Davi & Bracha’s 35th anniversary: Nov. 7, 2014 Shabbat Vayeira 5775
Some say, me among them, that this is a tough Torah portion to get behind what with all the challenging stories told in it of our ancestors and of God, for that matter, at less than their best – from Sodom and Gomorrah to the incestuous origins of the Moabites and the Ammonites to Abraham passing off his wife as his sister AGAIN (to the birth of Isaac) to the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael to the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac. AARGH!!
Seemingly not the most celebratory of Torah portions for a 35th anniversary, especially for two people as special as Bracha and Davi. But there are a few moments in Parashat Vayera that save it for me, and, as it happens, that remind me of these two women and the way they interact with our community.
Near the beginning of Parashat Vayera come two moments that our sages used to establish two different and important Jewish values – values that, as it happens, Davi & Bracha hold dear.
The first comes at the very beginning, Vayera eilav Adonai – “God appeared to Abraham” who was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. Some of the sages in the Talmud (BT Sot. 14a) explain that Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent that day recovering from his circumcision which had occurred in the last verses of the previous portion. Abraham, you might remember, circumcised himself — at God’s command – when he was 99 years old (Abraham, that is, not God, was 99). No wonder he needed a little time to recover. And God comes to visit Abraham, say our sages, to distract him from the pain, and in so doing invents the mitzvah known as bikkur cholim, visiting the sick – a deed that doesn’t necessarily “cure” someone of illness, but nonetheless helps heal by letting people know others care about them, by showing them that they are not alone when life presents challenges.
Do you all know of Bracha’s bikkur cholim work for our community? For years now her telephone minyan and telephone Torah study in particular, her organizing of monthly schmoozes for those who cannot regularly get out of the house and into the world – and especially her telephone services during the Days of Awe including her hand crafted mahzor, prayerbooks special for the occasion and tailored to the needs of those who are ill — are among our congregation’s most treasured and helpful mitzvoth. If God was the teacher and model of this mitzvah, Bracha is one of the best disciples of its teaching.
And the second important mitzvah introduced at the beginning of this Torah portion? That comes from Abraham himself who “jumps up” from his “sick bed” not when he sees God, but when he sees three strangers standing nearby at the same time that he looks up and sees God. “As soon as he saw them,” says the text, “he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them,” and to offer them water for washing and a place to rest and food to eat.
Have you ever seen Davi (and Bracha too) when new people come to BCC? Maybe you’ve been one of those new people – greeted by them, offered refreshment, shown around, engaged by them in conversation to get to know you, and invited to come back again — soon. Some of the Torah commentators note that Abraham seems to greet the human visitors even before attending to God who appears at the same time, suggesting that “Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence” (BT Shab. 17a). [see more in the notes in Eitz Hayim, p.99].
How blessed is our congregation that welcoming the stranger and providing hospitality to all is one of our most treasured values?
This is in sharp contract, by the way, to another story in this week’s Torah portion. For Jewish tradition teaches that the real sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were that the people who lived there, though they had plenty, did not share their wealth with those in need or with those who visited. They did not understand the value of hospitality.
And one more teaching about the Torah portion Vayera – The editor of the Torah commentary Eitz Hayim notes (p. 99) that Vayera – meaning “God appears” – is important not only throughout this portion – who sees God and who does not through all the twists and turns of this legendary portion –; but also in life – who feels the divine presence and who does not can reveal much about how people experience the same events.
Davi & Bracha, and all of us — may the divine presence be with us always – here at BCC and wherever we may go in life.
Davi and Bracha,
The story lines that each of you contributed to our Story Wall are very telling (if these walls could talk – oh! They do). Bracha’s verses come from the V’ahavta prayer we read earlier tonight that Bracha wrote for our siddur, and that speak to the heart of this congregation:
Bind these words between your eyes so that you may not be blind to the suffering of others. Bracha Yael
AND: Intolerance will not be tolerated within these walls. Bracha Yael
One of Davi’s story lines contains a verse in Chinese/Mandarin – I have no idea what it says, but it’s one of the ones I point out to people when I show them this feature of our sanctuary, for I love the fact that there are so many different languages on our wall, and so much diversity within our walls. A little Chinese on the wall in a Los Angeles Jewish “home of prayer” reminds us of the diversity of the Jewish people as well as of God’s delight in all the variety of creations in the opening chapters of Genesis: Ki tov, God kept saying with each new day’s creations – “How good is this!” And tov ma’od – “How very good indeed!”
And then there is Davi’s verse in English which also speaks to the sometimes sad heart(s) of our congregation: “It is here in this “House” that I received the affirmations I need when members of my family refused to acknowledge who I am.” Davi Cheng
Much has changed in your lives and in the world since you first came to this congregation, Bracha * Davi, but your teachings, your stories, remind us that each of us has much to contribute toward creating change and making a difference.
As you enter your 36th year together – double chai — may you continue to be gentle change makers and loving caretakers to each other and to all of us.
Holy One of Blessing, Bless these two women — lovers of You, God, and of each other – bless them with growing wisdom and strength, humor, energy, and passion as they walk, hand-in-hand, the path of their life of togetherness. And let us say, Amen