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This is the first sermon Rabbi Marc D. Angel delivered from the pulpit of Congregation Shearith Israel, Simhat Torah 1969. Fifty years have passed since that first sermon, and yet the ideas within it continue to ring true.

In Jewish tradition, the number seven is associated with perfection. We have 7 days of creation; Shabbat is on day 7; there are 7 weeks between Pessah and Shavuoth; 7 years in the sabbatical cycle; 7 cycles of 7 years in the jubilee cycle; 7 days of Pessah and Succoth by biblical rule.

But what is the significance of 8? What comes after the holiness and perfection symbolized by 7?

We have the power to direct our inner thoughts in the direction of happiness. We have the capacity to overcome feelings of distress, by channeling our emotions in constructive ways.

Tanakh needed prophecy so that we could transcend ourselves and our limited perspectives to aspire to a more perfected self and world, and to reach out across the infinite gulf to God. Ultimately, however, it also needed Ecclesiastes to teach how to have faith from the human perspective, so that we may grow in our fear of Heaven and observe God’s commandments in truth.

Many Jews in our day, like many of our brethren of other tribes, are seeking to mend the fractures that divide us from ourselves and from others, and to find ways to heal the wounds that afflict us only seven decades after the Holocaust and the rebirth of Israel. Amid these efforts, an idealistic, scholarly nineteenth-century rabbi from Livorno seems, to some, to provide a beacon of hope and humanity.

Rabbi Marc Angel's Tuesday morning class will resume on October 29. We'll be discussing Talmudic texts that relate seemingly simple stories/lessons...but which, upon reflection, set our minds to thinking about larger issues...faith, redemption, suffering, hope, interpersonal relationships...and more.