Since I became a pulpit Rabbi I have rarely posted my sermons. In part this is because with the exception of the High Holidays I don't write out my sermons word for word, preferring to deliver my sermons with a more conversational tone rather than a monologue. 1 However, given that this was my last Shabbat as Rav of The Stanton St. Shul, I had requests to share my final sermon to the congregation. Even when I do write out sermons in advance, I use my text less as a "published" document and more as a guideline in to ensure my focus. Consequently, the actual sermon I actually deliver occasionally deviates from the text in front of me, not in its essence or point, but in terms of word choices or spur of the moment editorials to include or exclude some material.
I hesitate to call my final sermon a "classic," but I can say that this is fairly typical of the sermons I would give with its crucial elements being:
- A close read of a text, usually as in this case the Bible, but occasionally a Rabbinic teaching.
- A message or point based off of the text, presented as a "suggestion" or "possibility" and hopefully relevant to the congregation.
- Explicit and/or subtle references to outside works. 2
- Optional: explicit or subtle puns, usually bad.
- Do all of the above in 10-15 minutes.
Without further ado, the working notes from my final sermon at The Stanton Street Shul, with annotations.
- Although I was trained to give very formal sermons, I realized early on that not only did that style take substantially more time to prepare, but the extra effort would not have mattered to the congregation. I found the conversational style worked best in my synagogue to communicate ideas, and it allowed the freedom to adlib and respond to hecklers. For the High Holidays when I had to focus my mental energies on managing the service as well as meeting higher expectations, writing out the entire sermon was essential. ↩
- I also don't title my sermons, but if I had to for this one, I'd have used this one, taken from the series finale of ST:TNG. ↩