Puttin’ On Shabbat – Shalom Rav / Blue Skies
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Points of Light and #41
President George H.W. Bush, of blessed memory, created “Points of Light,” which promotes “solving serious social problems through voluntary service.” He was the shining star of Points of Light, and a role model of voluntary spirit.
On Chanukah, as we increase the lights in our menorah, we shouldn’t fail to see the resemblance between the President’s hopes and ours. On Chanukah, the story recalls the power and might of Judah Maccabee, who led his clan to prevail over the Syrian-Greeks; but it was God’s spirit that the Hebrew prophet, Zechariah, celebrated and which we highlight as the real force behind the military victory. For how else could a small band of Jewish fighters defeat a more powerful foe? Now, the menorah holds the candles that burn with lights to recall a story about the miracle of oil, and the privilege they afford us to increase holiness wherever we live.
But, increased holiness can’t be only about ritual matters and Temple service, which the Maccabees secured by rededicating the Temple for sacred worship. Increased holiness, according to the Hebrew prophets, had to begin with service to one’s fellow human beings. In a time of overabundance, the prophets were emphatic about ethical deeds that served humanity. By restoring justice to humankind, they brought honor to God. To do so, the prophets called on the people of their time to “cast away” arrogance and pettiness, opulence and faith in false gods. In their places, they urged the people to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger. Every ethical deed brought them closer to God.
Reform Judaism was founded on the prophets’ calls for social justice and service to our fellow human beings. Our emphasis on ethical deeds over ritual ones better represented our modern expectations that spiritual heights would be revealed not in an abundance of rituals before God, but in a multitude of moral obligations performed for God’s people. How many times have we asked about the meaning or efficacy of worship? Though it holds meaning for many, it poses challenges. How many times have we asked about the meaning or efficacy of deeds we do for our fellow human beings? It’s obvious that fulfilling our moral obligations to each other has a wide range of positive effects; and, those effects bind us to our Judaism, and our faith’s call to us.
President Bush wasn’t Jewish, but he embodied the Jewish spirit. His call to action and symbol of light are consistent with a Jewish outlook. Prayer was important to his family. But, serving humanity, voluntarily giving, and making a positive difference were the bedrocks of his “Points of Light” organization. He knew that when one candle lights another, the original light is not diminished; that’s the point of light, which he chose to inspire in all of us. As we light the last few lights during Chanukah, let’s remember our relationship to our Jewish and American heroes whose fortitude and spirit still illuminate the way for us in the future.
Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM every Sunday at 6:45am CST, and he is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights, 2011) available on Amazon.com.