Shavua tov, dear friends.
We are in the middle of the middle as I said on Friday night – not the middle of the muddle, as COVID may make us feel. We are in the very centre of Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus, and in the central readings of that book. This week we are reading Emor – speaking about some of the Biblical rituals that pertained whilst the Temple stood, but don’t apply today. Why do we still learn about these rituals? Why haven’t we issued a new and revised Torah? (Actually, apparently the Danish Lutheran Church has just done so, eliminating all mention of “Israel” from their revised New Testament).
We don’t because we continue to learn about how to apply these teachings in our present-day modern world. While individual Jews claim their heritage and status as Kohanim, we don’t have them function as a priestly class any more. But if we are all to be like a nation of priests, isn’t this a call to treat each person with respect and regard? A call to service that applies to each of us, is part of what Rabban Gamliel was very concerned to formulate after the destruction of the Beit haMikdash, the Temple – he wanted to create a Jewish demoncracy.
The Torah refers to the festivals of the Jewish calendar as moadim, “appointed times,” and as mikraei kodesh, “callings of holiness.” We have an “appointment” with God during our Festivals. Descriptions of what we are to do during these festivals – Pesach, (the counting of the Omer), Shavuot and Sukkot – include instructions about blowing of the shofar. Aaron is in our doorway every evening at 7 pm blowing our long shofar – but no, he isn’t practicing for Yomtov. He is heralding the many workers – be they health workers, bus drivers, grocery and bank clerks – who enable our lives to carry on. Everyone who is beating pots and blowing horns is making a calling out of holy gratitude – loudly and regularly.
I would like to pick up on this theme and ask each one of us to begin a new practice of gratitude; we are phoning and checking in with each other – but is there something more we might be doing? I would like to suggest that each one of us “pay it forward” once a week – write a letter to someone elderly who isn’t able to Zoom; make a visit from 8’ away; bake an extra cake or pot of something delicious and drop it off to that family nearby. What can each of us do to begin to stretch the edges of our bubbles – safely and cautiously, at all times – but to give generously and intentionally and unexpectedly, even anonymously. I look forward to hearing about some of the creativity with which you will begin this practice of gratitude!
Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa would say: A person whose deeds exceed his wisdom shall have enduring wisdom, but one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds shall not have enduring wisdom. Perek 111, Mishnah 12, Pirkei Avot.