Sermon for Boy Scout Shabbat
March 23, 2018
We could not be more pleased to welcome the members of Troop 97 to our annual Scout Shabbat. This is actually the hundredth anniversary of Temple Oheb Shalom’s sponsorship of a Boy Scout troop. Troop 122 was originally organized in 1918 and met at the Eutaw Place Temple for thirty years. Due to World War II, it was disbanded in 1947 and then rechartered in 1948. During that year, troop number 122 was assigned elsewhere, so the rechartered troop became known as Troop 97. So this is the seventieth anniversary of Oheb Shalom’s sponsorship of Troop 97. We have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship. Troop 97 is part and parcel of Oheb Shalom and we are so proud of the work you do on behalf of our congregation and the Jewish community. For the last several years, we have also sponsored Cub Scout Pack 435. We hope that many of its members will matriculate into Troop 97, adding to your strength.
We live in tumultuous times, perhaps the most trying and divisive period since the late 1960’s – early 1970s. The challenges you face as young men growing up today are unprecedented. We thought we had a tough time when we were your age but in retrospect, we had it easy. We only lived through a spate of high level assassinations, riots, the Vietnam War and the demise of the Nixon administration. Today, you are faced with school shootings, an opioid epidemic, an entire cyber universe with its many trials, and an administration in Washington which, to put it mildly, does not serve as a moral exemplar. We live in a chaotic world. Little is stable. The stock market is rapidly fluctuating, there is a looming trade war with China, there is fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, neo-Nazis and white racists of all kinds have killed more people in this country than have any foreign terrorists since 2001, and you are not safe when you go to school. Congress is resisting any kind of restrictions on gun ownership. What can we do when it seems there is chaos all around us?
The answer is very simple- we do our best to create an ordered and secure environment around us, in the areas of our lives that we can control. We turn to those whom we trust for moral guidance and turn to our religious tradition for support and security. Allow me to explain.
In our Torah portion for this week, Tzav, the second parashah in the Book of Leviticus, God gives Moses instructions to the Levites regarding the five kinds of sacrifices that were offered in the Mishkan, the sanctuary in the Wilderness. Just a year before, God freed the slaves from Egypt. Moses had to establish an ordered society out of chaos. Freedom from slavery could easily have turned to anarchy. Instead of a holy community living in covenantal relationship with God, the Jewish people could have devolved into an unruly mob. God helped Moses create a community who, instead of serving Pharaoh, now served God. They did this in a systematic way, offering sacrifices daily at which the Levites officiated and having a judiciary adjudicate disputes among them. They established order and morality within the environment they could control. Moses created order out of chaos.
Moses and the priests also set a moral example for the people. The rabbis tell us that Moses was the most humble of men. When God told him to begin the book of Leviticus with the word “Vayikra,” spelled vav-yud-kuf-resh-alef, Moses, realizing that the word for “I” “ani” also began with alef, wrote a diminutive alef at the end of the first word, emphasizing his humility. In Leviticus, chapter six, we read that the priests were responsible for gathering the ashes from the altar left from the sacrifices and taking them outside the camp. The priests were not allowed to delegate this seemingly menial task to others. They had to remove the ashes themselves, reminding them that they, too, needed to be humble in the service of God.
Allow me to share with you an important moment in my life, one that ultimately led to my becoming a rabbi. It was the spring of 1970, a very long time ago. College students were in open revolt against the War in Vietnam, closing campuses all over the country. The senior who led our campus movement was inspirational. He was an excellent speaker who spoke about the importance of moral values and creating a new society based upon those values. Then, a week before the end of term, we noticed that he cut his hair and abandoned his jeans and flannel shirt for a three piece suit. He was interviewing for a job in a large corporation. His sellout to the “Establishment” crushed us. It caused me, in particular, to search for a source of values that did not change depending on circumstances, that was based in something greater than expediency. It caused me to re-examine my faith, to turn to God and Judaism in a serious manner to find the Eternal values upon which an ordered life and society should stand. Just as the Jewish people found God when confronted with chaos after leaving Egypt, so did I find God when confronted with moral confusion.
So, my young friends, I urge you to do the same. I encourage you to more seriously study our Tradition, to find guidance in our holy texts, and to find moral order in the observance of Judaism. I urge you, as Jewish scouts, to find moral direction from your rabbis, your scout leaders, and especially from God, as you find meaning and security within our ancient, yet quite contemporary, religious tradition.
Amen and Shabbat shalom