May the Force Be With You: A Jewish View

This is a very special Shabbat – ‘Shabbat Star Wars.’ I’m sure that everyone is aware that the new Star Wars movie opened last night. So I  thought that this evening would be a good time to spend a few moments sharing some thoughts on the many things the movies can teach us and the themes they share with our ancient Jewish texts.

r2d2This sermon — which takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away — can be found here. (And you can find all my sermons by clicking “On the Bima” in the menu.)

The Blessing of Friendship

I had the pleasure of bringing my four-year old nephew Xavi to pre-school on a Monday morning when I was visiting two weeks ago.

My four-year old nephew, Xavi and his friend at their pre-school.
My four-year old nephew, Xavi and his friend at their pre-school.

As we entered his classroom, one of his friends was so excited to see him after the weekend, she ran up to him, threw her arms around his neck and gave him a huge hug. “Xavi! I missed you!” she exclaimed. With her arm wrapped around his waist, she peppered him with questions: “Do you like my headband? Do you like my pretty dress? Do you like my shoes?” And she wouldn’t let go.

Xavi, the good friend that he is, answered each question in the affirmative. He added that she looked very pretty. And they ran off to play.

I loved watching their excitement and enthusiasm at seeing each other after a weekend of being apart. Even at very young ages, we are able to develop deep and meaningful friendships.

I remember when one of my friends was moving from Toronto to Los Angeles with his young family for a new job. His three year old daughter was terribly sad at leaving all her friends. She informed her parents: “You will need to make me a going away party so that I can say ‘good-by’ to my friends. This move is going to be very difficult for me – I can’t imagine living so far away from my friends!'”

I am reflecting on all of this now as I too, am in the process of packing my home and office to move half-way across the country to begin a new position. My friends here in Highland Park are sad to see me leave. I am trying to assure them that I keep my friends for life, that they will always be with me, no matter where I go.

I love to collect things: artwork, books, Judaica, culinary items. My “things” help to make my house feel like a “home” no matter where I’m living.

However, like many of us, the older I get, I realize my most treasured “collection” can’t be boxed up or put on display. My most treasured collection is the friendships I’ve developed over the course of my life.

I have friends ranging in age from their teens’s to their 90’s. I have friends who have been with me from childhood and friends who I met just recently. My friends come from all walks of life, live in many different countries and cross the political-religious-race spectrums.

True friends are not the people we necessarily meet on Facebook (although deep and meaningful friendships have been known to begin that way) or online. But true friendship is defined by those people who are there for us through “thick and thin.” They are present for us in times of rejoicing, in times of grief and in the every day ordinary moments as well.

The rabbis of old tell a story about a man named Ivan, who asks his friend: “Tell me my friend, do you know what gives me pain?” His friend replies, “How can I know what gives you pain?!” Ivan replies: “True friends know what pains us. They know what gives us pleasure. They know when to say a kind word and when to keep silent in our presence.” His friend then learned what he needed to do in order to become a better friend.

Many of my friends live far away: Toronto, Hawaii, Israel. Some of them will always pick up the phone and call to check in. We know that email or a text message or Facebook can’t replace the sound of hearing someone’s voice. They will come and spend time with me in person for both joyful occasions, ordinary moments and difficult times. And I try to be there for them as well. To have friends, one must be a friend. I am not always a perfect friend, I am not always as good at staying “in touch” as I would like, but I do try my best.

Our Jewish tradition teaches us (Avot d’Rabbi Natan 8) that we should “Acquire yourself a friend.” What is the meaning of this text? The commentators say that this text teaches us that we should acquire a friend with whom to eat and drink, read and study, sleep and share secrets of Torah and personal secrets.

In the beginning of the Torah, as part of the creation story, God says: “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a fitting help-mate for him.” God then creates Eve. People are meant to live in relationships: with partners, with friends, with community.

As a Jewish community, this notion is reinforced by the fact that we need a minyan – a quorum of 10 people – in order to recite certain prayers. As a people, we believe that it is important to live in community, surrounded by others. As Jews, we do not live in isolation. We cannot celebrate the passage of time or the cycle of life alone. The power of friendships and the power of community can be uplifting indeed.

So as I prepare for the next phase of the journey of my professional career, I feel incredibly blessed and strengthened by the incredible friendships that have sustained and nurtured me throughout my life. These friendships are my most precious gift, my most precious “treasured possession” which I carry in my heart always.

Some of my friends and me
Some of my friends and me