KEEPING THE SPIRITUAL FIRE BURNING IS ESSENTIAL

BY RABBI DANIEL PLOTKIN

One of the difficulties for rabbis, especially those serving congregations, at this time of year is leading our regular Torah study sessions. The beginning of the book of Leviticus can be perceived as difficult: a detailed explanation of the differing sacrifices to be offered in the mishkan, and eventually in the Temple in Jerusalem.

As so often is the case, however, difficulty breeds opportunity. There is a great opportunity that is presented to us as we have an opportunity to engage in our text on a very different level than at other times of year. When we study Genesis, we can relate the family struggles to our own families. When we study Exodus, we can see the ethical implications for our own day from both the various stories and many of the laws given out at Sinai. But Leviticus, because so many of the laws seem inapplicable in our day, gives us a chance to look more closely at the deeper message contained within the laws.

ADVERTISEMENT
Repertory Theatre St. Louis ad


Rabbi Menachem M. Scnheerson, the great Lububvacher Rebbe of blessed memory, shared an interesting insight relating to this weeks Torah portion, Tzav, that brings us to this deeper message. Commenting on Leviticus 6:6, “A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out,” Rabbi Schneerson said that in our own day each of us, individually, must keep the fire of Judaism burning within our hearts at all times in three areas: study, prayer and tzedekah.

I agree fully with the Rebbe that these three pieces of Judaism are at the core of keeping the fire of Judaism burning in each one of us and in our community, and I would further expand tzedekah (often translated as charity) to gimilut chasadim (acts of kindness, which includes tzedekah among other things). While I am certain the Rebbe would disagree with me on application, the beautiful thing about his teaching is that it works for both traditionally observant Jews and non-traditionally observant Jews.

For the traditionally observant, it is a relatively easy teaching, as all of these aspects are a part of the daily routine, the challenge for this group is to keep the routine burning as a fire, and not something done by rote.

For those who, like myself, are non-traditionally observant the stoking of the fires can be a bit more difficult, but it can be done. The easiest way to keep the fire of Judaism lit in this case, is through synagogue involvement and active participation, just like the traditionally observant. Every synagogue has opportunities in all three areas of importance and it only takes one’s attendance to be an active part of it. Outside of the synagogue it can be more of a challenge, but the wide variety of communal activities that we have, Israel programming, the work of the Jewish Fund for Human Needs, and the Jewish Family and Children’s Services, along with the unlimited volunteer opportunities in the wider community not only give us a chance to act on the idea of gimilut chasadim, but also can provide opportunities for prayer and learning that lead to action.

The fire of Judaism is in the care of each and every one of us. If we see ourselves as solely responsible for keeping that flame lit, then, as we join others who have taken on the same responsibility, the flame of Judaism will continually grow stronger and stronger.

Rabbi Daniel Plotkin of B’nai El Congregation provided this week’s Torah portion.