Tools for Elul: Rabbi Aaron Bisno
In our historic pulpit, you have entrusted me with a sacred responsibility and I do not take my privilege lightly.
As the High Holy Days approach, this year especially, I am mindful of my role as a preacher.
My task is to present our People's case before the Heavenly Court, even as I come before the congregation to plead God's case before an all-too-human tribunal.
What's more, on the High Holy Days, I am aware that a rabbi's sermon must be timely, addressing the realities we share as citizens of this land and as denizens of this planet, while, at the same time, taking care not to stray across partisan or political lines, such that a reasonable neighbor with a different worldview would take offense.
In short, my task is to share a message based both in Torah wisdom and the lived experience of the Jewish People; a message that, will, I pray, both challenge and comfort us as we take our first steps into the Jewish New Year 5780.
It is with all this in mind that I approach the awesome challenge of addressing you.
In a departure from our practice of recent years, wherein my colleague Rabbi Sharyn Henry and I co-wrote and delivered the same sermon concurrently on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mornings, this year, we will address, respectively, on each morning, the imperative of Climate Change and the Impact/Import of the Attack at Tree of Life ... and we will, likewise, propose what these enormous challenges call upon us to do now.
And on Kol Nidre, in a way I have not in our previous 15 High Holy Days together, I shall share my sense about what is taking place within our country, what I believe these portents mean for the Jewish community and, most significantly, I will offer a "nechemta," an authentic, optimistic Jewish response for us to embrace as we enter the new year.
I appreciate fully the risks inherent in speaking boldly at a time of such "dis-ease" and distrust, such partisanship and paralysis, within our body politic.
However, I take no small amount of courage from the writings of Rabbi Israel Salanter, a 19th C. master of Musar (Applied Ethics) who taught: "A rabbi whose congregation never disagrees with a sermon is not really a rabbi. A rabbi who fears provoking the congregation is not worthy of the title."
As ever, I will speak sincerely. The words I will share will always come from my heart. These holy days demand as much and you deserve no less.
I shall speak as I do for three reasons: I believe the stakes are so high, doing so is worth the risk, I believe future generations will judge us on how we respond to the realities of our present day, and ...
If Not Now, When?!
Rabbi Aaron B. Bisno
Frances F. & David R. Levin Senior Rabbinic Pulpit