Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Vayikra

When my oldest daughter Corey (now 31 and a mother) was a toddler, she learned to speak in the most effective form of solicitation. Her first sentence was, “Daddy, I love you … want money go shopping.” Instinctively, before making “the ask” she buttered me up. Of course, she then went into my wallet and equally instinctively pulled out the Gold Visa (not the Gold Shell card or the Silver Visa). She called out to bring me close with a sign of affection first. It would have been cute had she gone to the wallet first, but, that her first call was to tell me she loved me meant I would do anything for her.

30 plus years later, I think about how impactful that moment has been on my life. Seriously, as I see it, it is always most appropriate to let someone know that he/she means something to you before you ask for something; especially something big.

We begin a new book of the Torah this week: Vayikra – Leviticus. We finished building the Tabernacle, and now we get to talk about what is supposed to happen there. The purpose of the Tabernacle is to have a place where God can dwell with us; a place created to affirm blessings through worship and community gathering. Satirically, the Tabernacle happens to also be the place to which people bring their sacrificial offerings; food for God, the priests and the poor. God dwells where food exists … just too Jewish.

In the book’s opening scene, God calls to Moses to get his attention. The text does not simply recite what God told Moses to tell Israel. Most appropriately, the text begins with the personal outreach to Moses, as God is about to instruct him about the whole matter of sacrifices.  Even God understands that before asking Moses to solicit on God’s behalf, it was important to affirm their relationship and show that appreciation. Moses is not just the tax collector, as the prophet, he is God’s voice to the people. Asking for people’s wealth as an offering could not be an easy task; I am not sure who would voluntarily give, without some assurance from Moses that the request came from God. God was sending Moses out on a tough quest, and wanted him to know that his faith and effort were appreciated.

How often, though, do we make serious requests of people, and simply expect them to comply? My favorite “interview” joke depicts a young man in a corporate VIP’s office. the interviewer asked the young man what his salary requirements were for the position. “Well, I would need $150,000 to start, a car allowance, and one month paid vacation.” the interviewer added, “And don’t forget the corner office in the penthouse, the summer home on the shore, and the expense account.” With big eyes, the young man said, “Are you serious? That sounds unreal!” the VIP responded, “It is, but since you were speaking nonsense, I thought I would play along.”

We live in a world of entitlement. I don’t mean social security, healthcare, or education. I mean people expect each other to jump through all sorts of hoops, and then are either unappreciative when people do or disgruntled when the unrealistic ask proves to be unrealistic.

We do not ask of each other, we demand from each other, and perhaps the worst offenders are houses of worship. Thousands of American houses of worship close each year because the way in which they “live” religion becomes irrelevant to faith. The budgetary demand takes precedence over the prophetic mission. Healing the world through repairing lives loses sway to the mandate of yesterday’s traditions. The need for innovative and evolving spirituality gets quashed under the weight of the traditional answer, “This is how we do things here.” The past holds the vote and veto over the future. The one place where personal empowerment should be the institution’s strongest goal devolves into the seat of power protection and authority hoarding. We need to honor the past, but the best way in which to honor it is to use the blessing it has given us to propel us into a relevant approach to tomorrow. We cannot steamroll over people, but we also cannot be stymied when they refuse to participate in the evolving conversation. It is the expectation that change is absolute on the one hand, and on the other hand, the demand that we stay the course and keep things the way that they “have always been” that provide the greatest threat to the existence of religion in America.

Quite simply, old and new, we need to first appreciate each other a whole lot more. Better still, we need to better appreciate each other’s potential, each other’s dignity, each other’s spirit, and each other’s ability to push us to continue to provide spiritually open space and support as we seek to respond to the world that continues to change and evolve around us. How can we respond to this change as a people, if we have no respect for the people with whom we are seeking change? I love my mom. She hates the new Jewish music. The “new” music she hates is now a generation outmoded, and I had to show her that the “old” Jewish music she loves was the “new”music my grandfather hated.

A former congregant, a nonagenarian, used to tell me that she hated the new music, the new prayer book, the new … everything, but appreciated that it was necessary for the future of Judaism. She loved that things kept growing. She kept growing with it. We all need to keep growing with our traditions and them with us. It begins, though, with the us. Shabbat Shalom.