“We are unwise when we reject those stones which are the chief corner-stone of our tradition.“
In this sermon, delivered on January 21, 1968, Rabbi Olan challenges us and himself to answer the question, how can we use the findings of modern science while preserving/valuing the ancient teachings of Jewish tradition? He identifies himself as a modern man, influenced by Darwin, Freud and Einstein. At the same time, he finds that an exclusively modern scientific orientation to life leaves him missing something precious. This sermon is about what that something is.
One thing Rabbi Olan misses is the ability of the traditional family to “shelter and strengthen us”, to renew our faith and hope. He laments the fragmentation of the modern family, as measured for example by a rising divorce rate.
However, Rabbi Olan notes that the “new morality” (new when he was writing in 1968) gets rid of “much of the false puritanism and self-righteous pruriency” which characterized the generation into which he was born. Yet he is concerned that too sweeping a moral revolution will result in the rejection of timeless values. Rabbi Olan refers to Psalm 118:22, “The stone which the builders rejected is become the chief corner-stone.”
What is this cornerstone? For Rabbi Olan, it is the sanctity of every human life, which is based on the doctrine that “Man is made in the image of God.” It is also the closeness to God that Rabbi Olan believes our ancestors experienced through worship. “Without worship, God is without meaning in our lives.”
As you reflect on this sermon, think about what you value in your own tradition. What is your cornerstone?
*Written by Lionel S. Joseph and Frances M. Olan*