Thursday, November 3, 2011

We Did it Right! Shabbat Noach & the Dedication of our Outdoor Chapel In the Woods

God may very well be smiling today!

I don’t use anthropomorphic language to imagine God very often. I’m too much of a rationalist, and I doubt too much. But indeed, if this week’s Torah portion parashat Noah is meant as lesson – a guide- for how the human race is supposed to build and sustain our world, then we at Temple Emanuel got it right. We got it right with the building of our outdoor sacred space, a sacred space we dedicate this morning in honor of Nathan Lawless and his parents, who brought us together in this wonderful project, and in memory of Joseph K. Rosenblatt, Jr. whose family has ensured that this space will be maintained in a beautiful and accessible fashion well into the future.

Too often we read parashat Noach with children’s eyes; it’s easier that way. The animals gently herded into the ark by Noah becomes a charming story of seemingly patient salvation as opposed to the devastating narrative it was meant to be. Excuse my blunt language, but the essence of the story can be summarized succinctly, and in a manner I believe Joe would have appreciated: we screwed up, God is pissed, and God’s starting over! We know the destructive power of endless and constant rain. I can’t imagine this story was ever intended to be as cute as we’ve made it out to me.

The stories that follow the flood narrative, the first we hear of the generations that follow Noah, indicate that destructive punishment doesn’t lead to learning or positive change. Take the Babel story, a story that has become a charming midrash for the myriad of human languages that exist in our world.  It is a story that on the surface reads as a productive and communal building project, כל הארץ שפה אחד the entire nation was speaking the same language; they were on the same page. Unfortunately, the page they were on was the wrong one. Their singular, and thoroughly misguided passion, according to Rabbinic tradition, was building something tall and grand, a skyscraper, that would in the Torah’s words, נעשה [להם] שם, establish for them a name. The failure of this early building project? It was celebrated for its grandeur and its size, not for what it could provide for the community.

God is smiling today. We got it right with the building of our outdoor chapel!

The seeds of this project were planted many years ago by AJ Benjamin. These early plans were put aside for various reasons, but when Nathan expressed interest in furthering this project, those plans were generously shared by the Benjamins so that he could build upon their early vision and work. Nathan, with some gentle assistance of his parents, motivated our entire congregation to build and create this chapel for our congregational community; and in doing so, he earned the well deserved rank of Eagle Scout. Yasher Ko-ach to him! Though the project and effort involved was certainly grand -- it was a tall order: it involved all of us participating: from the challenges of fund raising and physical planning (not so easy on our grounds) to the last layer of mulch being spread across the chapel floor; yet, the goal of the building project was never about size or establishing “a name” for those involved, it was all about working together in order to provide a sacred gathering space for learning and worship.

Nathan’s work did more than to inspire the creation of the chapel. His efforts inspired Doris and her family to continue the work of creating and building upon this space into the future. Working with TESCA and the Lawless family, Doris has ensured that we can continue Nathan’s efforts; and in doing so, has reminded us all of Joe’s legacy. An life-long participant and leader within the Boy Scouts of America, Joe would be proud to be remembered and honored by the continuation of such a grand and special project.

Yup – God is smiling today, despite the rain and snow (maybe God is simply overcome with emotion …how’s that for anthropomorphic imagery), we got it right! In appreciation of their efforts, we invite Nathan and his parents and Doris and her children up for the aliyot to Torah.  And, though we formally dedicate the chapel this morning, we look forward to following up in the spring when the weather will allow us to carry out the Torah for study and worship in this wonderful outdoor space!