May 1st Guest Visiting Rabbi!

Rabbi Ira Flax will be our Special Guest the weekend of May 1-3.

INTRODUCING RABBI IRA M. FLAX

Rabbi Ira M. Flax, Lt Col, USAF Chaplain (retired) began his undergraduate education at Hofstra University, followed by graduate studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He further studied in the Masters Program at Gratz College in Philadelphia. Rabbi Flax was personally ordained by Rabbi Zalmen Schachter, founder of the chavurah movement, at Yeshivat Pnai Or in Philadelphia and continued studies at Yeshevat Ayshel Avraham in Monsey, NY. He is a member of the Association of Jewish Chaplains.

Some of Rabbi Flax’s experience includes serving as Visiting Rabbi/Scholar at Beth Israel in Biloxi for a year, Teacher/Education Director at Beth El in Birmingham for a year, Teacher/Educator of NE Miles Day School in Birmingham for 3 years, US Air Force Rabbi/Chaplain for 20 years at various USA and overseas military posts with responsibilities as both Rabbi (services leader & Jewish educator) and a staff officer.Rabbi Flax was commissioned a 2nd Lt in 1982, entered active duty in 1988, was promoted to Lt Col in 2004 and retired in 2008. In the course of his career he was awarded 15 medals and ribbons as attestation to his distinguished AF service.

Rabbi’s Corner by Rabbi Ira M. Flax

A Holy People; an understanding from Torah and Tradition

“You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy.” This instruction is at the heart of this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. The Hebrew word for “holy” is kadosh: this is the root of the word kiddush, the sanctification of wine; kaddish, the prayer which sanctifies the name of God; and kiddushin, the ring ceremony through which one partner in a marriage is sanctified to the other. This root is usually understood to mean separation, something which is kadosh is set-apart.

Torah uses this word to describe Shabbat, the festivals,  all set apart from ordinary time; the Temple, a place set apart for God ; the Israelite community, set apart from other communities; and God, who is the ultimate in set-apart. And in this week’s Torah portion, we’re told that this word needs to apply to us, too. The Torah doesn’t just tell us to be holy as individuals, we are called to be a mamlechet kohanim and a goy kadosh, a kingdom of priests and holy nation. In this week’s portion, it says: k’doshim tiyihu — “Y’all shall be holy.” The injunction is in the plural. Torah isn’t just saying that you should be holy, and you, and you—each one of us finding his/her own path. Torah says “y’all be holy, now.” What does it mean to be holy as a community?

This week’s parsha offers some clues. “When y’all reap the harvest of y’all’s land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” The responsibility to feed the hungry and make resources available to the foreigner is a communal one. Only after the communal injunction does Torah also address our individual obligations. “Y’all shall not steal; y’all shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another.” And then, speaking to us as individuals, Torah tells us not to defraud one another, withhold the wages of someone in need, insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind.  “Y’all should not render unfair decisions,” Torah says, and then instructs us individually not to favor the poor or show deference to the rich. Speaking to us as individuals, God adds v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, “Love your fellow as yourself.”

Being holy means caring for the needy, feeding the hungry, and behaving ethically as a community. And on a personal level, it means recognizing that each person is a sovereign being made in the divine image and worthy of love. Earlier I wrote that one of the meanings of the root kuf/daled/shin is “set apart.” Historically we’ve understood ourselves as a community which is set apart. To some extent that’s been our choice. To some extent we’ve made a virtue of necessity, and when we’ve been ghettoized we’ve used that geographical reality to maintain our communal integrity. Much of halakha and minhag, law and custom, is predicated on that kind of insularity.

But today most of us don’t live only among other Jews. The communal separation earlier generations took for granted isn’t our norm. We need to find a new understanding of “holy community” which isn’t predicated on having a solid wall between “us” and “them.”  Jewish tradition sees God as both transcendent — set-apart and far-away — and immanent, which means dwelling in creation and in relationship.Torah calls us be holy as God is holy. To me, that means we’re called to be set-apart and also to be connected. We need good boundaries, but we also need for those boundaries to be permeable.  Today most of us live in many communities at once: our religious communities, geographic communities, or communities of interest.  We make our communities holy by the way we reach out to people in times of celebration and moments of need—whether need for groceries or a new interview suit or hands to hold the baby while weary parents get an hour of rest.

Kedoshim tihiyu: y’all shall be holy. Every year Torah reminds us that God has high expectations, not only of each of us as individuals but of us as a collective. May all of us here tonight be blessed to feel in our hearts and know in our minds that we’re part of a community…and may we find the strength to step up and lend a hand, so that our communities may be strengthened and our capacity for collective holiness be fulfilled.

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