A Hasidic tales tells the story of a beautiful bird who belonged to the King. The bird escapes and perches high on some unreachable tree branch. The people, in an attempt to recover the bird for their Monarch, begin to clamber on one another's shoulders, creating a human pyramid stretching towards the branch. But - just inches short of their goal - one of the people holding up the base of this pyramid gets a bit bored, or a bit uncomfortable, decides they can't be bothered any longer and wanders off. The carefully constructed pyramid totters, unbalances and collapses. The bird flies off.
The punchline is the real killer, 'and the King was saddened, because as much as he cared about the bird, what he really wanted to see was his people working together.'
There are exegetical rules for stories like this. The King is God, the people, are us. And the bird? ... It's hard to know, it's certainly not obvious. Maybe the point is that there is no corollary of the bird, doesn't really matter. The story isn't about the bird, it's about whether of not we can work together.
We are living in contentious times, Brexit v Brexin, Trump v Clinton, and everything else. Things also get contentious in our dear ol' Synagogue - if the role of women piece has been sticky, I've just finished teaching a three-parter on same-sex intimacy, commitment and sex (incidentally one of the classes is on-line here, another is coming on-line soon). I was at a meeting this week where a certain level of grumpiness surfaced about who's been asked to do this or that at one Shabbat service or another. All this contention is very suffocating. And it's not about the bird.
Perhaps the single greatest secret in Rabbinic Judaism is its commitment to a very particular style of argument, a style that makes space for otherness, difference. It's a style of disagreement that values the service of the King more highly than the capturing of the bird. And it's a style that operates in such a different way to the way most of us pursue our goals in almost every area of our lives, that it deserves sermonic attention. That's the plan for this Shabbat. If you feel at all in danger of suffocating in contention, come and join us. Because if we can realise it's not about the bird wonderful things become possible.