For the last couple of months, I have been a “pusher.” A pusher of what, you ask? A pusher of cookies, girl scout cookies. I know I am a little old to be a girl scout, but “a Dad has got to do what a Dad has to do” to make sure my girl scout hits her sales goal. I have walked door-to-door selling cookies as if I was soliciting a Kirby Vacuum or Cutco Knives. We have setup driveway sales and walked up to random cars waiting to turn out of our neighborhood. We have even worked the local grocery store and made sure to tell each customer they surely need some cookies to go with the milk they just bought. It has been a constant and never-ending push to get to the 300 boxes sold mark.
I bring up this experience because it got me thinking about this week’s parasha, Tzav. Tzav continues Torah’s journey through the ancient rituals of sacrifice: guilt and sin, healing, love of God, and installation of priests. The parasha also speaks of the fire that will be kept constantly going on the altar. Synagogues today replicate the altar’s flame with the ner tamid, the eternal light hanging over the Ark that houses the Torah scroll. Prayer, learning, and acts of service long ago replaced the Israelite sacrificial system. The Ark replaced the altar. The ner tamid of the synagogue reminds worshipers of God’s presence in their midst.
Now thinking about the energy I put in to get rid of 300 boxes of cookies, consider what it took in ancient days to keep this flame burning. A flame was a source of life, giving heat, protection, and the ability to prepare food. These, in turn, were the fuel and focus of the community. It took the community to keep the flame burning. It took collective effort to build the altar, gather wood, tend the flame, remove the ashes, and make the “pure olive oil” that was the fire’s fuel. Like the mishkan, the ner tamid burned because people kept it alive. This is true with our congregation. It shines or darkens by the care and effort of its members. The ner tamid symbolically shines within each of us as long as we are connected to whatever excites us. Whatever “it” is that constitutes our internal ner tamid, it must be stoked as never before. As the Pew Research study has shown (again), the American Jewish community is declining in numbers, and the institutions that support the community are declining as well. Fewer and fewer Jews are engaging as Jews in Jewish learning, ritual celebration, Jewish observance, tzedakah, tikkun olam, or those mitzvot requiring us to take care of our neighbors. And without Jews “doing Jewish,” it is impossible for us as Jews to do the sacred work of making God’s presence manifest in our world.
Without a passion for Jewish life, it is impossible for us to keep the ner tamid lit for future generations. I am happy to say this is not the trend at Jeremiah. As I moved around the Purim festivities this past Sunday, I felt the energy radiating from our community. It is my sincere hope that we will act as an example to the greater community and not “let the light go out.” May we each rededicate ourselves to keeping the fire within each of us and within our community alive perpetually.