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Erev Rosh Hashanah 5781: Be Like The Bean

09/21/2020 08:25:33 AM

Sep21

Rabbi Robbie Weiner

 

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that as one problem was solved a new one arose. Her mother listened, but did not yet speak. Instead, she took her daughter by the hand and led her into the kitchen. There, the mother filled three pots with water and placed each upon a burner. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first pot, she placed carrots. In the second, she placed eggs. And in the third, she placed ground coffee beans. She let each sit and boil without saying a word.

About twenty minutes later, she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots and eggs out and placed them in their own bowls. Then, she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Finally, the mother spoke to her daughter, “Tell me, my child; what do you see?” “I see carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. The mother brought her daughter closer to the bowls.

Each felt the carrots; and each noted that they were now soft. Each peeled an egg; and each noted that they were now hard-boiled. Finally, they ladled coffee into cups and smiled as they smelled the aroma and tasted the rich blend. The daughter then asked, “What does it all mean, Mother?”

Her mother explained, “Daughter, each of these objects faced the same adversity -- boiling water -- but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong and hard, but after being subjected to boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile; but after being subjected to boiling water, its inside was hardened. But the ground coffee beans; after being subjected to boiling water, they transformed the water! ----- So, which are you? Are you a carrot; an egg; or a coffee bean? --- When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond?”

“Are you the carrot which seems strong; but when confronting pain or adversity, softens and wilts? Are you the egg which starts with a malleable heart, but in the heat of trial becomes hardened and stiff? Or are you the coffee bean; transforming the water, releasing rich fragrance and flavor?”

“Be like the bean. When things are at their worst, transform life into something new and better; elevate life to another level. How will you handle adversity? Will you be changed by your surroundings or will you bring life to them? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean? Be like the bean.”

 

The year 5780 can be best summed up with the simple word: adversity. Tonight, we sit in our homes not because we want to, but because we have to. Tonight, we celebrate the Jewish New Year huddled around our computer screens not because we want to, but because we have to. Tonight, we lounge in our living rooms not because we want to, but because we have to. The effects of Covid 19 are ubiquitous. They have transformed every aspect of our lives. Our children do not learn the same way. We don’t go to work in the same way. And we do not engage in our rituals as Jews in the same way. Our lives have been turned completely upside down. Our current state has transformed our reality.

 

And for many, the thing that gives us the most amount of anxiety besides our fear of the disease, is the uncertainty. Everything is uncertain. When can we go out like we use to? We don’t know. When can we stop looking for bottles of Lysol? We don’t know. When will we have a vaccine? We don’t know. When will things go back to normal? We don’t know. For some of us, our daily musings on these uncertainties drives so much of our anxieties. It is completely normal for us to be anxious and tense about a reality that is uncertain. However, this uncertainty and anxiety challenges us, creating the heavy burden of adversity that we bear upon our shoulders every moment of the day.

“Be like the coffee bean,” states the simple message of the story. When we are sitting in the metaphoric boiling water, we must be like the bean. The mother teaches her daughter that she must learn to transform life into something new and better as she travels through adversity. We can try to be stalwart like the carrot or fragile like the egg, but either way they are completely affected by the boiling water. To be like the bean means to affect the water. To be like the bean means to take the adversity that is surrounding us and transform it.

Judaism is and has always been like the coffee bean. Jews and Judaism have been around for thousands of thousands of years. The reason why we have been around this long is because we have encountered all kinds of adversity, all kinds of challenges, and instead only being utterly transformed, we have tried to transform those adversities. Being like the coffee bean means celebrating our Judaism. Being like the coffee bean means utilizing our Judaism and learning from our Judaism to help us overcome our reality.

While there are many examples of this over Judaism’s life span, tonight, I would like to share with you four of them that truly underline how Judaism is just like that coffee bean. Judaism is an amazing culture and religion that is adaptive and relevant. Judaism has the keys to helping us to transform ourselves as well as transform our reality.

 

Our ancestor Jacob leaves his ancestral home and travels northward. On his journey, he stops for the night. He lays his head down and dreams the beautiful image of angels ascending and descending a ladder. He understands this moment as being one of heightened enlightenment. He has a spiritual moment. And how does he respond? He utters, “God was in this place, and I did not know it.”

Jacob helps us to understand that even thousands of years ago, Judaism understood that spirituality is not just found in the four walls of the synagogue. Your experience with God is not only limited to when you enter Temple Beth Am at 203 Church Place. Rather, Jacob, all those years ago, helps us to understand now, that in this coming year 5781, we can experience spirituality in our living rooms. We can experience spirituality in our backyards or on walks. We can experience spirituality in the midst of this pandemic.

Sitting at home, watching me through your computer or TV screen, you might be thinking how disconnected or a-spiritual this experience might be. That might be true for you at this moment. But what I do want you to know is that your feelings are not based on some law from Judaism that says you can only pray in the synagogue. Rather, Judaism is like the coffee bean. We must learn from Judaism. Our tradition teaches us that during this challenging time, we must open ourselves to the reality that our spirituality can be fulfilled even when sitting in our living rooms. That is what Judaism teaches us.

 

Judaism also teaches us another way of helping us through our current crisis. A wonderful text written 2000 years ago, called the Ethics of our Ancestors/Pirkei Avot, teaches us, “Do not distance yourself from the community.” Wow! It seems like it was written by a Congregational president.

So what is a response to our “Covid reality?” This Covid reality means: we are forced to be in our homes. When we are in public, we are forced to separate ourselves. Everywhere, we are forced into little bubbles. What can we do with that level of adversity?

Judaism declares: Do not separate from the community. Basically, the text tells us, though we must separate from one another, we must passionately seek out community in whatever way we can. If that means joining Shabbat services over Zoom, do that. If that means joining us for an adult study session, do that. If that means joining our sisterhood for a Girls Night Out in some sort of virtual way, do that. If we are going to get through this pandemic, transforming our reality, Judaism offers a wonderful bit of advice - seek community.

 

The Torah has some of our favorite lines. “Hear O’ Israel/Shema Yisrael… Love God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your might… Don’t put a stumbling block in front of the blind. Love thy neighbor as thyself.” And yet, of all of the ethical laws in the Torah, the one that is repeated the most is “…take care of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.” Caring for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger appears more often than almost any other ethical laws. This trio is symbolic of all of the individuals that are vulnerable in our midst. For us today, that could be the poor, it could be people of color, it could be the elderly, and it could be people who are at risk of contracting this horrific disease.

During this pandemic, many of us have gone a little stir crazy. We are used to doing things. Judaism is teaching us that we need to do just that. We need to do things. Specifically, we need to help the vulnerable in our communities. If you are looking to uplift yourself out of the monotony, look for acts of lovingkindness that help first responders, residents or workers in elderly homes, offer donations to institutions that help the less fortunate and those hit hardest by the pandemic. Judaism offers us, as it has for millennia, a way for us to travel through all of our adversities and especially this one. Taking care of the vulnerable is a wonderful way of transforming our reality.

 

Have you ever asked yourself why Moses was picked to lead the Jewish people out of slavery? According to a 2000-year-old story, God scoured all of the Israelites. God searched high and low for someone that would lead God’s people out of slavery and bring them to the promised land. Then God found one sheepherder who was staring at a bush that was burning. Now, a bush burning in the desert is not a surprising thing. So what caught God’s eye was that the sheepherder was staring at it for so long. God asked the sheepherder, “What are you doing?” The sheepherder said, “I’m staring at this bush that is burning. It is so odd.” “What makes it odd?” The Herder simply said, “It is not burning up. The bush is not being consumed. I’ve been staring at it for quite some time, and nothing is happening to it.”

It was at that moment that God knew that this sheepherder, Moses, would lead God’s people. God understood that if Moses had enough patience to notice a bush that was burning as well as to notice that the bush itself was not being consumed, then Moses would definitely have the patience to overcome any of the challenges faced ahead.

Patience is a virtue is the adage. And yet, we as Jews have had this teaching for thousands and thousands of years. It is a gift that we have been given. It is a perfect gift for us to unwrap during this pandemic. While Judaism tells us that we need to act, it also tells us that we need to be patient. We need to breathe. We need to try as best as we can to be calm and understanding of everyone around us. The importance of patience was taught to us thousands of years ago in the Moses story, perhaps now is a perfect time for us to renew our commitment to this ethos.

 

A mother teaches her daughter that in hot water, the carrot and the egg both completely transform themselves, while the boiling water stays the same. Not so with coffee beans. They not only transform but also they transform the hot water. Be like the coffee bean. How can we do that?

It is amazing to me how perfect Judaism is placed at this moment in time. Judaism helps us to understand that we need to seek prayer and spirituality not only in the synagogue but also anywhere that we can find it. We should not distance ourselves from the community, but rather join and connect. This will provide meaning during these difficult days. Another way of finding meaning is by helping, especially those vulnerable in our community. We must seek out opportunities to help. And perhaps most importantly, Judaism teaches us to be patient.

Judaism, Jewish tradition, is more relevant than ever. It teaches us not only to transform ourselves during difficult times. Judaism teaches us also to transform the life around us, just like the bean.

 

May each of us know a sweet, happy, and healthy new year. May it be God’s will. Amein.  

 

 

Tue, April 20 2021 8 Iyar 5781