Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Tzav

Hotel slogans go out of their way to make sure you know that they will … go out of their way for you. Sheraton asks, “Who’s Taking Care of you?” Of course, the answer is that they want to. Best Western tries to keep up with the more highly rated competition by advertising “Across the Street From the Ordinary.” While I am not sure what that means – one would expect a unique experience staying there. The fancier the hotel, the fancier the advertisement.

One hotel has always dealt with the need for shelter on the most practical level. It is not the fanciest, by far. Generally speaking, though, it is most accessible. The Motel is “Motel 6.” Their slogan – “We’ll leave the light on.” No matter what time you get there, someone is there to welcome you. Think about it. There are two types of travel for so many people: planned vacations and everything else that takes us from home. As I read slogan after slogan, I could imagine (or not) fleeing life to exist in their realm of services and luxuries. All too often, though, I find myself needing to crash somewhere at night in-between places or just looking for a clean bed someplace between “here” and “there.” The trip’s goal had nothing to do with the motel, except for the shelter it could provide in moments of necessity.

“We’ll leave the light on.” Whenever I give tours of the synagogue and get to the sanctuary, I point to the light hanging over the ark and tell people that it is our Motel 6 sign: God is always open for business. We call that light the “ner tamid – eternal light.”

This week’s Torah portion teaches us to keep the fire on the altar always burning: the “ner tamid.” The sacrifices did not burn 24 hours a day, but the fire had to stay burning to help folks remember that it is always available to them while they may not be coming to the altar.

The ner tamid serves the very same purpose as the Motel 6 sign. Most who stay at the motel do so because they are in some specific need, it is more easily accessible than other places, or it provides a weary wayfarer a respite from the chaos of the road. Whatever the reason for the guest’s choice, the motel pledges to be ready to serve 24 hours a day.

Today most people who look for God look amid some time or place of need. God is open for business 24 hours a day so that people can approach on their timetable. While each religious tradition has set times for communal prayer (worship), each person’s spiritual bio-rhythmic timepiece dictates when prayer happens. It is important to be part of a community. It is essential to have a spiritual connection that helps renew our spirit and restore our faith/energy enabling us to continue the journey. We represent this light in our sanctuaries. Its essence, however, manifests in each of us, individually: our personal altars of loyalty to justice, compassion, and love.

For this reason, some of our rituals are communal, and some are private. Some are both. This weekend we will welcome Passover, a holiday that reminds us of the blessings and obligations of freedom. As we retell the Exodus story, we will begin by affirming that our world is still in bondage – enslaved to the horrors of bigotry, ignorance, and fear. The communal part of the Passover seder speaks to the work we must continue to do if we are ever to celebrate universal freedom.

At the same time, we know that Motel 6 leaves the light on for everyone but allows each of us a private room. As we experience the Seder and the week of commemoration that follows, each of us must grow the impact that our personal altars have on shaping the rest of who we can be.

Tradition tells us that we have to share this experience with people of our faith tradition and every faith tradition. The miracle of redemption and freedom must vest in everyone, or it ultimately fails everyone. For this reason, the Haggadah (the book we use to celebrate the Seder) begs questions about our commitment to do the work of redemptive justice, partnering with God to heal the world.

Passover may be a one-week festival, but its teaching carries us through the year, reminding us to keep the fire burning so that the beacon of light guides our treatment of each other. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

Shabbat Shalom.