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Tetzaveh 5782 - For Our Generations

February 12, 2022 - 1 Adar 11, 5782

On October 30, 1902, 58 men signed a charter to officially found Agudath Achim Congregation. 120 years later, we are still here, and we are still thriving. I can’t know what those 58 men and their families thought we would look like in 2022, but I would like to think that they founded this congregation with the promise of our existence in mind. In 2022, we cannot even begin to fathom what Congregation Agudath Achim will look like in 2142, but we can build the foundation for our congregation’s existence and success 120 years in the future.

About 3000 years ago, God commanded Moses to command the people Israel to maintain an ever-present light, a ner tamid… 

בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵד֩ מִח֨וּץ לַפָּרֹ֜כֶת אֲשֶׁ֣ר עַל־הָעֵדֻ֗ת יַעֲרֹךְ֩ אֹת֨וֹ אַהֲרֹ֧ן וּבָנָ֛יו מֵעֶ֥רֶב עַד־בֹּ֖קֶר לִפְנֵ֣י ה׳ חֻקַּ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹ֣רֹתָ֔ם מֵאֵ֖ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ {ס}

…in the Tent of Meeting, outside of the curtain that is upon the [ark of the] covenant. Aaron and his sons will lay it out from evening until morning before Adonai, as an everlasting law, for their generations, [kept by] the children of Israel (Exodus 27:21). Even without a Tent of Meeting, even without a centralized mikdash (or holy Temple), our Jewish congregation today keeps that ner tamid, that ever-present light in front of our modern representation of the Ark of the Covenant. Our curtained ark contains the same Torah our tradition teaches laid inside the ark that traveled throughout the desert with the people Israel. Even 3000 years later, we have kept that חוקת עולם לדורותם, that “everlasting law for their generations.”

Just a couple chapters later, in the section of Parshat Tetzaveh that Rabbi Feivel will read today, God commands the people Israel to bring a regular burnt offering each morning and evening, תמיד לדורותיכם, continually, for your generations (Ex. 29:42). Even without killing a lamb twice a day, the Jewish people practice daily prayer in place of sacrifice. In the last two verses of our parshah, God commands Aaron to bring חטאת הכיפורים, the sin offering of repentance, once a year, לדורותיכם, for your generations (Ex. 30:10). In place of that yearly sin offering, we now celebrate Yom Kippur, in which we offer our wrongdoings to God in community. Instead of lambs, we offer repentance, prayer, and righteous deeds - t’shuvah, t’fillah, tz’dakah. While the ancient Israelites may not have been able to imagine a Jewish community that looks like ours, three thousand years ago, God set up a Jewish tradition and sent down a Jewish text that God knew would be adaptable, applicable, and meaningful for endless generations to come.

Today, we have the opportunity to make decisions now in order to ensure that our community will still be in place one hundred twenty years in the future. When we make purchases for our building, we always weigh the questions of - is this purchase sustainable for the coming years, and does the cost of this purchase keep our financial situation sustainable? One practical example can be found in our current yahrzeit light dilemma. Our system is wired in a way in which our incandescent bulbs can sometimes get angry and explode when touched. They also let off a whole lot of heat, especially in the summer. Do we change all of the bulbs to LEDs, do we rewire the whole system, do we come up with a new system, or do we keep things the way they are? Currently, we have chosen a middle path of replacing bulbs with LEDs when they no longer work, but every couple of months, we weigh the question of longevity of the lights versus longevity of our finances. We hope that generations upon generations will have a visual way to remember their loved ones in community, and we have the responsibility to support that future visual and spiritual representation.

In recent times, Agudath Achim has made costly, forward-looking purchases, and we have drawn from all the resources we have at our disposal. With last year’s roof and our new security system, we have drawn from donors, grants, and our own funds. Even when we find funds from elsewhere, there are only so many people and organizations we can ask for money. Still, we make those asks because we know that certain things are worth the effort and the resources for the sake of our congregation’s future.

Of course, the most important way to plan for our future is doing all we can to welcome our present and prospective community members. In every conversation, we weigh what has been done with what could be done, taking both seasoned and newer members’ opinions into consideration. Currently, we are in the process of renovating our kitchen and rethinking our kitchen policies, keeping in mind both what has worked for our kitchen in past decades and what will be sustainable for our kitchen in future years. We know that cooking, baking, and eating have always and will always be a central social outlet for our Jewish community, and thus, our kitchen deserves that careful thought and planning. 

In both the ritual committee and the dues committee, we have spoken about the balance of openness and boundaries, of our congregants’ desires and our halakhic or financial needs. Beyond the particulars of planning, we welcome our next generation of synagogue members by providing a space for them to learn Hebrew, by smiling and laughing when they vocally show their joy in synagogue, and most recently, by making sure the toys and books they have here represent their interests and their Jewish identities. With every big-picture decision and smaller, every-day greeting, we influence the values that Agudath Achim will stand for and the resources we will provide in 10, 20, or even 200 years.

Today, I ask you to think about what you would like our congregation to look like in decades or even centuries. What needs preserving, what needs updating, and even, what are our ideal dreams for this place and these people, regardless of cost? What can we do practically, right now, to bring about that preservation, that change, and even those dreams? One of the great gifts of living in such a small community is that each and every one of us plays a part in how Judaism will be observed and practiced in Shreveport for generations to come.

Talmud Bavli, Tractate Menahot (29b) tells a story of Moses’ impatience while God writes the Torah on Mount Sinai. When he asks what is taking so long, God replies: “A person who will appear a few generations from now, and who will be called Akiva, son of Joseph, will explain each and every thorn upon these letters and will generate mountains of laws from them.” God then transports Moses to Akiva’s study hall just over a thousand years later, and Moses does not understand a word of what Rabbi Akiva is saying. Moses becomes confused and anxious, and yet, he is relieved when a student asks Rabbi Akiva how he reached a certain conclusion. The Rabbi answers, “Moses received this law at Mount Sinai and passed it on through the generations.” Moses knows that he will ultimately succeed in building up the Torah and the people Israel, even if his teachings will evolve into something that looks and sounds quite different from his initial idea. We, too, can make that space for our Shreveport Jewish community’s future, in whatever form is most meaningful for its people, through our present dedication and creativity. Along the way, we must keep our own efforts sustainable by making sure we are enjoying the process and the people with whom we learn, pray, and build. Shabbat Shalom.

Fri, December 2 2022 8 Kislev 5783