Centennial Shabbat Kabbalat Shabbat

 Rabbi Philip Weintraub

Congregation B’nai Israel

March 24, 2023

Kabbalat Shabbat Gala

For the last couple years, I have taught a mishnah from Pirkei Avot each Friday night.  As I have entered the last chapter, and as we celebrate our 100th anniversary, I want to return to one that I keep close to my heart.

Pirkei Avot 4:1

Ben Zoma said:Who is wise? He who learns from every man, as it is said: “From all who taught me have I gained understanding” (Psalms 119:99). 

Who is mighty? He who subdues his [evil] inclination, as it is said: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). 

Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot, as it is said: “You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors, you shall be happy and you shall prosper” (Psalms 128:2) “You shall be happy” in this world, “and you shall prosper” in the world to come. 

Who is he that is honored? He who honors his fellow human beings as it is said: “For I honor those that honor Me, but those who spurn Me shall be dishonored” (I Samuel 2:30).

בֶּן זוֹמָא אוֹמֵר, אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם, הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם,

אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר, הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ,

אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר, הַשָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ, 

 אֵיזֶהוּ מְכֻבָּד, הַמְכַבֵּד אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, 

Here at CBI, these values strengthen me.  Remembering to see the potential in all people; remembering to make good choices; remembering to be grateful for what we have; and perhaps,  most importantly showing respect to all are vital lessons.  Each of them could keep us occupied for a lifetime.  The easy path is not always the right one.  Our American society loves to keep up with the Joneses, or the Cohens.  It is so easy to desire new things, yet our tradition reminds us to focus on one another.  Over and over in Jewish literature we are taught to care for one another, to support one another, to respect one another.  We need those reminders because those values are HARD to live up to.

It’s EASY to want new things all the time.  It’s easy to ignore the contributions of others.  It’s EASY to ignore the person who helps you in the check out line or assume that someone who is less successful is less intelligent or has less to offer.  Our tradition reminds us to think about our implicit biases, what seems innate but need not be.   Instead, it demands that we look at our own choices and lift them up, to help us make better choices.  It is not always EASY, but it is meaningful.

Here at CBI, we have spent 100 years sharing the lessons of our tradition.  We have gathered to pray, to study, and to grow.  We have challenged ourselves to improve our characters, to live meaningful lives, to make meaningful contributions to our society.  We have worked to change the world, one little moment and place at a time.  In this way, we have seen that we are so wise, so mighty, so rich and so honored!