(Sermon given on the 75th Anniversary Shabbat)
It’s a famous story in the Torah. There are two brothers, twins, Esau and Jacob.
Esau goes out hunting and he doesn’t kill anything,
and he’s really tired, and really hungry, and when he comes back to the camp,
he sees his brother Jacob cooking something. He wants what’s in the pot,
and Jacob offers to give it to him in exchange for the birthright.
The birthright belongs to the eldest son,
and it means he will be the leader of the Hebrew tribe.
He will be the heir to the covenant with G-d made by Abraham, their grandfather and Isaac, their father.
Esau, who has the birthright, is willing to trade it away for what’s in his brother’s pot.
He doesn’t care about his inheritance; he’s only thinking about himself and his needs at that moment.
Esau is someone who cannot carry the heritage forward because he doesn’t care about it.
Esau proves this when he leaves the land of Israel to go become the king in another land,
even though there is no one to stop him from living in Israel as the chief of the Hebrews.
Esau decided that he did not care about being Jewish. The birthright was his;
he traded it away for the needs of the moment.
And he became the king of a different people in a foreign land.
In a way, each of us is Esau in the moment that he is coming in from the hunt, and we have a choice:
Are we going to think about what we need at this moment, or are we going to think about who we are,
what our life is about, where we fit in in our community and our people and our religion?
Do we care about being Jewish? Or are we going to sell our birthright for what’s cooking in the pot?
If your answer is that you care about being Jewish, then you must think about what you do for your community and your people. You have the choice: Do I just offer lip-service to my Jewishess, or do I actually do something?
In any Jewish community, or any organization of any kind, for that matter, there are always a few people who do a great deal, and most people do little to nothing. I know this.
And I totally understand that there are different times in our lives when we have more time to do what we want.
I know this.
But I also know that often it’s the busiest people who do the most, and the people who have the most time who do nothing.Every community and every organization give awards to people who volunteer and do a lot. But these awards point to something troubling: So few people volunteer that a couple of awards cover everyone who deserves one.
It means that standing in front of the cooking pot, most people have chosen to trade their birthright away rather than act to live up to their birthright.
Rabbi, be more specific. What can I do?
I know you’re busy, but do you have ten minutes at 6:45 one night a week?
It’s not even in competition with Jeopardy.
Just think: You can eat what’s in the pot right before that ten minutes or right after. You can have your pot and daven, too.
We have wonderful people, and I really mean loyal, devoted, consistent people who have made sure that we have had minyans morning and evening every day since Covid and Zoom came into our lives. They know that all they have to do is click the computer and spend a few minutes from the convenience and warmth and unmasked existence of their homes, and in return, they have done something that for other people and they have been an active part of their community.
My late friend Sy Kaplan once gave this great speech, and he offered ways for people to be part of our shul. And his refrain was: It’s easy. You give a little time. It’s easy. You offer an idea. It’s easy. You show up. It’s easy.
So on this 75th anniversary Shabbat, I want to point out that we would never have made it to 75 years without all the people through the years who have done their part. And now all of us have to do ours.
If you wait to be called, you’re expecting us to be mind-readers. We don’t know what part of things you’d like to be involved in. A woman came and sat with me and said, “Here’s what I’d like to do. And I said, “Great. Here’s who you call for this, and I suggest you do that.” And she’s been doing things. And she’s been making a difference in people’s lives.
You have the choice. You can throw away your birthright for what’s in the pot. Or you can say, I will live up to my birthright. I’m here to help.”