Less than two months ago, in February 2014, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, visited southern California.
Rabbi Sacks, whose Hebrew name is Yaakov Zvi, educated at King’s College, is now a British Lord. Lord Sacks and his wife, Lady Elaine Sacks, were guests of the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills California, as they attended a Shabbat of Achdut-Unity.
Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy is a modern orthodox Zionist school. Part of the academy’s mission is to bring the community together, and it was the head of the academy, Rabbi Y. Boruch Sufrin, who spearheaded the effort or bringing Rabbi Sacks.
The memorable weekend started at Young Israel of North Beverly Hills synagogue with cocktails and a conversation about “engaging Jews in the Diaspora,” conducted by Lord Rabbi Sacks, Rabbi Steven Weil, Executive VP of the Orthodox Union and Michael Medved, the author, political commentator and radio host.
The Shabbat-Saturday morning services were held at Congregation Beth Jacob, in Beverly Hills, conducted by several Chazanim-cantors and the musical magic of the Shabbaton Choir.
Rabbi Sacks, a very wise man, spoke about many things, including the Bible’s creation chapters. I found his words profound and penetrating, and hope they will be remembered.
One example I particularly liked was his comment on the Book of Genesis and the long Biblical chapter, at the end of Exodus. Here, there are the instructions for the Israelites on how to build a home for the Ark and the Ten Commandments tablets that would be stored within it.
“How many verses does it take God to create the universe: 34 verses. How many verses does it take the Israelites to build the Mishkan-Tabernacle, 600 verses. It took the Israelites 20 times as long to build the Mishkan as it took the Almighty to create the universe.” The Rabbi went on to explain, “It is not difficult for the infinite, omnipotent creator to create a home for human beings. What is difficult is for frail, fallible, finite, human beings to create a home for G-d,” therefore, the micro-detailed instructive chapter.
Rabbi Sacks delivered a Shabbat morning service sermon its context was elating.
Here are four citations from what he said.
“How to turn the Israelites from an arguing, dividing people into a single unified nation? You do that by asking them to give and by asking them to build something together. It is not what G-d does for us that changes us. G-d did everything for the Israelites and it did not change them. It is what we do for G-d that changes us. And if you want to create real aptness, you have to get the people together, ask them to give and build something together. That is, in my humble opinion, why you are able to celebrate this Shabbat of unity. Because you got together and build and create.”
“Go out and create a Mishkan-Sanctuary. Do the Jewish deeds for the world to see. And to be a Jew is to be the ambassador of Hakadosh Baruch Hu-the Almighty, in the world.”
“How many movies were made about how Jews DIED? Many! How many were made about how Jews live? We have become the dot.com billionaires. When are we going to see this incredible technology, a gift from G-d, used in a new and exciting way that every Jew in the world can learn Torah, so that every Jew in the world can feel connected?”
“Not since the golden age in Spain, 800 years ago, have we collectively had a chance, handed to us from heaven, to build and create and that will lead our people to have pride. Let us teach our children to be builders, together, so they will turn American Jewry into a Mishkan-sanctuary where everyone can feel the presence of the Shchina-Divine. Let us go from here and from this day on and become a blessing to G-d, to the Jewish people and a blessing to the world. Amen!”
The weekend ended with a magnificent celebration of Hillel’s 65 years, and a farewell gala event for the honorable guests, held at the Hilton Universal City hotel.
What I learned from this weekend’s events is that for the Jewish people to go from strength to strength, they must teach their culture and empower and inspire Judaism. I also thought that 14 rabbis sitting together and three Chazanim-cantors singing together is what I would call the Jewish Dream Team.
There was a long list of people who made this well-organized community come together, too many to mention, but I do want to say thank you to all of them, and also say this was a great Rabbinical Lordship weekend!