, but we serve a community of people known as a congregation.

This week, I have been thinking about what Rabbi Lipnick used to say, especially in light of an excerpt from an essay I’d like to share with you in a moment.

A word about the use of the word “Israel” – both in Rabbi Lipnick’s parlance and in the excerpt.

The phrase “God, Israel and Torah” was a classical one used by many Jewish religious leaders in Rabbi Lipnick’s day and prior to it.

But in that phrase “Israel” was not a reference to the Israel you and I think about when we hear that word today.

“Israel” was a synonym for the “Jewish people,” the entire community.

With that in mind, as we sit here hours prior to the beginning of Tisha B’Av this evening, please listen to this excerpt from an essay written by Dr. Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor Emeritus of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Tishah B’Av – A Day of Many Meanings

“On January 12, 1933, my father acquired a slender Hebrew volume that contained the lamentations (seder ha-kinot) for Tishah B’Av according to the Ashkenazic rite. At the time, he was the young associate rabbi of one of the major Jewish communities in Germany. I know the date, because he had a lifelong habit of adorning every book that came his way with the date of purchase. Each year when I open this simple heirloom to recite its hoary dirges, I am overwhelmed by the startling fact that just eighteen days later Adolf Hitler came to power as the duly elected chancellor of Germany. Lamentations were to be the leitmotif of the next twelve years.

Toward the end of the Amidah (the silent devotion) of the afternoon service, the Ashkenazic rite of my father inserts a petition of artless literalism based on a graphic analogy between Temple practice and personal piety. The text reads:

Master of many worlds, it is surely known to you that when the Temple stood a sinning person would bring a sacrifice, offering up only its fat and blood, and You in Your great compassion would forgive. Now as I sit in fast with my own fat and blood diminishing, may it be Your will to regard them as if I were offering them before You on the alter and may You find me acceptable.

Dr. Schorsch continues –

But these words strike a discordant note, because Tishah B’Av has nothing to do with individual salvation. It is not a carbon copy of Yom Kippur, the other twenty-four hour fast of the Jewish calendar. If the intensity of the latter (Yom Kippur) is focused on the fate of the individual Jew, the concern of the former (Tisha B’av) is fixed on the fate of the nation. The two fast days are meant to balance and compliment, not replicate, each other. The Ninth of Av is a reaffirmation of the centrality of community, peoplehood and klal yisrael in Judaism. It promotes the supreme value of self-sacrifice for benefit of group survival and calls for loyalty to an ancient and divine cause that far transcends the significance of self.”

Wow! Listen again –

Referring to Tisha B’Av, Dr. Schorsch writes, “It promotes the supreme value of self-sacrifice for benefit of group survival and calls for loyalty to an ancient and divine cause that far transcends the significance of self.”

I love what Dr. Schorsch wrote.

“Self-sacrifice for the sake of the people Israel.”

“Transcending the significance of the self for the sake of the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Lipnick practically speaks to us from the grave! God and Torah … and Israel!

There’s just one thing, though.

That Jewish community – the one that thinks, speaks and acts as if “We Are One” – the one where community reigns supreme and we en masse support it – that community doesn’t exist any longer.

Sometimes we’re fractured.

Sometimes we’re apathetic.

And most of the time, the Jewish community and the well-being of Jews outside the United States just don’t capture our attention.

We’re doing our own thing and focusing on our own lives and on the well-being of our families.

E-Jewish Philanthropy is a worldwide electronic newsletter that subscribers receive two or three times each week.

Our Federation Director, Eric Robbins, had an article in Monday’s newsletter.

It’s a very nice piece that revolves around a position that’s now open in our Federation – Director of Global Jewish Peoplehood.

“Global Jewish Peoplehood” – that’s gigantic in scope, isn’t it?

At the end of this nice article, Eric writes the following –

“So, if you know someone who is up to the task, please tell them to apply. It’s on my “must-do” list this summer. And I can guarantee all applicants that this is an exciting role and a good fit for anyone who wants to write the next chapter and map out new frontiers for the Jewish people.”

What more important work could a Jewish professional in this community do than support the commitment of Atlanta’s Jews to the people Israel?

Rabbi Lipnick would have loved it!

But I am wondering why Eric made such a direct appeal at the end of his column.

It sounds to me like there may be some difficulty in filling the position.

Yes, it sure is difficult to get Jews to focus today on “global Jewish peoplehood” or as Rabbi Lipnick and others simply called it “Israel”.

Most of us here this morning won’t fast on Tisha B’Av.

We may not even observe the day in any traditional way.

But on a day that Dr. Ismar Schorsch appropriately reminds us is about the Jewish people – for some, its survival, and for others, its well-being and flourishing future – I hope we will recommit ourselves to do whatever we can to contribute to our people’s well-being and rich future.

In his day, my mentor, Rabbi Bernard Lipnick, of blessed memory, did just that.

Zecher tsaddik l’vracha – May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.

Amen.