“It turns out that trust is in fact earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.” (from “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.” by Brené Brown)

I thought I would talk about Johnson, #Brexit and what’s happening to our world this evening but I realised I’m not sure I have anything to add as things may change between when I write this sermon and Friday night. And in any case, sometimes our synagogue should be a sanctuary from the world ‘out there’. So I was drawn to Professor Brené Brown.

Professor Brené Brown is one of the most brilliant speakers and writers about leadership and vulnerability. Her book ‘Dare to Lead’ is an outstanding exploration of courage, vulnerability and leadership. But what got me hooked on this quote was something else. She’s describing how trust is built and she points to the fact that the research evidence shows time and again that grand gestures and big moments are not the times we build trust. It is the small details, she notes, like remembering a name, sitting at a lunch table together sharing half a chair with friends. And trust grows with vulnerability, she says, “to betray one is to destroy both”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the month of Elul – the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah.

The first reason is that Elul is classically understood to be an acronym of the verse from the most romantic [read: sensual] book of the Bible – Song of Songs 6:3. “Ani ledodi vedodi li” – I am my beloved and my beloved is mine. This month is when we build on our relationships and particularly with God. So now I’m thinking what does that mean and I read Brené Brown’s book and I’m reminded that the relationship the children of Israel have with God is one that is not based on grand gestures and big moments – because they might be where the miracles occur but they don’t carry trust (miracles don’t work). There’s a delicious midrash on the first words of the ten commandments which asks why they begin with God saying “I am the Eternal One your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt”?

“It can be compared to a princess who having been taken captive by robbers, was delivered by a king who subsequently wished to marry her. Replying to his proposal, she said: What dowry do you give me? He replied: Even if I have no other claim on you but that I rescued you from the robbers, that is sufficient.” (Exodus Rabbah 29:3)

It’s delicious because the imagination of the rabbis at this point suggests a kind of ‘Nu’ moment. You want us to accept the Torah as our Ketubah (marriage contract) with you – what makes you think you’re good enough? That is chutzpah – what makes God think God is good enough for the Israelites! Redemption from Egypt is a pretty grand gesture but note the hidden tension – the grand gesture is not really enough for a developing relationship. The Children of Israel don’t just fall into a covenant with God just because of redemption from Egypt or the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, or the defeat of Amalek, or the pillar of fire. Miracles are not enough for this relationship to flower and we see this time and again throughout the Torah – miracles are not where trust is engendered.

And what is trust and faith anyway in Judaism? Each morning when we lay tefillin (if you lay tefillin) the little black boxes that contain the paragraphs of the Shema, it is customary to say the words from Hosea 2:21-22:

כא  וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי, לְעוֹלָם; וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בְּצֶדֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּט, וּבְחֶסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים. 21 And I will betroth thee unto Me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in justice, and in lovingkindness, and in compassion.
כב  וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי, בֶּאֱמוּנָה; וְיָדַעַתְּ, אֶת-יְהוָה.  {פ} 22 And I will betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the LORD.

Now Hosea is a complex book because the relationship with God described is probably really the relationship God has with the people and the land. If the people worship other gods and the land is fertile, it’s as if the land is being disloyal or unfaithful. The whole book of Hosea is about loyalty and commitment of the most intimate form. Hence these words:

I will betroth you to me forever – in other words this is an unbreakable covenant. We’re in it for the long haul. And by the way these prophetic ideas become absolutely critical in the face of supercessionist theology of Christianity and their new covenant. It is critical in the middle ages amidst anti-Jewish riots and forced conversions. It is a critical part of post-Holocaust theology too. What does it mean to have a covenant that has power for all time? This covenant is one built on the most intimate acts of (to paraphrase Hosea 2:21) righteousness, justice, kindness, compassion. Small acts that create a world in which the vulnerable and the powerful actually care about each other.

And then we get the final phrase – betrothal in faithfulness, or trustworthiness leads to knowledge – but this knowledge, as any biblical Hebrew expert will tell you is knowing God biblically (so to speak) – intimately. Through these small acts we build trust and from trust we have relationships that are intimate and caring, and then we get to knowledge. This is the meaning of Elul – in which we reflect on the strength of our relationships with the world around us, the people around us and with God. Ani ledodi vedodi li – I am my beloved’s doesn’t work without the work. Grandstanding just won’t cut it.

Now, given the world beyond the synagogue at the moment with the #Brexit debate, I really wanted to include something about faith, trust and the etymological relationship to truth (in Hebrew) – which it seems is currently in short supply (being honest with ourselves and honest with others). But I think I’ll leave it there and encourage you to sign up for the Lyons Learning Project courses which may touch on these topics and our daily posting #leanintoelul on social media which will help you prepare for Rosh Hashanah.

So with that in mind I leave you with the words of Brené Brown:

“Trust is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.” May our Elul be filled with this type of relationship and building this kind of trust, God knows the world needs it now. And may this be God’s will and let us say: Amen.