Bargaining With God

When…the values of business are introduced into other phases of life they can prove disastrous.

In his sermon of December 13, 1964, Rabbi Olan further developed a favorite theme: that the most important activities and commitments in our lives must not be driven by their market value (“What’s in it for me?”).  His examples included love of country, mature love in marriage (as opposed to romantic infatuation), scientific research for its own sake, and the making of art.

Drawing as always on Biblical stories, Rabbi Olan used the story of Jacob to illustrate the patriarch’s long moral journey: As a young man he cheated his brother, deceived his father, and tried to buy God’s favor with a tithe. Yet he worked patiently for fourteen years to gain Rachel as his wife and ‘[experienced] over twenty years of hardship and suffering before he [began] to understand who God is.”

Reading this sermon, today, the following sentence stands out:  

“There are times when we experience a different set of values. We do things which do not pay; we do them because they are good in themselves.”  

In this time of fear and chaos due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we hear so many stories of people doing good, seeking to repair the suffering world:  People working on the medical front lines;  bus drivers and home health aides, sanitation workers and grocery workers; people checking in on vulnerable neighbors and doing their food shopping.  Amid the devastation, there is an outpouring of courage and compassion.  These are current manifestations of “a different set of values.”

Follow this link to read the sermon text.
Follow this link to listen to the audio recording.
Follow this link to watch the scrolling-text video.

*Written by Frances Olan.*