Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 210

May 10, 2024 - 3 Iyyar 5784

Parasha Kedoshim - Another Type of Holiness

Dear Friends,

I hope you had a good week and that this correspondence finds you well and in good health. We look forward to welcoming you this Saturday morning at 10:00 am for Shabbat services, which will take place in our newly renovated and illuminated sanctuary. I will be away this Shabbat, but thank Avi Yacobi and Beth Gerson, in advance, for their help with leading the service. As always, the services will be followed by a scrumptious Kiddush lunch.

As I sit down to write these Reflections, I am in the nation’s capital, leading a three-day trip of eighty 10th grade students to visit this city. Over the course of the last number of months, these pupils have been studying the very real problem of urban homelessness. While these Westchester residents are likely to observe the problem firsthand when transversing Times Square, there is something particularly jarring about witnessing this social problem in the shadow of the Capitol and White House.

Prior to their departure, the students’ eyes had been opened to the ever-fine line that sometimes separates a family from residential stability to home insecurity. Statistically, that line is typically crossed due to incurred medical expenses.

What could be more ironic than encountering rampant homelessness in proximity to D.C.’s concentration of great wealth and grandeur?

Yesterday, the students visited and volunteered for two hours at an inspiring organization called D.C. Central Kitchen. In the above photo, you can see them hard at work, assisting in the preparation of meals for those less fortunate.

Established in 1989, the stated mission of D.C. Central Kitchen is to use food “as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities.”

Workers are graduates of an on-site, 14-week sponsored training program. The classes are made up of individuals who themselves have experienced homelessness, incarceration, or generational poverty. As the spokesperson quipped, “Here they learn knife skills and life skills.”

The kitchen serves 17,000 meals each day. Approximately 12,000 of those meals are provided directly to school-aged children, who, if they didn’t receive breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks at school, would probably not eat. The other 5,000 meals go to senior centers, youth shelters, non-profits, and community foodbanks. Therefore, when we showed up with 80 kids prepared to help, the kitchen staffers were more than happy to “train” these aspiring sous-chefs and make good use of our free labor.

In this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim, we find one of the most famous commandments in the Bible: וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָֽה (Love your neighbor as yourself). According to the Talmud (Messechet Shabbat), Hillel famously quotes this passage to an inquiring potential convert as a central tenet of our faith and then Hillel directs the seeker to go forth and learn.

Indeed, holiness is found in numerous forms. In synagogue, holiness may involve communal prayer, Torah learning, reading from the Sefer Torah, or giving Tzedakah. In the world around us, our Holiness is actualized when we lend a hand by assisting a stranger, comforting a mourner, feeding the hungry, or clothing the naked.

And on days when these duties seem infinite, overwhelming in scope, and frustrating to face, I encourage you to focus on the wisdom of the Mishna Pirke Avot 2:16, in which Rabbi Tarfon said, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”

This week, whether you are cutting vegetables at a soup kitchen, visiting those who need healing, or engaging in another activity to repair the world, know that you are exemplifying the love of humanity, and doing your small part to bring full holiness to the world. I wish you a good week ahead with continued success in your holy and sacred tasks.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD, Hon DM.
Tel: 201-562-5277

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