Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons

פרשת עקב, תש״פ

Parshat Eikev, 5780

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, August 8th, 2020

Bringing Redemption Through Naming

You built or bought a home with the efforts of your own two hands. You studied for years to gain your wisdom and expertise. You raised a family, and now, your children and grandchildren live across the country, maybe even across the world. This week, through the words of Moshe, God wants you to remember - you did not achieve any of this alone.

As the people Israel find themselves right at the edge of their Promised Land, in Parashat Eikev, Moshe lets them know not to think to themselves: “It was my courage and the strength of my hands that built me this army” (D’varim 8:17). Or that “God has enabled us to possess this land because of our righteousness” (D’varim 9:4). Rather, God brings the people Israel into this land as a result of the merit of their ancestors and as a way for God to fulfill the covenant promised long ago. While righteousness, courage, and strength may be helpful, the people Israel must know that they have not gotten this far, this close to their land, on their own. Although we may not be as stiff-necked or stubborn as the Biblical Israelites, the Torah reminds us that none of us can achieve on our own.

Whatever you have built or grown or won, your ancestors, your family, your neighbors, and your teachers have been a part of that growth. And just as Avraham, Yitzhak, Ya’akov, Sarah, Rivrakh, Rachel, Leah, and of course, God deserve praise throughout our liturgy for establishing the foundation for our Torah and our Judaism, those who have been a part of our more modern development deserve their own recognition, too.

Pirkei Avot gives us one practical way to openly recognize those who have influenced our lives:

כל האומר דבר בשם אומרו מביא גאולה לעולם.

“Everyone who says something in the name of the one who [first] said it brings redemption to the world” (Pirkei Avot 6:6). Whenever we share wisdom that another has taught us, we must mention the name of our teacher. “My mother would always say…” “I read in an article by Ezra Klein...” “I learned from my mentor Rabbi Scott Meltzer...” By attributing knowledge and ideas to people we know and love, we allow others to discover those individuals’ values. When we say their names, we may even prompt others to reach out to or read more about those individuals.

And sharing our mentors’ names benefits us, personally, as well. Through naming our sources, we give a clear basis to our thoughts; we show that we are not the only person who believes or knows this bit of wisdom. And more importantly, attributing our ideas to someone else helps us to practice gratitude. Even if we worked hard to get to this point, there were others who worked at least as hard just to get us to our starting line.

Our Shabbat service, in itself, is an act of such gratitude. Throughout our liturgy, we thank God for getting us out of Egypt, for bringing us Torah, and for promoting peace in our world. Tomorrow morning, God willing, we will distribute honors to people individually, by name, thanking them for making a minyan for our Torah service. Let us use our experience with Shabbat prayer to practice integrating more attribution, more clear-cut gratitude into our stories, advice, and ideas, throughout the week. Ultimately, in the words of the Rabbis of Pirkei Avot, let us bring redemption to the world by gracing others with the knowledge of those who brought us to where we are now.