32 years ago this month, the movie E.T. the Extraterrestrial premiered in movie theaters across the country. I knew that fact without looking it up because I know that I saw E.T. just before moving to Lansdale, PA for my first job as a Rabbi.
I was absolutely mesmerized by E.T. While I’m not sure it has stood the test of time as well as some other classic movies I love, I remember being absolutely enthralled with the story- so much so that I made E.T. the subject of my first Rosh Hashana sermon as a Rabbi.
I don’t think I gave very much thought to how risky that might have been. A first High Holy Day sermon can leave a permanent impression on a congregation. I didn’t consider that. I just came up with the idea and ran with it. Thankfully, the congregation responded very positively.
As an aside, I should mention that the congregation’s positive response to the sermon encouraged me to continue to write sermons which were midrashim on aspects of popular culture: movies, tv, music etc. This approach has been a staple of much of my Rabbinic writing over the years. I shudder to think what I would have been writing about all of these years had the folks in Lansdale reacted differently to my sermon on E.T.
So, what did I write about this movie? I wrote about the last line (or at least the last line of importance) in the film. As E.T. is saying goodbye to his friend Elliott, he looks at him and points to the boy’s head and says: “I’ll be right here”.
I was fascinated by that line. What E.T. was telling Elliott was that the memory of his visit on earth would always be with him and that what he taught him about friendship, loyalty and the importance of “home” would always remain.
I compared this to the giving of the Torah.
God comes down to earth at Sinai and leaves us with rules to live by and values to embrace and God tells us: “Study and follow my Torah and I’ll be right here”.
I’ve learned a lot about writing and delivering sermons over the past 32 years and probably would write the sermon differently today. But I still embrace the basic point: that the Torah is our connection with that moment in the past which we need to bring into our lives today. “I’ll be right here” says God.
When we seek the presence of God, we can find that presence in many places: in the beauty of the world, in the eyes of someone we love, in the hope that persists even in the darkest of times and in the wisdom of our tradition. That last source of God’s presence is sometimes overlooked and that is unfortunate but if we seek God’s presence in our lives, one of the simplest places to look is right in the Torah itself.
I’ll be right here says God. Right here in our hearts and our heads. Always.