This week’s music: Not Without You
This week’s Torah portion of “Tetzvah,” is one that many people seem to have difficulty connecting to. After all, we don’t seem to have a physical Beit Hamikdah yet and therefore we have no idea where are these “bigdei kehunah,” clothing of the Kohanim, which are so beautifully described in this week’s portion. This brought a thought to my mind.
People often ask me what is it that I like so much about our little caravan Beit Knesset in Tekoa bet. The two things that I can immediately note truly go hand in hand. I have never been in a Beit Knesset like ours when just before Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly blessing, which I am honored to do every day, the Rabbi goes out in the street and calls out loud to all of the children to come running in to get their blessing, “Birkat Koahnim!” he shouts out. The Kohen must recite the blessings, …the One who sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron, and commanded us to bless His nation Israel with love. I have mentioned here before that when a Kohen gets up to ostensibly be the vehicle for this blessing, he must make sure that he has no animosity towards anyone in the congregation. If God forbid he does, he may not recite this blessing, as saying, “b’ahavah,” with love, would be a blessing in vain.
That’s the second thing I love about our little synagogue. In the ten years that I have been blessed to pray here, only once did I ever hear a negative word said about another person. Can you imagine, only one time, that’s it! How beautiful! No critiques on how this one leads services, no comments on who is paying attention, no mention out loud as to whether the air conditioner is working properly, if the Kiddush was to my taste or if we started a few minutes later or on time, not to mention other important issues that people feel the need to argue about (sic). It’s a group of people who really care about each other. Perhaps that is why that each Friday night, the singing is truly congregational. No one tries to push us ahead or hold us back. How beautiful was it this past Simchat Torah when all of the teens in the synagogue spontaneously sang out loud, “ein k’mo Beit Knesset Tekoa Bet!”
In addition to reading the portion much connected to “Koahnim” this week, we also read “Parshat Zachor,” the portion which reminds us that we are obligated to wipe out from the face of the earth the memory of Amalek, our greatest enemy throughout our history. When we think of Peasach, many of us immediately think of cleaning. The reality is that the cleaning that we really need to do for Pesach starts as an integral part of Purim. The first direct command, mitzvah, that approaches us in Purim time is, “mechiat Amalek,” remember to wipe out any memory of Amalek, do not forget (Devarim 25 .17-19). I must not forget that Amalek exists all over society, however difficult it may be to positively identify who belong to the nation of Amalek today, which practices are related to that people, what is the culture and behavior that lives on in our world today. Having said that it is clear to me that The Torah is clearly alive and as such, we, B’nai Yisrael, “the children of Israel, the offspring of Yaakov Avinu” are alive.
So too our counterparts, Amalek from the seed of Esav. So how can I go about wiping out Amalek if I may have difficulty identifying him?
Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev teaches us that in addition to our national obligation to wipe out Amalek from the world, each person needs to wipe out the portion of bad, which is referred to as Amalek, that is hiding within his/her heart. That’s where the “cleaning” begins. Each of us, the Talmud in Tractate Ta’anit teaches, is our own little “world.” In my “world” there is a force that only wants to harm. I, as a child of Yaakov Avinu. I like my forefather is described many times on the Torah, need to use my mouth to cry out with song and prayer, to share the words of The Holy Torah, and as a result, force out all bad thoughts I might have about others.
What can I use to help me actualize my cleaning process? Look at our history with “Amalek,” as it is written in The Torah. “Remember what Amalek did to you when you went out of Mitzraim.” History tells us a lot. What was our responsibility in this attack scene? “Asher karcha baderech,” as Shlomo taught us, when you got a little cold on the way. As Reb Levi Yitzchak adds, we got spiritually tired and our intensity for recognizing the awesomeness of God started to wane. “Lo tishkach!” Don’t forget!
With God’s help we must remember and never forget the deep personal history that we have together. All of these principles are things that we cannot doubt. When we doubt our Jewish right to Eretz Yisrael, when we doubt the validity of the amazing miracle that Hashem did for us in the miraculous victory in the 1967 six day war, when we doubt our need to be committed to each other and instead can speak with hatred then that evil power finds a way to creep in. When, like our forefathers who first confronted Amalek, are hands are weak, and we allow our opinions to stand in the way of the necessary love that we have for each other, then that Amalek can God forbid creep in and take us down. A Haman the wicked, may his name be blotted out, said to Achashverosh about us, there is one nation among us that are splintered.
I know nobody asked, but I think we could make good use out of Ta’anit Esther, “the fast of Esther”, this year. I feel like we could use a national day of fasting and cleansing to seek out and ask for some clarity on how we can fix the divide between us. We really need a cleansing on a national level. We are so close that it’s crazy not to accept the challenge and close the gap.
Purim is a holiday of national pride.“Chag Purim, chag gadol layehudim!” Purim is a great holiday for the Jewish people. We should take pride in our holy land, we should respect our beautiful people, no matter our vast differences of opinion, and we should be grateful that we were chosen to receive God’s Holy Torah. This is our key clue as to what to do I can do after I am successful in identifying and wiping out the bad in my heart. When I am blessed to wipe out my bad I need to replace it with goodness, with love, Torah, Godliness. The Torah is alive here and now! It is not simply relegated to be an intellectual exercise, an ancient philosophy, a hanging on the wall or even a religious identity. The Torah is a way of life May we be blessed to embrace it, each other and Hashem now.
May we be blessed to realize the urgency of us walking together,“yad b’yad,” hand in hand and “lev b’lev,” heart to heart, with no fear of each other or our enemies and only strengthen our commitment to each other and Hashem on this amazing holiday of Purim.
Shabbat Shalom, A Gut Purim!!!