Sermon for Boy Scout Shabbat, March 24, 2017
We are so pleased to welcome the members of Troop 97 to our service tonight. Over the last many years, more than I have been alive, Troop 97 has become an integral part of Temple Oheb Shalom. We are grateful to its members and leaders who have given so much of themselves to our congregation. We are thankful for their many year round contributions to our synagogue life. I am especially pleased to congratulate Dr. Barry Cohan, a life-long scout and leader of Troop 97, who recently received the first Distinguished Alumnus Award from University of Maryland School of Dentistry. We are very proud of Barry and congratulate both him and Adele. Without your support, Adele, Barry would not have the time and ability to do all that he does for our community.
In my brief remarks tonight, I hope to give you some guidance as to what is really important in life. Since you are still in your formative years, you may want to think about what I will tell you and perhaps even take it to heart.
We live in turbulent times. Our values are being assaulted simultaneously from many directions. There are few role models in public life. To whom or what do we look for guidance on how to live? Of course, for us the answer is easy. We go to Torah, in this particular case, the writings of the Rabbis. In Pirke Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers (4:17), Rabbi Shimon teaches, “There are three crowns; the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. The crown of a good name is superior to them all.” Over 1,800 years ago, during Rabbi Shimon’s time, there were none more important than the Kohanim, the Temple priests descended from Aaron and the kings, those descended from King David, who would one day rule again over Israel. For the rabbis, the most important crown, here a metaphor for accomplishment, was to be a student of Torah, one who studied the accumulated wisdom of our Tradition. Yet none of these crowns, those of Torah, priesthood or royalty, equaled the importance of a Keter Shem Tov, the crown of a good name. Rabbi Shimon taught that maintaining a good reputation is crucial to being a successful and content human being. We should do everything in our power to burnish, rather than tarnish, our reputations. Nor should we harm the reputations of others by engaging in Lashon Hara, gossip. Since our reputation means everything, spreading false reports about a person, the rabbi’s tell us, is deserving of death. While they did not mean that literally, destroying another’s reputation through slander is a most egregious sin.
We are born to the priesthood by being descended from the Kohanim or the Leviim. We have no control over that. We are also born to kingship. We are either a descendant of David or we are not. There is no way of ascertaining if any of us are descended from Jewish royalty. While all of us should study Torah, not all of us will become scholars of Torah. Most of us do not have the ability or the inclination to sit and study Torah on a daily basis. We do, however, have some control over our reputations. Through what we say and what we do, we can either enhance or destroy our good names.
I offer you some succinct advice in how to better your reputations and make your good names shine brightly in the form of an easily remembered acrostic:
- T stands for tattoo. While I do not like tattoos and our Tradition advocates against them, I do not literally mean tattoo. This is a symbol for doing or saying something that you will later regret. There are so many people who get tattoos who later are sorry they did so and then spend lots of time and money trying to have them removed. There are some things we do and say which cannot be removed or retracted. Think very seriously before you speak and act.
- O stands of others. Let us be empathic to others and care about them. We can learn from everyone. Each of us is created in the image of God and has within us a spark of divinity. We cannot ignore the needs of other people.
- R stands for reading. We cannot read and learn enough. Read as much as we can from various sources. Know the viewpoint or prejudice of the author or website. Everyone has a bias so try to be aware of source’s prejudice. No one is ever bored if they have a book in their hands.
- A stands for attitude. Let us be positive and optimistic. No one likes to be around a grumpy people. Let us look at the world in a hopeful manner. Let us also grant good intentions to others. Few people are deliberately mean. Let us remember that everyone is fighting a private, internal, battle. Let us be sensitive to whomever we meet.
- H stands for humility. The rabbis tell us that we should have a piece of paper in each pocket. One says “The world was created for me.” The other reads, “I am but dust and ashes.” While we should have confidence and self-esteem, the rabbis tell us that God reveres those who are humble. But let us not wear our humility on our sleeves. As Golda Meir once said as she admonished an associate, “Don’t be so humble. You’re not that great!”
Since the letters of this acrostic spell TORAH it should be easy to remember. Let us not forget that the most important thing we have is a good name. We should strive to enhance our reputations and do nothing to detract from them. In this way, we will deserve to wear the Keter Shem Tov, the crown of a good name, the ultimate achievement for a human being.
Amen and Shabbat shalom.