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Purim Wisdom From A Brand New Baby

Nathan Yitzhak —

It is with such incredible joy that we officially bring you into our awesome community —

Over the past 12 weeks, we have called you many names – Nathan, Yitz, Yitzy, Boo Boo Bear — but there is something about having Rabbi Zecher holding you while saying, “May you live to see your world fulfilled, may your destiny be for worlds still to come….” that really makes this whole parenting thing official!

Tonight, not only do I get to bask in the joy of your delicious existence, I also have the opportunity to practice one of my favorite Latin principles  – “Nomen est omen,” “The name is a sign, the name speaks for itself.”

To name a child is to set an intention for their life — Today, we get to dream about who you will become.

Nathan, may you be a gift to all who meet you

Yitzhak – may you laugh all the time

Nissan – may you experience the miraculous, may you be a miracle!

It’s a sweet tradition – But to be honest, it’s nonsense. I’ve only been a parent for a few weeks and I already know to expect the unexpected.

It’s not a child’s job to fulfill our expectations, it’s their job to grow, thrive, and live their own lives.

My sweet child, you will not live according to “Nomen est Omen.” I sometimes wish you would – it would mean I can keep you safe and gift you a beautiful future of my choosing.

But perhaps instead, you are following a principle at the heart of Purim, our holiday right around the corner.

Children, Nahafochu — they turn everything on it’s head! Children, like the holiday of Purim, teach us that our expectations are rubbish, life can be so much more than we imagine.

In the Purim story, an adopted Jewish girl named Esther, speaks truth to power, defeats the second most powerful person in her society, and saves her people from complete destruction. Esther, the virgin bride who transforms from an object to an active subject, turns the expectations of an entire kingdom on its head and in doing so,

נֶהְפַּ֨ךְ לָהֶ֤ם מִיָּגוֹן֙ לְשִׂמְחָ֔ה וּמֵאֵ֖בֶל לְי֣וֹם ט֑וֹב

[she] “turns a day of sorrow into one of joy, [she] turns a day of mourning to a day of celebration.”

God is completely absent from the story – it’s young Esther and her putzy but heroic uncle Mordecai who save the Jewish people.

On Purim we do many silly things to get into the topsy turvy spirit

We dress in costumes, make a ruckus, eat funny cookies, even get a little shickered —All in order to embody nahafochu, the upside down nature of the day.

All this silliness is actually quite serious —

If we don’t practice letting go of our everyday realities, even for one day, we will never open ourselves to the transformation of an unexpected miracle.

The rabbis take this principle so seriously, they midrashically weave it into our high holiday season. They explain that Yom Kippur – Is Yom Ki’Purim — A day like Purim, A day when we are supposed to turn our souls upside down, shake out the loose change, and prepare for an unexpected and miraculous renewal.

And if it takes a day of Rabbi Soffer dressing in drag and Cantor Einhorn sipping bourbon while singing ridiculous songs – then so be it –

Grownups need an excuse to be shaken from their routines, and expectations about how this world is supposed to work.

This week, without the costumes or the alcohol, our country experienced a deep and necessary nahafochu – a complete reversal of expectations.

Last Shabbat when I stood before this congregation and addressed the tragedy that had just occurred in Parkland Florida, it was hard to shake off my own demoralization. After our country’s failure to pass any gun control legislation following the horrific tragedy in Newtown a few years ago, it is hard to imagine that this time it will be different.

But then this week flipped us, surprised us and presented us with a new opportunity for renewal and hope.

This week, an incredible group of teenagers found the strength to rise from their mourning, fight for their lives and safety and ignore the condescension of so many adults. 

In the past week students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

  • lobbied Florida politicians for stricter gun laws
  • confronted the NRA and their pocket politician Marco Rubio
  • Sat down with Trump and demanded action
  • were featured on every major news outlet and day time program
  • amassed hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, and effectively shot down internet trolls and conservative media pundits who accused them of being “paid actors”
  • sparked a movement of young people who have the skills and passion to fight for change.

And this is all while attending 17 funerals, beginning to mourn their friends and teachers, and process their own trauma.

This week teenagers spoke truth to the grownups in power – And in doing so, completely took this country by surprise. In one week they have shifted the national discussion, raised millions of dollars of funding to support their activism and inspired thousands of children and teenagers to find their voice and find their power.

These teens are not fulfilling our expectations— they are exceeding them

They are turning America on its head – nahafochu – and in doing so they are challenging us and inspiring us to do better, to be better.

The Parkland teens will inevitably  suffer and grieve for many years to come, but they are already teaching us what it means to turn sorrow into power, and mourning into possibility.

Following the call of the Parkland survivors, hundreds of student walkouts are planned for March 14, and dozens of “Marches for Our Lives” are planned on March 24th. This is the beginning of a new movement.

The clergy and education staff of Temple Israel are committed to supporting our students and lifting up their voices as they join their classmates and peers and demand change. We will learn to take their lead.

My beautiful child, this evening, I feel honored to lift you up for blessing and present your beautiful name.

But I know that “Nathan Yitzhak” is just a placeholder for whatever names and identities you will acquire through your own experience and passion.

As parents we can bless you and love you, but someday we will have to get out of your way as you are part of a new nahafochu generation, a new chance for redemption.

We love you – Welcome to the Temple Israel community!