Friday, March 13, 2009

1,000 Points of Light - and One Shamash

This Shabbat we honor and thank our volunteers. There are literally too many to count. Any religious organization - any society - exists only because of the countless hours put in by volunteers. We are very fortunate and appreciative of those efforts.

During this economic crisis, one noticeable trend that we've found is that people out of work are volunteering more. Rather than focusing exclusively on internal needs (which would be understandable), many are taking this transitional time and putting some effort toward the common good. The generosity of these people has been astounding, it has helped us immensely and undoubtedly it has helped them too. It's always better for someone facing personal crises to redirect that negative energy into something positive, pointing beyond the self and leading to more profound connections.

We have our thousand points of light here at TBE, but what's even more impressive is that each one feels responsible to be the Shamash, that candle that lights all the others. The word Shamash comes from Shemesh, which means sun in Hebrew and is a term actually derived from a Mesopotamian sun god who exercised the power of light over darkness and evil. It's not enough to be a point of light. In these hard times, each of us needs to shine like the sun and light up the world.

Which is a good time to remind everyone that on April 8 at 5 AM, you can join me at Cove Island for the Blessing of the Sun (Birkat Ha-Hachama), a prayer that is recited at sunrise only once every 28 years! It will be an unforgettable experience. You'll hear more about it over the coming weeks - meanwhile see some background here as well as here and here.

Here are some Jewish text sources on volunteering:

Al sh'loshah d'varim haolam omed: Al haTorah, v'al ha-avodah, v'al g'milut chasadim.
The world depends on three things:
on Torah,
on worship
and on loving deeds.
Pirkei Avot 1:2

Mishnah Torah 10:7-14 The highest level of tzedakah, exceeded by none, is that of the person who assists a poor person by providing him with a gift or loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him to find employment – in a word, by putting him where he can dispense with other people's aid.

Hilchot Isurai Mizbayach 7:11 When you give food to a hungry person, give him your best and sweetest food.

Rabbi Shelom of Karlin (18th Century) If you want to raise a person from mud and filth, do not think it is enough to keep standing on top and reaching a helping hand down to the person. You must go all the way down yourself, down into mud and filth. Then take hold of the person with strong hands and pull the person and yourself out into the light.

Some other sources:

Spark: The Center for Jewish Service Learning at the Jewish Funds for Justice
To inspire a commitment to service as an important expression of Jewish identity. Site focuses on volunteer resources and service-learning from a Jewish perspective, explaining how to apply religious concepts of service.

STAR: Synagogue Transformation and Renewal - Volunteer Engagement
Titled "Volunteers: The Heartbeat of the Synagogue," this section of the STAR Web site offers a variety of articles and resources.

Synagogue Social Action Resource Guide
A six-section guide from the Jewish United Fund of Chicago to engaging volunteers in many synagogue service projects.

Again, thank you to all who give of themselves to our TBE community!

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