Caring Community Shabbat, May 20, 2016.
“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.” So wrote Paul Kalanithi, a young father, a physician, and the victim of an aggressive form of lung cancer. Kalanithi’s journey is chronicled in a powerful book, When Breath Becomes Air, published posthumously earlier this year. Face to face with his own mortality, he recognized that, while some tasks can never be fully accomplished, the striving never ceases. Rabbi Tarfon said it well, in the pages of Pirkei Avot: “You are not required to finish the job; neither are you free to desist from it.”
I had recently finished Kalanithi’s book when I began thinking about this week’s parasha, and the verses we’ll be reading. Tonight’s passage described the kindling of light by Aaron and his sons. In four brief verses — Leviticus chapter 24, verses one through four, which you’ll find in the Etz Chayim commentaries on page 731, we encounter the word tamid three times. When something gets repeated like that, it’s an invitation to pay attention.
Tamid is often translated as “eternal,” as in the way we often think about the ner tamid, the light in the sanctuary that never goes out. But, as the note below the text tells us, it more properly carries the sense of “repeatedly” or “regularly,” and it seems to me that the threefold repetition of a word which means “over and over” makes for some evocative writing. Kindling the lamps is not a “one and done” proposition, but a regular, daily effort. Earlier this year, one of our b’nai mitzah, Jonah Berkley, explored the word in his d’var torah, choosing to translate it as “perseverance.” I think that’s just right.
Tonight, we’ve heard stories about the work of our Caring Community. In sharing these stories, our goal has been to raise awareness of the committee’s efforts, for sure. We hope others might be inspired to live lives of chesed, kindness and love. Perhaps some of you will be inspired to do some of that chesed work through the framework of our Caring Community; hopefully each of us will leave tonight feeling a commitment to become a little bit kinder, a little bit more caring.
But even as we lift up these stories, let’s remember that they stand for so many stories that weren’t told. Our Caring Community strives to its work tamid, making it a regular part of synagogue life. The mitzvah of caring and kindness, like the mitzvah of kindling light, is a chukat olam l’doroteichem, a “law for all time throughout the ages.” It is always operative, and our goal is to always fulfill it.
Having told you what the goal of this service is, let me tell you what it’s most definitely not: it’s not about self-congratulation. It’s not about resting on our laurels. Because we know that we haven’t reached perfection. We know that, like the bringing of the oil, the trimming of the wicks, the lighting of the candles, the work is never done. This Shabbat is a chance to say “thank you,” and then to go right back to work: the holy work of chesed-building.
So let me invite the members of our Caring Community forward to share this evening’s aliyah, and for a blessing…
Mi shebeirach avotaynu….May the One who blessed our ancestors bless the work of this Caring Community. May they build the world with love; may perfect chesed be the asymptote toward which they, and all of us, strive. May the work of their hands and hearts be acceptable, and may they, and all of us, grow in capacity and in compassion, lifting each other up. Always. Always. Always. Tamid. Tamid. Tamid.