Still processing the amazing installation weekend that just passed. Surrounded by loved ones – family, friends and congregation – I felt so appreciated and embraced and loved. It was quite amazing. I hope to write more about it soon but in the meantime, here is my sermon from Friday night.
Nachat Ruach: Ritual Sacrifice & Spiritual Gratification
In our portion this week,
as we begin Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus together,
we read a description of the olah, the burnt offering,
brought by individual Israelites at specific moments in their lives.
Just before the offering of the animal,
the priest says to the individual:
“You [the offerer]
shall lay a hand upon the head of the burnt offering,
that it may be acceptable in your behalf…
When we think about the sacrificial cult of the Israelites
we conceive of it as very different from our own ways
of worshipping and communicating with God,
and in most ways it is very different.
Something I often find myself pointing out
when teaching about the Israelite cult,
is how in those days, the priest acted as an intermediary
between The People and God.
Individuals didn’t seem to have much of a role
in their own relationship to God.
Upon reflection of this passage however,
I began to wonder if perhaps I had missed
an important piece of the ritual.
In the case of the olah sacrifice,
the Israelite, the lay person,
gets to actively participate in the offering process,
by laying their hands upon the offering,
physically acknowledging their role in the Divine relationship.
It is also important to not that the olah offering
appears to be one that ANYONE can participate in,
regardless of gender –
even regardless of whether they are an Israelite-by-birth
or whether they are a non-Israelite
living amid the Israelite community.
The parsha says:
Adam ki-yakriv mikem korban l’Adonai,
When any person of you presents an offering…
For a system that is usually so careful to distinguish roles
for different class systems, genders, tribes, and peoples,
this seems a radical break with the norm.
When I think of the olah offering in this way,
I can’t help thinking about our own community,
here at Temple Beth David,
where everyone is invited to participate
regardless of age, gender, economic status, sexual orientation
or even religion;
and where – even more-so –
everyone is expected to bring their own contributions;
to actively and physically participate in our rituals and activities,
and take ownership of their own spiritual journey.
In the olah ceremony,
the individual is recognized as an individual
while at the same time,
the individual is required to partner with the priest
in order for the sacrificial service to take place.
Individuality is recognized,
Collaboration is required.
The same is true for us.
Temple Beth David prides itself –
as it should! –
on its recognition of respect of individuals.
Everyone is welcome here.
Everyone is encouraged to participate and contribute
in their own unique way.
We work hard to try to find a place in our community
and in our leadership structure
for anyone who wants to be there,
even if it means rethinking how things have been done in the past.
I feel incredibly blessed to be a rabbi of such a community,
where the spirit of volunteerism
and the sense of communal responsibility are strong,
and where menchelchite is the rule rather than the exception.
These communal values don’t only foster an environment
that is attractive to all of you who affiliate here,
but they also make this a wonderful place
for a rabbi to work and lead and grow.
Every day, I feel lucky to be that rabbi.
Earlier, I mentioned that the parsha SEEMED to indicate
that the olah could be offered by anyone.
Of course, the rabbis rarely ever came to an easy consensus
on matters of interpretation.
So of course, the matter subject to other perspectives.
The difficulty in the verse I mentioned above
is that the Hebrew word understood by us to mean “any person”
is adam, which can also be translated as “any man”.
Gender-related terms in the Torah can often be ambiguous
and technically, there’s no right or wrong answer.
In a Talmudic debate
about whether or not women were thus precluded
from laying their hands on the olah offering,
Rabbi Yosi introduces the concept of nachat ruach,
the gratification of the spirit.
The thinking is that while women may not have been obligated
to fulfill the religious commandment of the olah offering,
they might want to participate
in order to feel a sense of nachat ruach,
of gratification –
in Yiddish we say naches.
Rabbi Aaron Miller, in a D’var Torah
for the URJ “10 Minutes of Torah” weekly email commentary,
expounds on the concept of nachat ruach.
“What does it mean to gratify the spirit?” he asks.
“In our time, as in…ancient days…
love of Judaism is transmitted through nachat ruach,
the spiritual gratification
that creative Jewish living can bring.
Nachat ruach is not learned from scrolls or books.
Nachat ruach is fostered through spouses and partners
blessing each other at the Shabbat table,
arts and crafts at a Passover seder,
and our countless other contributions
to a tradition that each of us received.
These are the building blocks of nachat ruach,
the things that gratify the spirit.”
In the 8 months since I arrived here at Temple Beth David,
it has become more and more evident to me
that this is a community
where nachat ruach is created, fostered and maintained.
Where relationship between people,
and where relationships between people and God
are valued and prioritized
along-side traditional rituals and Jewish values.
I believe that those of you who give of yourselves to this community,
and those of you who celebrate and mourn
and pray and schmooze here
come away with a feeling of nachat ruach,
of gratification of the spirit.
I believe that.
And I know for certain that I,
as the lucky rabbi of this community
definitely feel a sense of nachat ruach each and every day.
It is so gratifying to be your rabbi!
My spirit feels full and enthusiastic and comfortable and complete.
Thank you for welcoming me, supporting me,
Forgiving me, accepting me, and encouraging me.
Thank you for learning with me and teaching me;
For praying with me and celebrating with me
and living life Jewishly with me.
It is so gratifying to be your rabbi!
I feel truly blessed.