The Voyage of Meaning

We are voyagers journeying across the spacetime continuum. The Universe in which we travel is expanding. Which means that the destination we are reaching for will eternally be beyond our reach. But we are enroute, in motion.

There are no signposts pointing the way, no pre-assigned pathway through the mysterious, unseeable landscape up ahead. There is no one looking out for us. There is no unseen hand guiding us, no puppeteer, no strings.

God is not some cosmic pilot. God is the force of life and consciousness. We receive inspiration from the Holy One. But God is not a beacon or a searchlight but rather the light within us. God accompanies us but does not clear the way. Every one of us on our own unique voyage is tasked with being a trailblazer, hacking away at the darkness.

Jews aren’t big on fortunetellers or soothsayers. We’re not convinced that tarot cards or crystal balls are anything more than a scam. It’d be a welcome relief to have some information about tomorrow, some inside track. But tomorrow is not accessible. God cannot tell us what happens next.

As we speed forward without any brakes, we can feel overwhelmed. How do we make sense of the finitude of life in an infinite Universe? How is it that the Universe literally just goes on and on and on… and we don’t? That all we have is just on loan? That we take nothing with us…? Is there any sense to be made of our lives? What does our voyage even mean?

Those questions, my beloved congregation, define why we are here. We gather to acknowledge shared traditions and history and culture. We gather and share matzah balls and shabbat chicken and challah.  We gather to make minyans to lift up the hearts of those in mourning. We create rituals and ceremonies. We share Jerusalem and St Petersberg and Odessa and Leghorn and Rabat. We share the birth of Israel and the Holocaust and the Inquisition and the Exodus.

We are Jews, a people with a deep and complicated past, flecked with strength and loss. Diaspora dwellers, outsiders, bound and determined to define our own lives as precious.

We build purpose, and hope. We make meaning with Jewish stories and values and menus and tools. Our raison d’etre is to provide stability and strength in times of darkness and anxiety. TBA isn’t a club or a community center or a school. It’s a crucible for making mensches, a place of justice and forgiveness and laughter. It’s home. It’s a collective beating heart.

When our educators show our youngest students how to make a spice box, they’re not seeking to indoctrinate them into a halachic practice, to learn ritual for ritual’s sake. It’s rather a mind-opening exercise of translating the scent of cinnamon and cloves into an appreciation of the earth and the gift of the senses. It’s about connecting them to a deep past and a comforting present. They are making meaning.  

On Friday mornings, the youngest kids spread out their challah covers on the floor in the foyer or on the blacktop outside in the Meisel tent. They arrange their kiddush cups and candleholders and participate in a Shabbat ritual. We sing, laugh, and hear from a talking challah. We break bread and we sing prayers of gratitude.

We signify life in those moments. We acknowledge that sacred moments exist. We make life holy. That’s what we do.

There’s been nothing slow or gradual about how the world has changed over the past few years. It’s been turbulent and often scary. The sheer enormity of Covid, and its ongoing hold on us, body and soul, is impossible to quantify. The rise of authoritarianism across the world and with it the rise in antisemitism and hate crimes casts a troubling shadow. The advance of climate change and the lack of alarm in the boardrooms where real change is possible is disheartening. The threat to women that they will lose the right of autonomy over their own bodies is unspeakable. The carnage in Uvalde, Texas, caused by a kid who walked into a gun store and legally bought ammunition and weapons whose sole purpose is to kill multiple victims, is almost too much to bear.

We need our temple now more than ever. We need our common heart to beat with humanity and compassion for each other and for the world. We need to establish a sukkat shalom, a shelter of peace.

We commiserate, and then we reach out for life. We make meaning. We don’t look down – we look ahead. We do so not in a naïve way, but instead in a resolute way. We don’t know – we can’t know – what is going to happen out there. But we can decide who we want to be. We don’t find meaning: we make meaning.

We cannot rely on what we were 15 years ago to define what we will become as an evolving congregation. The stakes are different. The challenges feel particularly daunting. We will dare to do things we’ve never done before. This congregation has never shied away from innovation.

We are voyagers journeying across the spacetime continuum. And this place, this community, this Jewish life, provides solace and support and shelter from the storm. Come and we will build meaning and community and hope.

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