Today is April 5, 2020 -

Alan Liebman’s Kol Nidre Address 2016/5777


Miracles – by Alan Liebman

The Temple Emanuel Board of Directors has given me the honor of speaking to you tonight. They have not seen my talk or approved it so do not hold them responsible for the bizarre ideas I’m going to share with you.

Many people don’t believe miracles happen anymore. They don’t see new universes being created. All burning bushes they find are consumed. They haven’t wrestled with angels. Anything unusual is a coincidence. Everything improbable is theoretically possible… so no miracles are needed.

I’m going to tell you tonight that miracles still happen … all the time… IF you are willing to see them. IF you are willing to ask for them.

First of all, I’m going to give you a physics lesson… everybody’s favorite subject. Then I’ll give you a medical lesson. And I’ll conclude with a survival lesson.

Let’s talk physics.

Who flipped the first light switch?  In Genesis 1 God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”

God flipped a switch with his words. And EVER SINCE THEN to this day, God switches the Sun on and off for us… without fail.

From this we learn that SWITCHES are important and Godly. Man emulates God when he makes a switch. Like God, our switches have just two positions: On/off. Up/down. Zero/one. The fastest I can throw this light switch is two cycles per second. But God helped us improve our switch making over time.

Almost 180 years ago, Samuel Morse built the first commercial telegraph system. He used a special switch – a telegraph KEY –that could be more rapidly pressed to send electrical codes for each alphabet letter. An experienced telegrapher can throw a key switch about 8 times per second. That miracle was enough to put the Pony Express out of business when the first transcontinental telegraph wire was strung up … three year before Nevada’s statehood.

Sixty years after Morse, in 1904, British inventor John Fleming created the “vacuum tube.” He put three parts inside an airless glass tube and a new miracle switch was born. This switch could turn on and off millions of times per second because it had no moving parts. The vacuum tube switch brought the world radio, television and the first electronic computer.

Move forward to 1947, when some of you were already born and complaining about that. Inventors at Bell Labs made the first 3-part switch from bits of solid material. Compared to the vacuum tube, this “transistor” switch was tiny, long lived, low power and fast. Better yet, scientists learned how to make big banks of transistor switches on a sliver of silicon – a so-called “integrated circuit”. Is it a coincidence that silicon makes up almost a third of the earth’s crust—the second most common material after oxygen?  Is it a coincidence that God made the Earth out of “switching material”?

The Intel Pentium computer chip is approaching its double-Bar Mitzvah year. In 1993, it was built with 3 million transistors and could switch instructions 60 million times a second on a piece of silicon about the size of a quarter-dollar.

But that’s like nothing compared to this gadget in my pocket. My cellphone has TWO BILLION transistors – two thousand million – seven hundred times more than the Pentium chip and it can switch SIX BILLION times a second… 100 times faster than the Pentium.

It’s common today to interpret this history of science as an example of rational thinking, logical steps following one another. But at each step, multiple people were given the same flash of insight. Multiple people — decades and continents apart – came to the same idea. Is that coincidence?   …or is it God taking us on dry land across a sea of confusion … taking us further into the Universe he created?

How so? Is this cellphone part of God’s plan? I say “yes it is”. In Genesis 2, not long after God flipped the first switch, we read: “And the LORD God said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’ ” The first help meet was Eve. But these are new times. In today’s Eden, not every Adam has an Eve; not every Eve has an Adam. So God put a billion holy switches in your pocket or your purse to keep you from being alone. God gave you theses switches to snatch words, sounds and pictures out of thin air so you will not be alone. Looks like a miracle to me.

Let me tell you about my health, not that you asked. For the whole year 2015, I had pains in my left hip and in my leg. It hurt to stand. It hurt to hold packages. It hurt to lie down. Some nights I didn’t sleep much at all. During last year’s Kol Nidre service, I had to refuse to hold the Torah because there was too much chance I would hurt myself or, God forbid, drop the scroll.

I am not telling you my pain was worse than yours. I am not looking for sympathy. Some of you are glad I got what was coming to me. All of us have pains and some of us have chronic pain. But my pain hurts me. And like many of your pains, it was invisible to others.

So I went to doctors who took tests. They pronounced in complicated language… we have found the problem… you’re old. Until that time, I was unaware I was old. What can I do about this,  I asked. We can’t cure “old,” they said but … we can send you to another doctor who will give you pills so you won’t feel “old” so much. We can anesthetize you.

That was a frustrating prospect. Activities that used to give me joy were now tinged with fear of more pain. Lying awake at night, in pain and frustration, without having a deep belief that God exists, I instinctively talked to God. Rabbi Fasman has told us, we can pray anywhere. We can use any words. Copying Jeremiah 17, I’d repeat to myself in the dead of night over and over,

“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved.”

“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved.”

Was I talking to myself for courage? Was the prayer a placebo? Did it just stanch my fear of never getting well again?

I don’t know. But a few weeks into January this year, I was healed. Pain left me. I have been active all year. No new pain. Tonight I held the Torah during part of Kol Nidre.

I’m not special, unless you want to conclude I’m specially deluded. But when I chose to believe, when I asked to be healed, I feel I was given a little miracle… for whatever purposes God had – if He exists.

My third and final illustration that miracles still happen is this room, this holy ground at the corner of Lakeside and Manzanita, in this desert city of Reno, in Nevada… the “snow-covered place.” How is it possible there is still a Conservative Jewish congregation here?

Five years ago there was no Rabbi. There was an ailing Cantor. There was no Talmud Torah. Finances were dismal. The building equipment was decrepit, hadn’t been serviced in years. Old kitchen equipment wouldn’t pass inspection if anyone bothered to inspect.  Water leaked in when snow melted.

Five years ago, there was a dedicated but aging, sometimes sick, lay leadership… a tiny group of people tapped out from hundreds of days committed to keeping Temple Emanuel from extinction.

Why is this congregation still here? How is it we have the glory of tonight’s chanting by a Rabbi and a youthful Cantor? Why are the voices of children heard in our halls again? How is it that critical equipment has been fixed “on the cheap”. Why aren’t we freezing in the dark right now?

It’s miraculous that Temple Emanuel still exists tonight. What miracles did it take?

The miracle of a few new members with the knowledge to conduct services and others with the will to populate the Director Board…  driven here from the corners of the world.

The miracle of a Rabbi and a Rebbizin with great spirit, learning and energy – who could be leaders in any major center of American Judaism – but whom God sent to “snow covered” Reno.

The miracle of a world-class Cantor, son of a Cantor, who just happens to live half a day’s journey away and is inspired to be with US.

And finally, the miracle of raising just enough money – from all the people in this room and people who have moved on – who donated as never before in their lives … because God put words in their mind… “if not me, who?” … “if not now, when?” God put it in your hearts to be Temple Emanuel miracle workers.

The philosophers Keith Richards and Mick Jagger tell us…

“You can’t always get what you want,

You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try,

sometime you find,

You get what you need.”

Temple Emanuel has received the miracle of “what it needs” the past five years. So we are still here. Giving praise to God. Supporting one another. Keeping the Jewish people alive in Reno and, for all we know, in the Universe.

Be a miracle worker this year .,. with extra participation in services… with your caring heart … with your CHECKBOOK.

Tomorrow when you think about the extraordinary contribution you are about to make tonight on this tab card, I want you to think “An Angel made me do it!”

In 5777, let yourself see God working miracles in YOUR life. Ask God for miracles. Be open to the extraordinary.

God bless Temple Emanuel, these United States of America and the Jewish people everywhere.