Three days ago, amidst a group of students, a young woman entered Shul and within a short time remarked “you are the first Jew I have ever met.” It was intimidating to hear such a comment; I felt a tremendous weight upon my shoulders. I wondered about the ramifications yet to be if I failed to convey adequately the significance of Judaism and Jewish life. I explained the Yahrzeit plaques and our act of remembering people whom we may no longer know, the Eternal Flame demonstrating the power of one small flicker to illumine a large dark expanse and invited them up to the Bima to see the Torah; pointing out that Judaism does not need rabbis- only teenagers of 13+ because all children and adults bear the power to instruct and lead a community. While pointing out that Judaism is not evangelistic and Jews view Tikkun Olam (repairing the whole world) as essential, I noticed her glancing at her smartphone. My heart felt heavy- had I already lost her attention?
They departed and as I escorted Don Berry, a long -time friend of ours who had arranged a field trip of college students from University of Mobile, to the front door, I mentioned my fear that I had not made a difference. He consoled me by telling me that he, too, felt the same disinterest within his college students. As the rest of Don’s students exited the building, one young man who had appeared engaged and interested, extended his hand and thanked me. Perhaps there remains hope.
This week we begin to read the third volume of Torah. Known by its foreign name Leviticus which sounds weird and off-putting, it is also called by its Hebrew name Vayikra which means ‘and he called out’. It is a gentle word and indicates that God initiated a conversation by calling out to Moses. Admittedly, the animal offerings described herein are more than off-putting and the act of ritual slaughter as worship is bizarre as much as it appears cruel. But, instead of critiquing the system of offerings I notice that 6 different categories of offerings are utilized within a greater context; the context of allowing for mistakes and the need to apologize. Six different attempts at apologizing exist to symbolize that your method of seeking forgiveness may be different than mine and his may be different than hers.
Our third book of Torah is two years away from the Exodus and opens at the base of Sinai, to a newly-freed people and instructs them in the importance of seeking and granting apologies appropriate to the varying situations of daily life. It’s an optimistic and powerful spiritual message. It is a message whose core is one of hope and of making an impact upon others. I like to think I made a difference in the learning of this young woman. I hope so just as I hope that each of us makes a difference in the lives we all touch. If not by lecturing and explaining then at least by apologizing and forgiving.