The book of VaYikra (Leviticus) which we began last week is centered on the intersection of Kedushah (Holiness) and Avodah (Service). Priests were the embodiment of both, designated as the officiants of worship and collectors of sacred tithe. We are worlds away from this system of inherited status, and yet, if "service" can be defined as an act done by one on behalf of another, the nexus of holiness and service still warrants our attention. The world we inhabit has ongoing needs, and we are called to address them in every way we can. That is what it means to live a holy life.
Just yesterday I stood at my sister's side at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York as
I cannot begin to express my emotions as my family gathered to witness her take the United States Oath of Office, which reads:
I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
There are moments in which old words gain new meaning. I am humbled and overwhelmed by the sacred promise my sister made to serve our country. She might be deployed to offer support to troops in combat, offering her heart to human beings giving everything they are to make the world a better, safer place, at enormous risk. This makes me afraid.
Just this past Tuesday the US Navy's USS Ronald Reagan flew 29 missions to Japan, delivering 17 tons of food, water and other relief supplies, and is currently serving as a refueling platform for Japanese Coast Guard helicopters, fire and police units. I know that my sister might one day be on just such a mission, delivering aid and encountering people a world away in need of the strength and comfort she offers in the name of the Jewish People and in the name of the Unites States of America. This fills my heart with overflowing pride and awe.
Just three days ago many congregations rose and recited these words as part of a special Prayer in Response to the Earthquake and Tsunami, a prayer whose needs are growing every minute in Japan:
Dear God, ...Be with us as we offer what we can, through prayer and action, to our sisters and brothers who are suffering in Japan and who stand on alert around the world... May You be with those who are engaged in the sacred work of rescue. ...May we merit to save many lives. ...May we act when we learn how we can help. (click here for the complete text of the prayer)
I believe we were offering our service, seeking out acts we might do on behalf of another. We don't live in a world of Priests any more. Service is a commitment we choose instead of inherit. My sister has always been my teacher. Now she is my hero as well.
As we recite every Shabbat, May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease, when the a great peace will embrace the whole world.
I had a beautiful day today. I stood with my sister, a passionate rabbi serving the U.S. Navy as a chaplain, at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. We remembered our grandfather of blessed memory, who fought for America and shared hard-earned wisdom with his children and grandchildren.
I looked to my right and saw the Washington Monument. Looked to my left at the Lincoln Memorial. I read quotes engraved on massive stones. And I felt, to my core, one sad feeling: too much war.
Too. Much. War.
The quotes and certain retellings of history would have me believe that we fought for pure purposes: we fought for religious freedom, we fought to end slavery, we fought for freedom for all humanity, we fought to end tyranny. But it's also true that we fought (and fight) for economic interests. It&…