This week has been one of the most interesting weeks of my life. Just last week my wife Mushka and our two gorgeous boys, Av and Lev, flew to Bangkok in anticipation of the birth of our third child, beezrat Hashem. Mushka likes to have our babies in Thailand where she enjoys more than 10 days of recovery in a state-of-the-art hospital with world class facilities and service. While the days leading up to her departure were hectic as we began preparing for the new arrival, the minute Mushka and the boys were on the plane I suddenly had more spare time than I had ever had over the last 5 years!
The house was quiet and I was able to participate in some events around bedtime hours when I otherwise would have been at home. While the quiet was nice for the first day, I can’t wait to re-join my family over Pesach and see my kids. It’s a little too quiet so I took the opportunity to participate in a few more events than usual.
This past Saturday night I was invited by another senior Rabbi in Melbourne to attend Premier Daniel Andrew’s annual multicultural dinner which is held at the exhibition centre in Melbourne City. I was not intending to go as the dinner started before Shabbat ended, but, with some last minute encouragement from my fellow Rabbi, we came to the conclusion that we should attend when we could and represent the Jewish community at such an important event.
While we arrived two hours after the event started, the effects of the event were still palpable and the crowd sizeable when we walked in. I met with fellow clergy members of the Christian, Muslim and Buddhist faiths and was able to have meaningful discussions with a number of other faith leaders. For me, multiculturalism and interfaith work is extremely important and is a core principal in such a wonderful country like Australia where our community has excellent relations with so many other faith based communities. Multicultural values are clearly recognised as important across Australia, but especially in our Synagogue.
I was also able to meet briefly with Premier Daniel Andrews and his wife Cath and told them that I was a Rabbi at ARK Centre and welcomed them anytime to visit. In return, the Premier sent his best wishes to our community and advised that the activities undertaken by the Jewish community, particularly in the interfaith sphere, were remarkable and appreciated.
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Tzav, the Jewish people’s uniqueness is alluded to through the discussion of the Aish Tamid (eternal fire) that is commanded to keep burning at all times on the incense Alter in the Temple. This flame was intended to be everlasting and never go out. As a child I never understood why such a flame was necessary at all times and would often question the purpose of such a flame and wondered whether it was intended for warmth because maybe it was cold in the Temple.
However, as I became older this ‘everlasting light’ on the incense alter became more meaningful to me. I understood that it was meant as a reminder of G-d’s presence in the Tabernacle and His warmth and care for the Jewish people.
There are many references to light and fire in the Torah, including the famous verse in the Book of Isaiah which describes that the role of the Jewish people is to act as an ‘Or LaGoyim’ or ‘A light unto the nations.’ This statement is not one that reflects elitism or exclusivity, but rather demonstrates a responsibility.
When the Jewish people have the opportunity to give and show others by example, we should. When the Jewish people are in a position to help those that are less fortunate, we need to identify roles where we can become mentors for others. We have an obligation to help minorities and those that may be disadvantaged or suffer from distress if we are in a position to do so.
It is interesting to note that the Parsha this week details many of the laws that apply only to Kohanim and associated services by Leviim that they were required to undertake in the Temple. Reading through the Parsha it would almost be easy to assume that unless you were a Kohen or a Levi, these laws were superfluous and unnecessary to know for lay people like you or me. However, in general, Judaism does not take this self-centred approach. Although the issue may not directly affect you, you are still obligated to know. This is in keeping with the idea that all Jews are responsible for one another and responsible to those who are less fortunate in society as a whole. This ties in with the ‘Aish Tamid,’ the ‘everlasting light’ in the Temple. While it served as a reminder of G-d’s presence, it also served to remind the community that although the Temple services were not taking place overnight, they still retained their relevance. The ‘light’ served as a reminder of the Jewish people’s obligation to serve as a light unto others and lead by example.
As we enter into the week leading up to Pesach, I wish for all members and friends of the Ark that you find a spring to your step as we embrace the light and warmth for the upcoming festivities!