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Know in your soul that goodness is its own reward, says Wolpe

morning_worship

A young man called his grandmother and announced, “I am coming over to see you.” The grandmother gave him directions to her building and said, “I am in Apartment 301. When you get to the front door, hit the button with your left elbow. When I push the buzzer for the front door, use your right foot to kick the door open. When you get to the elevator, use your right elbow to punch the floor button. When you get to my door, use your left foot to knock.”

The young man asked, “Why do I need to do all that to get in?” His grandmother said, “What, are you coming empty handed?”

Rabbi David Wolpe said, “We all have different ideas about what goodness is.” He was giving the homily at the 9:15 a.m. EDT Friday, July 24, morning devotional service on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. His sermon title was “The Meaning of Goodness.” There was no scripture reading.

Wolpe’s grandfather died when his father was 11. “In Judaism, when someone dies, especially a parent, you say the Kaddish prayer for a year for them. My father went to the synagogue every day, alone, because in those days women did not not go to pray the Kaddish,” Wolpe said.

One day, Mr. Einstein (no relation to Albert) came by the house and told Wolpe’s father, “‘I will walk with you. Your house is on my way to the synagogue.’ So they walked together and Mr. Einstein ushered my father from mourning back into life, and probably influenced my father to become a rabbi.”

When Wolpe’s oldest brother was born, his parents took him to Boston to meet relatives and his father wanted to show his first born to Mr. Einstein. As they drove to Mr. Einstein’s house, his father realized that his family home was not anywhere near Mr. Einstein’s way to the synagogue.

Wolpe has had a brain tumor and lymphoma. “These diseases were not connected with my conduct. We live a good life for the sake of goodness, not to ward off disease. If we try to ward off disease, we are looking for some kind of spiritual pharmacy.”

“No one would have found out if my father had not gone back to visit Mr. Einstein,” Wolpe said. “There are people who say there is no such thing as disinterested goodness, but they did not know Mr. Einstein.”

He continued, “People do good for the intrinsic reward. When people ask why bad things happen to good people, I tell them because they have to or there would be no good people. If you tell someone not to steal or they will get a disease, they will not steal out of fear of the consequences. That is the way we train our children.”

Wolpe has had a brain tumor and lymphoma. “These diseases were not connected with my conduct. We live a good life for the sake of goodness, not to ward off disease. If we try to ward off disease, we are looking for some kind of spiritual pharmacy.”

It is as if God looked and said, “Wolpe prayed to me, so I will give him a pass, but the guy in Bed 4 has not done anything, so that’s it for him.” Wolpe said, “I don’t think that is how God operates.”

In a pandemic, a lot of what happens to people is not from something they did wrong or something that they merited; it just happens, he said. “We are good even if we are never rewarded; we just know in our soul what we have done. Like the old song, ‘Be good for goodness’ sake.’”

It is not easy, he continued, because we all want rewards. “Our deepest and highest reward is just to be good. If through all our fear and death, our deeds are a little more good, we will be like Mr. Einstein.”

Zach Stahlsmith, a recent graduate of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and part of the CHQ Assembly technical crew, presided. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Michael Miller, a Chautauqua Opera Apprentice Artist, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was “Andante,” by Ernest Bloch. Miller sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” The anthem was “Andante Religioso,” from Sonata No. 4, by Felix Mendelssohn. Stafford played “Festive Prelude No. 4,” by Lewis Lewandowski, for the postlude. This program was made possible by the Rabbi Samuel and Lynn Stahl Lectureship for the Understanding of Judaism.

Tags : morning worshipRabbi David WolpereligionThe Meaning of Goodness
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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the morning worship column, a recap of the morning worship service. She is a Presbyterian minister, an author or editor of five books on Chautauqua, and just finished six years of service on the Chautauqua Lake Central School Board of Education. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her dog Sammi, a Stabyhoun — a breed no one has ever heard of.

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