This morning we heard a wonderful drash from Rabbi Nosanchuk, and we wanted to share it.
There is a story told of long ago that a bird—a magnificent bird, the most beautiful bird in the world—which flew into a kingdom. The king immediately took notice of the bird- for its feathers were radiant and it flew swiftly and with great majesty. The king realized that although he owned many riches and could travel to nearly any place in the world, he did not have a beautiful bird such as the one that had just flown into his kingdom.
He saw that the bird had perched itself carefully atop a very high tree, and hoped that if he could somehow capture this bird then he would be part of the most beautiful thing in the world. Then he stood atop his royal ladder and reached but couldn’t quite get to the bird. So he ordered the people of his kingdom to capture the bird for him.
First, the kingdom’s finest scientists came together and they created a device that would imitate the sounds of fellow birds encouraging the beautiful and radiant new bird to come down from the tree. They tried, but the device did not work.
Then the king’s magicians created a spell to make the bird come down into the king’s cage so he could have the bird as his own. But their spell did not work. The bird stayed perched atop the highest tree in the kingdom.
So the people came together and started to think, “If we were to form a human pyramid, the biggest of us on the bottom on all fours, the next people on their backs and shoulders, and another level of people and so on until we can reach the top of that tree, then we can capture the bird and please the king.”
So that is what they did, every single person in the kingdom. Then the youngest, smallest child of all the people climbed on the backs of all the people, she climbed shoulder after shoulder upon the members of her community and finally got up to the top of the human ladder, held up by the strength of her people and then, she went to reach for the bird and…that’s where the story ends.
Surely the story has an ending, but I wonder if on this final G.U.C.I. Shabbat of Summer 2011, this moment of endings and beginnings all at the same time, you might come up with the ending. How does it, how should it, how could this story end? Take a moment with your friends nearby your seat and offer to each other ideas about this story and how it might end!
There are so many possibilities. It’s possible that the girl captured the bird and brought it back to the king. It’s possible that the bird flew away, unattainable to any king. It’s also possible that the girl fell and that the bird swooped down to catch her so that she would be safe.
One rabbi, Karyn Kedar, suggests that this traditional story really does end there, with a little girl’s outstretched arm and that the girl stays precisely in that moment, suspended forever in awe, wonder and amazement at the beauty and holiness that she witnessed.
If that is true, then what if the bird were in fact the feeling we are experiencing right now- this Shabbat- and in the many moments of presence that have preceded this one, the ones that built up the strength and unity we’ve shared at G.U.C.I.
You should only see yourself right now. For you as a community, together unified as friends and as part of the Jewish people, G.U.C.I.- just the sight of you today is absolutely breathtaking. For I am looking at a community who would gladly offer their backs, their shoulders and every possible energy within just to be sure that any of us could reach the top of the highest tree or the highest tower!
It is as beautiful to see and beautiful to feel. But lest we forget the story, holding onto that feeling from moment to moment is as elusive a task to us as is capturing the most beautiful bird in the world as though it were something we could possess. For sometimes that feeling of unity and support we’ve had at camp is something that we are able to hold on to and savor. But more often than not, it evades us, or lies just beyond our reach. But at those times, we are reminded to think of the memories we’ve made in this community, the growth and independence that has taken place inside of us and the pride we now take in making honest offerings of Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim. At those moments, we might just stop in our tracks, and aspire to the feeling a child has when reaching for something beautiful.
Friends, as we prepare to go home, let us maintain the courage to keep on reaching… with our thoughts, with our deeds, and with the words we say and the meditations in our hearts. For that is a key message of this Shabbat’s Torah portion- the power of words. Torah tells us in Devarim that words matter. It matters what we say. We create opportunities to invite people near or turn them away through our words, through opportunities we take to speak truth to power and to speak with honor and dignity to those who are powerless.
The Torah shares with us in our portion this week, that as difficult as it was to explain what he had been through, ho’eel Moshe be’er et ha-Torah ha-zot, Moses nevertheless began to speak. He told aloud just how it felt, just how he remembered it, just how he experienced the truth of his life’s journey and that of the Israelite community.
And because he began to speak of it, because he used his words powerfully and honestly, his best thoughts and words were still yet to come. Yes friends- had Moses not spoke of his experience, had he stayed silent, he might have never said Shema Yisrael, listen up Israel, and declared a unity in all life and existence. Had Moses not been willing to apply the lessons he’d learned, he’d have never had the confidence to say to his people: Atem Nitzavim, you are all standing here today with one purpose: to choose life, to choose blessing and never stop choosing.
G.U.C.I., the summer of 2011 is like the story of Moses and his people, because it is difficult to put into words and yet we must. We must go home and tell our stories and share our lessons, and honest offerings, and let our friends know what we’ve found here.
And this summer is also very much like the story of the king who sought to own a precious and swift bird and the girl who reached out for its beauty. For the Shabbat experiences we’ve shared here, the moments of rest and reprieve from the busy activity, the simple moments we’ve shared of laughing and sharing ideas and stories, lessons and good humor, in these moments we’ve reached our arms as high as they can reach, and because of the tremendous spirit we’ve created here, our story never has to end.
Why? Why is that possible? Because we’ve held on to this day as precious because it is:
- a special and memorable Shabbat,
- a day filled with kedushah, thousands of possibilities for holiness.
- And a day among a summer of memories at GUCI, a place we will never ever leave because it will never ever leave us.
Keyn Y’hi Ratzon. So may it be, Shabbat Shalom.
–Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple – Beachwood, Ohio