From my Yom Kippur Sermon back in 2011
At my installation I shared a story with you about a rabbi named Nathan Finkel, who lived towards the end of the 19th century and headed a yeshiva in Slobodka, a small town in Lithuania. On cold, dark winter mornings, it is said, the rabbi used to get up early, cross over the bridge and go into town. He would stop off in all the shtibelech, all the little prayer houses and places of study, one after another. And in each small, dark room, he would light a fire in the oven and stoke the flames before continuing on his rounds.
“Why did he do it?” His closest friends would ask. And he would say: If all the prayer houses and places of study are warm early in the morning, then coachmen, porters and all kinds of working people will come in to get warm - and then they will find themselves in a sacred place. [Norman Lamm, The Good Society: Jewish Ethics in Action, p.31].
To bring people into holy space is an act of love, but what makes it a holy space? The act of love itself.
They will come in and get warm. How we light the fires of the stoves, how we stoke the flames of commitment, will be up to all of us.