This week’s portion, Tetzaveh, begins with commandments to raise an eternal flame and to find people who are wise hearted to build a sanctuary where God’s presence would be visible. Tetzaveh, from the root word command, is paired with a special Sabbath for remembering. It precedes the holiday of Purim and invites us to remember. We remember when an ancient enemy, Amalek, sought to dis-member the ancient Israelites by attacking the most vulnerable as they left the narrow place of oppression. The rabbis built a bridge between this memory, which is a story from the Torah, and another evil enemy from the Book of Esther who sought to dis-member an entire kingdom of its Jews. In connecting these two Jewish experiences, we revisit moments of tragic vulnerability and, more importantly, I think, our historic resiliency. This is no small gift.
The directive to build a sacred place coupled with the obligation to remember our vulnerable times brings my thoughts to the original Jewish Hospital. In line with almost a thousand employees of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, I have been packing my office to vacate the Kingshighway building in preparation for the demolition of the old Jewish Hospital, the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing building, the Yalem, and Steinberg buildings. These demolitions are part of a scheduled and much needed hospital campus expansion program that will take several years to complete.
As a rabbi, I am acutely aware of the principles upon which the foundation of this house of bricks stands. Like the sanctuary in the biblical narrative, Jewish Hospital represented the highest values the St. Louis Jewish Community could manifest as God’s partners in healing a broken world. In remembering and responding to our own Jewish vulnerability, Jewish Hospital provided Jewish doctors with their own sanctuary for healing and those who entered that hallowed space with expert medical attention in a just, dignified, and compassionate manner.
The commandment in the beginning of our Torah portion is to lift up an eternal light and create a meeting place where the Divine Presence might dwell. For more than a century, the medical community of Jewish Hospital answered the prayers of many. The human heart is the greatest sanctuary there is. Many hearts were touched, embraced, and sustained through the efforts of many fine care providers. I am so proud of this community and the integrity provided through health care during difficult times.
The Jewish Community of St. Louis has moved beyond its own self-care. The expansion of the Jewish food pantry and the expansion of many, many programs that serve a broader constituency is a testimony to the highest ideals in our faith. I know the hospital campus will be transformed over the next few years. I am confident that the essence of Jewish Hospital will find a fitting memorial in the new space. The materials brought to build the sanctuary in the wilderness were free will offerings of the heart. The beauty of the ancient Tent of Meeting was inspired by the wise-hearted, those touched by the spirit of God. The light of the old, Jewish Hospital menorah which shines through the Kingshighway entrance stands as a beacon to the awesome reality of all those who gave freely and wise-heartedly when called upon.
May we find the opportunities to share, honor, and celebrate the history, the stories, and contributions of this wonderful gift from Jewish St. Louis to the city’s health care community.