Rabbi Lebow’s Yom Kippur morning sermon
Rebbe Nachman used to say, “When we are young we hear stories to put us to sleep. When we are older we hear other stories to wake
So here is my story for Yom Kippur. You will decide for yourself what kind of story this one is.
You see- it seems that Mrs. Irma Lauscher was the art teacher at Theresienstadt, the concentration camp that held children in the Czech Republic.
And in that concentration camp the children could draw pictures only from the crayons and charcoal that they could pilfer when the guards weren’t watching.
But then, one day, one of the Czech guards came to Mrs. Lauscher and he said, “I wish that I had enough power to save you, but I do not.”
“So all I can give you is this little seedling from my garden. There is nothing else that I can do for you. Now go and plant it…”
So Mrs. Lauscher planted the seedling in a bit of dirt and she said to the children “When you get your water rations, I would like you to save that last gulp of water and hold it in your cheeks and then spit it out on this seedling.
And so, the little kids held the water in their cheeks, as young children like to do, and when they passed by the seed they would water it with the little water that they held in their mouths.
Now at a certain point the seed began to grow and after a while it became a tree and it sprouted, and that tree became strong.
And I am told that when Mrs. Lauscher died she was buried beneath that tree and if you visit the site of that concentration camp you can still visit that tree.
And I am told by those who have seen the tree that on Mrs. Lauscher’s grave stone is written these words from the Book of Isaiah:
“The days of a tree are long and the days of a tree are like the days of the Jewish people.”
So, on the surface this is just a little story about those who brought water to a little seed. But beneath the surface it is a story that wakes you up.
It is a story about hope in the midst of despair, light in the midst of darkness, growth in the midst of decay.
And when I tell this story, about the tree which grew in the middle of a death camp,it makes me think of many things. But this morning, strangely enough, it makes me think of you. All of you here today.
And this next prayer which follows is called “The Standing Prayer” because we will stand in a moment and sing this prayer.
It is a prayer of remembering who we are and where we came from.
It is a prayer of memory and redemption.
It is a prayer in which we remember the patience of our parents and the greatness of our grandparents.
And so now, we reach out to those who came before us, to those who watered the tree with what little water they could spare, and we rise now for the singing of our standing prayer.
Rabbi Steven Lebow
Yom Kippur morning
September 5, 2022