There are moments in my almost twenty-four years at this congregation that are etched in my mind and heart. And one, of course was Noah’s Bar Mitzvah almost 16 years ago.
The moment I remember was the opening line of his speech, which he wouldn’t show me before its delivery.
I want to quote him….
He said: “I woke up this morning and immediately I thought, oh my God. Today is the rabbi’s kids Bar Mitzvah! It was a good laugh line….
I stand here this morning and know that it would not be fully authentic for me to speak about anything other than that which connects me to this moment.
Oh my God, it’s my youngest son’s auff ruff…
Soon, Noah and his lovely fiancé’ Sara, his life’s choice, will be married!
I want to wish mazal tov and a very special welcome to Meryl and Mitchell, Sara’s parents from West Hartford; David and Ben, Sara’s brothers; and especially to Sara’s grandmother, Estelle. You have all contributed in shaping this wonderfully kind woman, Sara. Sara brings such happiness to Noah and to so many…you’ve done this well. And being in shul on Shabbat to bring greater joy to the simchah of marriage is as reflective of your lives as it is ours. Meryl is a vice president at Beth El Congregation in West Hartford. How nice that you can be with us in the intimate setting of Bnai Torah. But now, you too are part of this large family. We work really hard here to create a sense of belonging and connection.
And, of course, a mazal tov to the other parents who have shared this wonderful son, Noah – Mindy and Howard and Tobi. Gabrielle, you chanted beautifully. And I sense as an older sister, you feel a special joy and pride today…you are sort of like another mother…but also a dear friend, confidant and teacher of your brother.
And newer siblings Caroline and Steve, who blessed us all with Miles and made Noah an uncle, and Sara will not only be a bride, but will immediately become an aunt…I know you too feel the joy of Noah and Sara.
And I must add that Avi and Heather, and Aya and brother in law Seth, would have loved to have been here, as well as Emily and Chris, and the Brummer kids.
This is a good moment.
We’re happy to share this!
Noah was always comfortable here. He made friends with people quickly, he learned and he taught B’nai Mitzvah kids here, he and his buddy Mickey guided some of the best years USY has known here. In Noah’s earliest years he ran around a lot and made a lot of people laugh and smile. And…Noah made me really nervous!
At Kiddush you’ll hear more about Sara and Noah from their sister and brother.
So, early in the week I thought, what can I talk about. I thought, surely I can’t focus on our family’s simchah alone! And so I looked at the calendar on Monday. And I saw Monday was Tu B’Av. You know what Tu B’Av is? It is our tradition’s celebration of love…Sort of a Jewish Valentine’s Day…No kidding!
What is the story of this little know holiday? Let’s learn a little bit about it.
It is first mentioned in a very old Mishnaic source. There is a list of 35 happy events, marked by happy days when no fasting would be allowed. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t learn about 35 happy events on the Jewish calendar in 60 years of Jewish learning!
Here’s what we know about this date, it can teach us about love and about reconciliation…Remember when the daughters of Zelophechod complained to Moses that they deserved an inheritance, which up until that point had been only permissible to sons. They were prohibited because they were female. Well, Moses changed the law, but they had to marry in the same tribe. On this day, the rabbis teach us that the prohibition about marrying out of the tribe was lifted. And if a daughter and a son from two tribes, separate tribes, fell in love… they were given permission to fulfill that love! On this day, romance triumphed!!
So, can we say a girl from Connecticut and a boy from Florida can marry? Or how about a daughter of a Kohein and a son of Levi…Noah and Sara, your love should be stronger than the affiliation you come from…As it says in Breishit: and a man shall leave his father and his mother and attach himself to the woman he loves…
There was another incident in connection to Tu B’Av, where the men from the tribe of Benjamin committed an unspeakable crime (unless you watch the local news). The men of the tribe of Benjamin were prohibited from marrying women from other tribes…and this too was relieved. And love was allowed to flourish.
There are a number of other reasons given for Tu B’Av as the holiday of love.
They had to do with long life and blessing. This too, should be yours.
And there was one reason which stated that it was because this day the wood that would fuel the Temple’s fires was chopped down and delivered. You may wonder what this has to do with love? The wood allowed for the love between the people Israel and God to flourish. It allowed for the fire of the altar to burn.
And in our tradition, the love and passion between a man and a woman, a husband and wife, is used metaphorically to speak about the love between the people and their God. May this love of fiery passion be yours.
Over and again in last and this week’s parshah and God mentioned that He loved our people, not because we were powerful, on the contrary, because we were small. He saw our suffering and knew how vulnerable we were. God believed that it would create a people that cared about orphans and widows and strangers. We would be a people that cared about the vulnerable. We would live lives where we would attach ourselves to a God who was concerned with people who were hungry and weak. And He would love us, and show us by giving us a Torah that would provide for us a way to live our lives. You two, as a couple are there to be open and caring towards each other’s vulnerability. And to protect each other.
Noah and Sara, I know that these values will be front and center of your lives. Caring for others, even as you care for each other during life’s most difficult and most vulnerable moments.
I’m thinking about love, because of the two of you, and because of Tu B’Av and this Shabbat.
In our tradition there is no expression of romantic love. Rather love is expressed in other ways.
There are three words that I can think of for types love in our tradition.
The first is Rachamim. Rachamim is a form of love. Rachamim, as you know is mercy. It’s a love that is kind and forgiving. The word rachmanut is from the root “rechem” which means womb. Rachamim is a love like the love of a mother for a child…deep and abiding. I wish for you both a love that is merciful; forgiving and accepting.
The second word for love and the one we are most familiar with is Ahavah. Ahavah is a love of mutuality. We know it from the siddur. There we learn that God loved us and the proof of his love is that he gave us Torah and Mitzvot, Chukkim and Mishpatim. Its described in the paragraph before the Shema. And, after we say the Shema, we read, V’ahafta, and you should love. And that love is contingent. We received the obligations and now we fulfill the obligations…with all our hearts, our souls and our might. This is the love of God for His people. And this love creates obligation.
God loved us and gave us the Torah. God loves us and so God blesses us.
You two will be bound to each through feeling and kindness and also, a deep sense of obligation. You are and will continue to be a blessing to one another. When a mistake is made, you will find ways to forgive each other. It is, unequivocally reflected in the words of the song of our tradition.
Ani L’dodi v’dodi li…I am to my love as my love is to me….
And that mutuality and connection creates obligation. Ahavah first appears in the Torah when Isaac and Rebecca meet. Her kindness overwhelms him. And “he takes her”, they join together as one.
He took her, the text said, and he loved her. It’s as if there is a realization that deep love, real love, is not romantic love, but it is a love which grows over time…
And then Torah presents the third type of love… yediah…yodeah…This is an “he knew her” …meaning that his love for her was physical, it was intimate, it was the love of two people, literally coming together as one. May you two also honor that connection, that oneness.
May all of these understandings of love be yours. You both richly deserve that and richly deserve each other…
So…what a privilege I had this morning to teach some Torah that has to resonate with your love and lives at this time. Noah, thanks for bringing this home!
May you be a blessing to each other. I know you are both fortunate.
And may your love, not only illuminate your lives, but the lives of all who know you and are privileged to be with you….