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Eightieth Birthday Celebration

05/08/2015 09:41:10 PM


Rabbi Herman Blumberg

For weeks I kicked and screamed about this event, protesting all along the way. But as usual Paula was right, absolutely! This is fun and I am very pleased to be here; so grateful to each of you for your expression of friendship and for your making this birthday truly memorable. The Rabbis mark the progression of the years. Five is the age to begin the study of Scripture; ten, learning Mishneh; 18 – marriage; at forty, one gains wisdom. Relevant this evening: As sixty one reaches old age At seventy, the fullness of age At eighty, strong old age. - g’vurah These last two age descriptions derive from the Psalm verse, “The days of our years are three score years and ten” – the Biblical actuarian’s estimate of a full life span. -- “or by reason of great strength, four score years.” (Psalm 90) What does it take to get to this milestone and still be standing? What are the strengths that helped me get to this moment? • Good genes– my father died close to his 95th birthday without ever suffering a truly life-threatening illness. They tell me that as I get older I look more and more like him. I am ever more grateful to him in the most elemental way for the gift of his low-cholesterol, strong heart profile that has protected me for 80 years. Beyond genes, my parents gave me another gift: I am what I am today because my parents had the wisdom to guide my early schooling in an unusual way. Last evening I was in Philadelphia attending the 62nd anniversary reunion of my graduation from Central High School. At that time it was an out-of-district, exam school offering a very serious college track., unique in public education. My parents were unsophisticated and unworldly, but somehow they figured out that that’s where I should go to school and how to manipulate the system to make it happen. The rest is history, a good story that molded who I became, who I am! • I have made it to this milestone with Paula as my partner, my love: Paula is incredibly caring wife. Over the years she has protected me from ill winds, carried the hurts that I ignored, nursed me when I was ill and buoyed my spirit when it need a boost. And something else. This evening I want to reveal a “trade secret.” Throughout my career Paula has critiqued all of my major sermons, saving me – and many of you! – painful disasters on the bimah. Another factor: • I have always enjoyed my work: worthy, challenging, stimulating, and satisfying. Over the years my work has stimulated me and kept me going. • Finally, even when the future looked less than promising, I have always been able to anticipate the next chapter in my life with hope: adult children, their marriages and the grandchildren. Looking forward to Bar mitzvah celebrations, ball games, concerts, plays, college admission...lots of motivation to keep going and try to live and eat healthily. Baruch atah adonay...Source of Life, that has sustained me in good health, that has bestowed upon me strength and boundless energy, and has allowed me to reach this great milestone, blessed are You. So what’s next? What will sustain me and help me to reach the Mishneh’s next big moment – the age of ninety? What do I hope for the next years of my life? An answer by way of a parable: A Master and his Disciple: The student approaches his teacher: Master, You have taught me that it is possible to experience God’s presence. That this is the goal of all our studying and doing and observances. I have been your faithful student. I sat at your feet and absorbed from you so much knowledge and wisdom. What you have taught me I have shared with my students. And more. I have followed your example. From sunrise to far into the night I have given of myself to those around me. In prayer and deed my life is devoted to the search for holiness. I do not pause in that search. Not one minute in any day. There have been times when I have glimpsed that spark of kedushah, but they are fleeting instants. I know there is more, but I do not know how to find it, to grasp it. The Master reaches to the shelf behind him and takes down a beautiful timepiece. He opens its door, exposing the clock’s intricate gears. Gently, he places his finger on one revolving wheel. The clock slows down. For a brief second it seems to stop. The Master teaches: We need this timepiece to organize our days, to order our comings and goings, our pace, our existence day to day, to measure our life journey filled with building and repairing, creating and changing. But life’s journey is also measured by that which is timeless. We must slow down, even bring that relentless press of time to a complete stop to experience the present moment and the before us. Put your finger on that ever-turning wheel Leave the realm of doing and enter the world of being and perhaps...perhaps you will find the presence of God that you seek. In the next years of my life I hope that I can stop the relentless flow of time with its tasks and responsibilities, its everyday joys and accomplishments to experience a quality of life all too elusive. Whatever I do: -- listening to priceless music or discovering a new idea, or relearning an ancient wisdom or helping one who seeks comfort and guidance -- I want to try to put my finger on that time machine and slow it down. Maybe in those long pauses I will find God’s Presence. And whatever my avocational or professional pursuits, at the center of my life I want to keep the people I love most: my dearest wife, my children and my grandchildren, my dearest friends. • To be present for them. To be attentive and responsive to them, fully . • To share with them. To explore life with them. To encourage them and make them laugh. To hear them laugh. To revel in their growth and mastery of life’s challenges. • To share my self with them and encourage them to do so, in turn, with me. Surely that search will keep me busy and enrich my days. And it is there that the spark of the divine rests. The shehechiyanu is a blessing of gratitude for having reached this moment – for past gifts and the present moment. This evening there is a prayer on my lips going forward: May my heart be open with compassion and kindness to all who I meet along life’s path. May my spirit be strong to withstand life’s challenges. May my soul be open to embrace the goodness and holiness planted so firmly in all of created life. May I have the courage to suspend time and in those spaces of timelessness discover and embrace full measures of God’s Spirit. Kayn yihi ratzon. So may it be.

Sun, October 25 2020 7 Cheshvan 5781