Friday, June 20, 2008

Parashat Shlah Lekha 2008

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of our dear friend, Rabbi Aaron Alexander and his fiancé, Peninah Podwol. I also had the privilege of standing under the chuppah with Peninah’s father, also a rabbi, and mother, and participating in the ceremony. With friends and family beaming with joy, the couple made their way down the stairs of the outdoor patio at the American Jewish University just before the sun started its descent. If the spot where the Milken School sits were replaced with the Temple Mount, this could just as easily been the Maiersdorf Plaza at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

It is a rarity for me to co-officiate at a wedding and I usually only do so at the weddings of people that I know well. Under the chuppah, you are privy to the entire ritual, to the looks of the bride and groom, to have the opportunity to share thoughts, hopes, prayers, and advice at the very moment boyfriend and girlfriend, fiancée and affianced, become chattan and kallah – bride and groom. Since it was Sunday, I based my remarks on this week’s parashah, Shlah Lekha. Since I almost never write down my remarks at a wedding so I can spend the time looking directly into the eyes of the bride and groom, here is a summary, to the best of my recollection, of my words to Aaron and Peninah:

“You know that I like to think and speak in threes (chuckles from the Ramah Darom chevre present) and so I am going to focus on two words at the beginning of the parashah and then one paragraph at the end. Our parashah opens with the story of the m’raglim – the spies – that Moshe sends to check out the land of Israel. Aaron, we first met because while I thought I was on a recruitment mission to the University of Florida, I think your mother, Linda, had me sent on a spy mission to make sure that you were well. Peninah, when I met Aaron at the Swamp at UF, I knew immediately that he would be a fantastic madrich (counselor). I didn’t know that he would become a talmid (student), a chaver (a dear friend), a teacher, a confidant, and a brother.

Aaron, it is because of another word in the parashah that I know Peninah’s family. Moshe instructs the spies to go and check out the land. Do they live in wooded areas or barren lands? Do they reside in fortresses or in machanayim, which shares the same root as machaneh, which of course, as most of us know, means camp? In fact, fifteen years ago, one of my first recruitment trips for Camp Ramah in Wisconsin was to the South suburbs of Chicago, where I met Peninah’s father at the home of Sarah Graff. So in a sense, I know both of you because of the camps Ramah.

Peninah, Aaron, I want to turn to the end of our parashah because there is crucial advice for you as you begin your married life together. Here, we read the paragraph that tells us of the mitzvah of tzitzit, the command to place fringes on the corners of all four cornered garments. The purpose of tzitzit, we are taught, is to remind us, to remind us of the Commandments and to do them, to remember them, and to refrain from pursuing those things that draw our attention away from our fidelity to our covenanted relationship with God.

Today, Aaron and Peninah, you place rings on your fingers, wedding rings, which serve a similar purpose to tzitzit. They are the outward expression of an internal fidelity, a commitment to one another that you are more important, unique, kadosh, than any other human relationship in the world; that you make promises to one another, commitments. You will both be very successful in your careers. You will be pursued by others who want you to give just one more class, one more lecture, to attend just one more meeting for the good of the Jewish people. And because you are both so committed to the Avodat Kodesh – the Sacred Work – that you do, you too will want to give just one more class, one more lecture, touch one more set of lives. You will pursue those interests with gusto. These rings remind you that before you can be excellent servants of the community and the Kadosh Baruch Hu, you must be excellent partners to one another. Remember that whenever you look at the wedding rings on your fingers.

Aaron, Peninah, Rebecca and I wish you unlimited happiness in this ultimate relationship and look forward to decades of continued friendship. Mazal Tov!”

After reciting the Sheva Berachot, together with Matthew Alexander who has an incredible voice, the glass was broken, a cheer went up and the new husband and wife were escorted to a few minutes of privacy. When they emerged at the reception, the dancing went on for a very long time and it was wonderful to see so many people surrounding the chattan and kallah in joy and love.

Mazal Tov!

Shabbat Shalom!


To those coming to Israel on Ramah Israel Seminar, I look forward to seeing you very soon. If you are coming from Poland, I will see you at the Hava and not at the airport. If you are coming the day after on the regular Seminar, I will see you at the group area at Ben Gurion! I can’t wait to welcome you to מדינת ישראל !

Mazal Tov to our friend Marc Silberstein on his recent engagement!

Mazal Tov to our friend Anna Stern on her recent engagement!

Mazal Tov to Vicki and Jason on their pending move to Chattanooga, TN (which is about 3 hours closer to us in Atlanta)!

Yasher Koah to my colleagues at the Melton Senior Educator Program on the completion of the Program.

Starting on Motzei Shabbat, I will be posting journal entries from my recent trip to Poland and Hungary both to the google group and to my blog at . The blog site will include photos from the trip. Please note that this was an intense and difficult trip for me and the entries will communicate that very clearly.

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