Sign In Forgot Password

Am Yisrael Hai - How Will We Keep the Flame Burning? 

03/28/2024 11:35:15 AM


Rabbi Bryan Wexler

The opening verses of this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, state: “This is the Torah of the burnt-offering… The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: the priest shall burn wood upon it each morning, each morning … A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out,” (Leviticus 6:1, 4, 6).

Three times in six verses there is a reference to the fire burning on the altar and not going out. What is this fire that must not be extinguished?

Several Hassidic commentaries offer suggestions for what this perpetual fire might represent.  These include: the life force within each of us, the fear of God, the Torah which gives light, and the light of redemption and hope.

But most powerful for me is the commentary by the Sefat Emet, a 19th century Hassidic rabbi who wrote: “in the soul of every Jew there lies a hidden point that is aflame with love of God, a fire that cannot be put out.”

In other words, the fire of humanity, of holiness, and of Godliness burns within each of us. The fire is always there, and yet, as we know and experience, a struggle takes place each day to overcome that which might smother it–that which distracts us, or distances us, or turns us away from love, from sanctity, and from offering service with the fullness of our hearts.

As I reflect on this teaching, I am reminded of a lesson I try to teach our Confirmation students each year at the end of our Confirmation trip to Israel.  It is a message that I learned from Rabbi Peltz as he taught it to a decade of  TBS Confirmation classes before me.  We teach our students, “Now that you have fallen in love with Israel, right now your Israel pot is boiling.  Your job is to figure out how to kindle the flame to keep the pot boiling once you return home to the U.S.  How will you keep your love for Israel alive?  How will you support Israel from abroad?  How will you make plans (soon) to return to Israel? And how will you continue to step into your Jewish identity?”

These questions and imagery have felt particularly important this year as we have watched the events of the past nearly 6 months unfold in Israel.  And when I was finally back in Israel in February, it is a message I heard time and again.  The collective trauma is intense, and yet, the sense of perseverance and strength are stronger. The fire that exclaims “Am Yisrael Hai” burns on.  How will we, at TBS keep the flame burning?  How will we both care for the flame of our brothers and sisters in Israel while also tending the flame of our own desire to be there, to do something?  We have done this through the Israel engagement, advocacy, and education we have done this at TBS.  We have done this through the incredible amount of tzedakah we have raised for Israel, and we have done this through the TBS mission that Rabbi Peltz led with fifteen of our congregants in February.

And now, I am eager to announce that we will continue to support our brothers and sisters by offering another Mission to Israel, which I will be leading, in June.  The trip will depart on Monday June 24th and return in the early morning of Sunday June 30th. I hope you will consider joining me on this mission of solidarity and support as we go to bear witness to the atrocities of October 7th, bring support to the Israelis that we will meet, volunteer, and tend the flames of Am Yisrael.

There will be an Israel Mission Information Session on Zoom next Thursday (4/4) at 7PM.  Please register HERE.  I hope to see you then.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784