Sermon: Rededication of the Tree of Life

Dedication of Tree of Life
March 7, 2014
Temple B’nai Chaim
Rabbi David Lipper

So I want to begin this evening with a story. It’s a story about treasure and discovery. This is an old Hassidic story told first by Rebbe Nachman. Listen carefully.

There was once a poor, G-d fearing Jew who lived in the city of Prague. One night he dreamt that he should journey to Vienna. There, at the base of a bridge leading to the King’s palace, he would find a buried treasure.

Night after night the dream recurred until, leaving his family behind, he traveled to Vienna to claim his fortune. The bridge, however, was heavily guarded. The watchful eyes of the King’s soldiers afforded little opportunity to retrieve the treasure. Every day the poor Jew spent hours pacing back and forth across the bridge waiting for his chance.

After two weeks time one of the guards grabbed him by the lapels of his coat and demanded gruffly, “Jew! What are you plotting? Why do you keep returning to this place day after, day?” Frustrated and anxious, he blurted out the story of his dream. When he finished, the soldier, who had been containing his mirth, broke into uncontrollable laughter.

The poor Jew looked on in astonishment, not knowing what to make of the man’s attitude. Finally, the King’s guard caught his breath. He stopped laughing long enough to say, “What a foolish Jew you are believing in dreams. Why, if I let my life be guided by visions, I would be well on my way to the city of Prague. For just last night I dreamt that a poor Jew in that city has, buried in his cellar, a treasure which awaits discovery.”

The poor Jew returned home. He dug in his cellar and found the fortune. Upon reflection he thought, the treasure was always in my possession.

Tonight is about recognizing the treasure that is here. Its not found in the bricks and mortar, steel and glass that make up this sacred place …. It is found in the names on the wall, the ones that live in our hearts, the simchas and celebrations we have had, the moments marked and the sacred and foundational memories formed.

Moving the tree to its new location has transformed B’nai Chaim. It is a gathering place, a focal point for anyone arriving to the Temple. You see it as you approach and it’s where I find most members, reading the leaves and now the stones below. For many years it was hidden away in the old sanctuary and now it appears as a beacon breathing new life into our newly consecrated sacred space.

These things do not happen casually. They are intentional decisions made by committed lay leaders who see the value in the place and space and chose to follow a value we call “Hiddur Mitzvah” – beautifying the mitzvah. The giving to these moments was never about the plaque on the wall. This much I have learned about B’nai Chaim. It was always about the vision of supporting a place that is the foundational home of so many memories for so many people.

And now, or at least in a few minutes, we will move to the lobby and gaze upon the past, present and future of our congregational home. This is the essence of sacred living and since I have been here at B’nai Chaim, this is the core of your congregational vision.   Creating memories, celebrating moments and marking sacred transitions, that is what the Tree of Life represents.

In the bright sunlight, this tree burns like the bush on that sacred mountain, calling Moses to holy ground. At night, as you approach, the lights above bounce off the leaves creating a kaleidoscope of color, much light the many diverse families who call this home.   And now, this tree marks the transition point, the final step, in the movement into our sacred space. For we close the activity (except the continued collection) surrounding the “Kulanu” project. As Martin Sheen said repeatedly to Kathryn Joosten, in the show, The West Wing, “What’s next Mrs. Landingham, What’s next”?

And so you begin the next stage of your path as a community of faith; new Rabbinic leadership, new vision, new opportunities, greater engagements and more possibilities for sacred living. It is such a pleasure to have Rabbi Cohen join us for this evening.   She was so integral to the success of the Kulanu campaign and her efforts as the spiritual leader of B’nai Chaim for 13 years helped this community grow and thrive. This moment would seem incomplete with you here.  

Back to Reb Nachman’s story. Sometimes we travel the world, charging at windmills in search of sacred meaning in our lives. We think that what we are seeking lays at some high place far away. We spend years wandering through the wilderness in hopes of a Sinai moment, a sign or portent we are on the right path. And it eludes us. But like the story, we come home. We find the treasure under our bridge … it’s in our own backyard. In this home of our creation burns a light ever brighter, a bush, a tree, lit by the light of our many generations calling us home, to each other and to God. Mazel tov to us.  

May this tree of life be your guide and may its leaves become filled with life and love and hope for a future filled with faith.

Shabbat Shalom