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Being the New Kid on the Block Sermon

Sermon by Rabbi Aron

Friday, November 14, 2014

In 2012 the Los Angeles Zoo attempted to introduce a young chimpanzee into a longstanding community of chimps. Though it was introduced gradually, the unfortunate baby chimp was attacked by an older male and did not survive.

A similar event, a beating of a chimp that was introduced into a chimp sanctuary,  was part of a novel I read recently: We are all Completely Besides Ourselves.  In the novel, the author, Karen Fowler, who may be more familiar to you from the Jane Austen Book Club, urges us to think more about our relationship with other primates.

If we do share some common social behaviors with other primates- then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when if we feel a bit nervous when we are the new kid on the block. Existing groups don’t always embrace newcomers-we may not get beaten up, but it may still be rough going for a bit.

I don’t think this is so much the case in California, but I remember in New England that you could live in a community for most of a lifetime and still be viewed as something of a newcomer and interloper.

Perhaps this is why the Bible makes such a big deal about being welcoming. Last week our Torah portion introduced Abraham as the master of hospitality, someone who put welcoming three strangers passing by his tent above having a little chat with God. Later in the Torah portion, we saw the flip side of this behavior. When the angels arrived in Sodom, only Abraham’s nephew welcomed them and offered them hospitality. The people of the town surrounded the house and demanded that be turned over to them for rough treatment. It’s starting to sound like the new chimp in the sanctuary.

In this week’s Torah portion, Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, is devising a test for Isaac’s future wife, Abraham’s future daughter in law. He wants to get a glimpse at her character. Whom does she resemble, Abraham or the Sodomites? But how can he find that out? Asking isn’t necessarily the best way to get at the truth. And so he decides, he himself will be the test. When he comes into town, dusty and dirty from his travels, a stranger, he will observe. Does she ignore him, or turn him over to the men who hang about the well? Or will she reach out to him in kindness and welcome?

We know the answer to the question, as Rebecca does fulfill Eliezer’s criteria, bringing him water to drink and offering to help water his camels. With this generous act of welcome to a stranger, Rebecca proves herself worthy to become a mother of the people of Israel, a people whose God commands, “Thou shalt love the stranger as thyself.”

This evening we are welcoming new members to our congregation. How we welcome them, is a test for us, like the test of Rebecca. Are we welcoming and inclusive? Is there kindness in our welcome—and a recognition of the needs of our newcomers, as Rebecca recognized what Eliezer needed most at that time.

Of course the challenge of being welcoming extends beyond the congregation. We each have opportunities at home and at work, to make others feel welcome and at home. IN that way we are the true descendents of Abraham and Rebecca.


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