Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons

פרשת וירא, תשפ״א

Parshat Vayeira, 5781

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, November 7th, 2020

Every Vote (Every Person) Counts

If we were to only learn one thing from this election, our lesson should be that every single person counts. The difference between votes for Biden and Trump in Georgia is currently under 2000, in a state with a population of 10.6 million. The last time I checked, five out of the six states left to be called have less than a two percent difference between votes for our two main Presidential candidates. If you have ever doubted whether your vote could make a difference, any trace of skepticism should end now. Just a few votes make all the difference.

Abraham, the hero and antihero of Parashat Vayera, reminds God of the importance of counting every single human being. As God is about to destroy the twin cities of Sdom and Amorah, Sodom and Gemorah, Abraham pleads for him to save the city for the sake of 50, no 45, no 40, 30, 20, and finally, 10 righteous individuals. God agrees that all Abraham needs is 10 decent human beings to save the twin cities. But as so many of us know, those ten tzadikim don’t show up. When God’s messengers arrive at Lot’s home in Sdom, citizens of all ages - מנער ועד זקן - show up to break down Lot’s door and assault the newcomers.

If we assume that Lot, his wife, and his two daughters are among the righteous (which, considering some of the other events of our story, may be hard to assume), we would really only need six other townspeople to prevent the destruction of the city. Every year that I read this story, I cannot help but think - what if just six people had stayed home from that rampage, or more idealistically, what if just six people had stood at Lot’s door to help protect him, his family, and their visitors from the rest of the crowd? But no - instead, those six people stand in the crowd and tell themselves, there’s no way that just one protestor, just one defector can make any sort of difference.

At Agudath Achim, we know the challenge of reaching for just ten, for just that minyan. How many times in the past couple of months have we sat or stood in the sanctuary waiting for that 8th, 9th, or hopefully 10th person to walk into the room? According to 12th century Spanish commentator Ibn Ezra, the ten potential righteous individuals in our parashah are the framework for our ten members of a minyan. Each prayer service, we hold out hope that we can gather those ten to learn, to pray, and to demonstrate to God that we are capable of righteousness. We know the pain of each individual absent voice. And we know the supreme joy of the return of one more voice we’ve missed since last week, last month, or even last year.

If we were not in a pandemic, this would be the “make a minyan, or else” sermon, but I know that not everyone can or should physically come to synagogue at this moment in time. Just as every person makes a difference in the voting booth and the sanctuary, every person’s choice to stay home when she or her family is high risk, or when she or her family is feeling ill, is crucial to keeping our community safe. But I will say that your presence online, whether in these services or in our Zoom classes and meetings makes all the difference. Each and every person who sends an email to let me know about something she noticed or learned during services, each and every person whose general location shows up when I check the streaming statistics each week, and each and every person who logs into a Zoom class or meeting helps this community to thrive, to come even closer to that ten, twenty, thirty, forty, forty-five, fifty, or truly, so many more individuals who make this place worth sustaining.

If you are able and if it is safe to do so, come make a minyan - in this small community, we truly feel the presence of every single person who walks into this room. Every individual voice affects the character of our prayer and even the character of the words I bring to the bimah. And you’re not able to be here, please know that your presence counts, in whatever form that presence takes. At Agudath Achim and beyond, know that every one of your actions - yes, even the actions of just one person - can change a community, or even an entire nation. As stressful or frustrating as the next few hours or days or weeks may be, as imperfect as the process may be, let us revel in the value that led to this strange standstill - the value that the vote, the action of every single citizen (and truly, every single human being) counts. Shabbat Shalom.