Rabbi Shohama Wiener
Our Temple is known as Temple Beth-El, a reference to the original “Beth El” — a Biblical place that Jacob named when God’s presence appeared to him after he laid a rock underneath his head to sleep. In that place, God’s presence appeared and nourished Jacob, transforming him with the famous vision of an angelic ladder rising to heaven. From that place, Jacob was nourished and changed forever.
The story, and the name, remind us that nourishment can come even from stones. Anywhere can be the House of God if we allow it.
Let me share one of my favorite stories, one of the few that I remember from childhood. Maybe it’s a story you remember from childhood, too.
There was a village in the Pale of Russia, where many of our grandfathers and grandmothers came from. It was a poor village, where people barely had enough to eat. One day a stranger named Motel arrived in the village, hungry but not wanting to beg for food.
It was the kind of village where everyone gathered in the town square. And so Motel said, “Dear villagers, I would like to prepare for you the tastiest meal you have ever eaten. It is called stone soup.”
“Ah,” said the villagers.
“Does anyone have a big pot?” asked Motel.
“I do,” said one.
“And does anyone have a large stone?” asked Motel. “The stone gives the soup its flavor.”
“Here’s a stone,” said a villager.
“Splendid,” said Motel. “Now, an onion would be very good.”
“I’ll get an onion,” said another villager.
“Now of course we need some water,” said Motel.
“Here’s our well,” said yet another.
And so it went. Motel asked for a carrot, a potato, a beet, some salt, and of course, some garlic. Pretty soon, he had made, with the help of so many villagers, the best soup they had every tasted!
You see, it’s about the power of community. What one of us cannot do alone, all of us together can accomplish. Here at Temple Beth-El of City Island, Your Shul by the Sea, we have that possibility. Not to make soup, exactly, but to be nourished — to make friendships, to build a spiritual family of people who care for one another, to receive and give forgiveness, to celebrate the happy times and the sad. The “rock” is the foundation we lay together. “Beth El” — the House of God, this House of God — is what we make it together when we come together in community, holiness and joy.
May this be our future in the coming year. And with this thought, may we all be sealed for all that is good and nourishing. Gmar chatimah tovah.