The Doors of the Synagogue

The doorway to Temple Solel is about a half a mile from the San Diego beach. The entrance lies
behind two rows of round cement pillars and opens with well-oiled, wide steel and glass doors
that swing out, like two arms reaching towards you for a giant hug. I have walked through those
doors more times than I could ever count, they are the doors to the synagogue I grew up in. We
so often remark on the sanctuary, the artwork in our synagogues, we rarely notice the doors,
although they serve a sacred purpose too, and they come to my mind as I walk through the doors
of IHC.

The doorway, of course, is simply an entrance. It is a space in-between, a place of
transformation. The real power of any doorway is in the place and the people on its other side.
Which is what excites me about walking through the doors here. A synagogue is not the walls,
plaster and doors of its building, but a series of meaningful conversations that take place inside
them. We are not a country club with membership and services, but a network of people all
connected by the meaningful words that pass between us and the moments these words create for
us together. Our doors are not only to a building, but to our souls, and we walk through them

How fitting then that we read in our Torah portion this week the words to Mah Tovu, a prayer
that is traditionally said when walking through the doorway to our sacred spaces. We will sing
these words tomorrow morning after we enter our sanctuary brightened by the light of a new day.
The story surrounding these words tells us even more about the communities we build inside our
sacred doorways. Balaam, a man hired by a foreign king to curse the Israelites, stands up in
front of the entire Jewish people, looks across their great encampment, and to his own surprise
discovers himself offering a blessing to our ancient forbearers. A very very old Freudian slip. / I
imagine this was such a joy for the Israelites, to accept loving words in place curses. But it begs
the question: what caused our community to warrant a blessing instead of a curse?

The answer lies in our text. We are a blessed community because of our deep connections to one
another. When Balaam is asked why he blesses the Jewish people instead of cursing them. He
answers simply that he was only describing what was there in front of him: Mah tovu ohalecha
Ya’acov, “How plentiful are your tents O Jacob, the places where you dwell together.” Our
ancient hope, recorded in our stories and texts, is that we should be so blessed as to have the
opportunities to be together and make meaningful and deep connections with one another.

Every time I took my guitar out of its case to play with my friend Justin a special magic covered
the room. He and I lugged our instruments around to restaurants, weddings and jam sessions to
belt out jazz standards from his black and gold alto sax and my clunky guitar amp. What was
remarkable to me was that we played so well together, when our playing styles and skill levels
were so different. To be clear, he was the far better player, he received a grammy award a
handful of years ago. We used to say that you had to live life so you had something to play
about. That’s what we were doing. We spent a lot of time together, and the depth of our
friendship, the connections we had made with each other, that’s what we played at night to our
audience. The same deep connection we held with each other, and that brought out our music, is
what makes our Jewish community the powerful place it is.

As a newcomer to this community I am inspired by the depth of relationships at IHC. Many of
the members here go back multiple generations, the community is vibrant, its members deeply
devoted one another. This is a place where the children run through the halls, learning fills our
hearts and minds, and where we gather to mourn and celebrate the impactful moments in our
lives. The music that IHC brings forth is powerful, each day a song that envelops this building in
an energy that is palpable.

Our tradition tells us that every Friday, shortly before the sun falls below the horizon and
Shabbat is imminent, we are visited by two angels. The angels, one good and one bad, come to
share the holiday with us, and start by observing how we are preparing for this sacred and restful
time. When we are scattered and divided, not together with our friends or family, the bad angel
offers its blessing and the good angel is obligated to affirm it. When the opposite is the case,
when we are joyfully preparing for time together with the people we love and care about or
already together with them, the good angel offers its blessing, and the bad angel is obliged to
affirm. I always picture the victorious angel rubbing two hands together in anticipation of the
affirmation, brimming with delight in the opportunity to offer its blessing while we welcome the
angels’ coming and going with the words of the prayer Shalom Aleichem. I know that this is a
place the angels have visited many times, and that the beautiful community and positive energy
that has been set here carries their blessing week after week.

While we all walk through the same doorway to IHC, every one of us has had different moments
and conversations that bring us to call this sacred space our home. I am excited to talk together
about what makes IHC live that way in your heart, what brings you through these doors. I live
for those moments of connection, for the opportunity to share the things that are deep in our
souls with one another. Please know that I will keep the door to my heart open to hear your
stories, and what you love and care about. What sacred moments have brought you here to IHC.
I cannot wait for these conversations, and to build our moments together so that time and time
again we can walk through the doors of our synagogue together / singing.