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Sermon July 1, 2016

07/21/2016 05:36:03 PM

Jul21

By, Rabbi Peter Grumbacher

To the Heights!

On the 240th Anniversary of our Great Country

Peter H. Grumbacher, Rabbi Emeritus

Congregation Beth Emeth - Wilmington, Delaware

July 1, 2016

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  Can you believe that it's been forty years since the Bicentennial of the United States? Forty years since Beth Emeth held that phenomenal party for that milestone occasion in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the congregation! OK, so some of you aren't forty yet, let alone those who weren't affiliated in 1976. But it was a bash!  I remember - and still have - the beautiful wine glass given as a memento. We all drank a "L'chaim!" and wished each other 70 more years as a vibrant congregation and two hundred more years as a free nation.

  How many of you recall the logo for that event? It was the Hebrew letter Ayin whose numerical equivalent is 70 according to gematria. In Gematria each letter has its numerical value and vice versa; that's why 18 is chai, which of course means "life." The Hebrew letter chet equals 8 and the letter yod equals 10. If you pronounced the yod before the chet (which you can do), you'd get YUCH. Surely Chai sounds so much better.

  So 2016 is the 240th anniversary and I decided to do a little gematria. Two hundred is Reish and 40 is Mem. Reish and Mem when put together as a word - or better the root and heart of a word - actually give us two meanings which can be seen as the exact opposite of each other. You get RaM which could mean the "heights," as in the Conservative movement's summer camps Ramah. Or you can get arum which is used to describe the serpent in Genesis' Adam and Eve story. The serpent was deceitful and creepy crawly. So maybe this gematria is telling us something...that looking at the anniversary of our great country we can see that which has been on the one hand elevating, and on the other hand that which has brought us to the depths.

  At the time of the Bicentennial the Civil Rights movement had achieved a great deal; surely not perfection by any means, but a noticeable advance in the rights of African-Americans. Thirteen years had passed since the "I Have a Dream" speech by Dr. King, and we might say that thirty-two years after the Bicentennial celebration, we reached the heights as the first African-American president was elected President of the United States. Who would have believed it! 

  It would take forty years after the Bicentennial for a woman to be the nominee for president; the glass ceiling in politics might be broken in just a few short months. And who was her major opponent for the nomination but a Jew! He's not a Jew who wears his religion on his raincoat sleeve; he left it in the closet in Brooklyn, but he sure isn't Presbyterian or Catholic. Yes, we once had a woman on the ballot for vice-president, Geraldine Ferraro, as well as an observant Jew, Joseph Lieberman on another ticket. But now the heights in that regard have been reached.

  Civil Rights for the LGBT-plus community are far from being achieved in full. Yes, in 1969 New York police officers raided the Stonewall Tavern because homosexuality was against the law, but that famous venue was just designated a national monument, a significant step in our climb towards equality for all.

  But, alas, the climb up can be, you should pardon the expression, "stonewalled" by those who would fight against progress at any cost, those who would crawl like the serpent, not stand tall like the champions of gay rights. We don't know the true motivation of the mamzer who shot and killed fifty innocent people and wounded over fifty more, but we do know that the Pulse nightclub was a haven for Orlando's gay community.

  Can there truly be any haven for when at any moment an accursed individual with assault weapons can enter a nightclub? When a mentally ill young man with an assault weapon can wreak havoc in an elementary school; when terrorists with assault weapons can shoot up a cafeteria for employees; when movie theaters, malls and any other venue you can think of isn't safe if someone chooses to shoot it up? No haven at all when the innocent are massacred, their families destroyed, and the dream of a bright and fruitful future, a dream which every American has, goes up in smoke!

  The sacred second amendment of our Constitution - and truly sacred it is as are all the amendments - loses its status of kedusha, holiness, when there are those who cannot say l'havdil, there's got to be a difference between one kind of firearm and another, a weapon for target practice, even for legitimate self-defense, as opposed to a weapon designed strictly to wipe out as many people in a few seconds as possible, whether those people are enemy combatants or little school children.

  Immoral morons are they who crawl on their bellies in defense of what I truly believe is the indefensible!

  Speaking of the slimy and the serpent, oh, how I could make a case that the one most capable of keeping America from the highest mountain, the one who could plunge us to the depths not even a snake could see, it's that deep, is the billionaire from New York. Well, don't worry, I won't!

  The heights and the depths...the gematria of 240. We should know only the heights, and we should climb higher. We've got women and Jews, Hispanics and African-Americans sitting on the Supreme Court, a rainbow of folks in the halls of the Senate and the House. We thought we have known the depths looking back on the days before so many of the disenfranchised of America didn't think they had a chance at all. It's not perfect, and I don't want to seem both naive and patronizing in these words, but while we have to achieve greater progress, look from where we've come!

  This Shabbat we read about the twelve spies sent by Moses to check out the Promised Land its inhabitants. The majority report of ten spies said that those the Israelites would face make them look as small as grasshoppers; they were too mighty to confront. The minority - Caleb and Joshua - didn't disagree with the overall picture but reported that with God's help they would prevail. I'm praying real hard that the majority in 2016 remembers where we were and the heights achieved in just a relatively few years. I'm praying that we get back to our senses, that making America great again means joining together on the mountain, and not dwelling in the valley...you fill out the rest.

  On Monday, let us drink a "L'Chaim!" to LIFE.

Sun, September 22 2019 22 Elul 5779