Annual Assembly Closing Prayer
This is the closing prayer Rabbi Morris J. Allen, Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Jacob Congregation, offered at the 2019 Annual Assembly.
Our God and God of our descendants. אלוהינו ואלוהי צאצאינו It is a jarring way to begin a benediction. For almost always as we begin to close an evening of faithful discourse, we invoke the merit of those who came before us as we seek God’s intercession on our behalf—the God and God of our ancestors. אלהינו ואלוהי אבותינו But we find ourselves in a moment when change swirls all around us and the fear of the future is that those who will come after us will not ever fully know from where they came. But like any faithful reader of a tradition, this moment of doubt is not unique-but rather mimics a moment of equally profound transition. And here I think of a famous text captured inside the Talmud in the following manner where two ancient rabbis were discussing the fear that Torah would be lost in the forthcoming generations. One, a rabbi named Hanina, argued that the future could only be secured through serious study and deep analysis-and that the future generations would be those who sought that path out. His colleague, R. Hiyyah argued differently: Using a poetic image, he said the following: Torah will not be forgotten, for I will plant flax and then I will weave the fibers. That weaving will provide a net from which I will trap deer and I will feed that food to orphans and I will use the skins to form our sacred scrolls. And I will go to a town that has no teachers of children in it, and I will write the five books of the Torah for five children.And I will teach the six orders of the Mishna to six children..And to each and every one of these children, I say teach what you have learned to your friends”. (Ketubot 103b)
We close tonight with wondering what it is that will secure the future of the faithful folks who have gathered this evening. We end tonight with a analysis of the future that disrupts in some measure the assumptions of the past. We call out not to the merit of our ancestors but to worrying about opportunities for our progeny. But we are not the first to have done so. Rabbi Hiyya reminds us that the religious task begins with a single seed that is planted if it contains a vision that is nurtured. He teaches that it is never enough to merely teach the words of the scroll or the texts which are produced—but absent a serious concern for the marginal in society—in his case exemplified by the image of feeding the starving orphan-only after society at its most vulnerable has been addressed and comforted and treated with the dignity that inheres in each of us as human beings-can we even begin to think of a particularistic religious act-such as teaching our tradition. And Hiyya reminds us of one other thing—that those we teach we must empower to become the teachers of their peers. We must trust that what we have transmitted will indeed be heard in such a fashion that it will, albeit in a different voice, be transmitted to those we will never see. Tonight, in words and pictures, in articulate arguments and devoted discourse, we have wondered aloud about the existential question forever asked—will those tomorrow still love YOU. So God and God of our descendants, by turning to the texts that our ancestors have left us, we seek Your comfort and Your reassurance that what we have inherited, we will indeed be passing forward—we will indeed pass it on because as people of faith we have cared for the marginal, as people of faith we have continued to write and share our tradition, as people of faith we are willing to take that leap of faith and empower those we have taught to then become the teachers themselves. These words first taught by Rabbi Hiyya, whose very name means life, captures what each person has always had to come to understand—we mortals will pass from this earth-but if we do our work, if we live with a vision at our core, we WILL leave it even more secured for the eternity of God’s presence. May the God our ancestors and who is the God of our descendants rest assured that we in the present will continue to-live until we die with a vision of Eternity that captures the essence of Hiyya teaching with life’s teaching. We will do our sacred work and we will trust that our doubts will not be realized. Amen