Our tradition teaches that if one has to enter a synagogue to pick up one's child or to see a friend, one should pause for a few moments and read a few words of Torah, and then go on with the errand, so that, in the words of our tradition, 'one will not have entered a synagogue for purely personal reasons' (Rambam, Hilchot Tefila, 11:9).
Today, people come into synagogue and join congregations for a variety of reasons. Why did you decide to join the congregation to which you currently belong? Think about it for a moment. Most of us join a congregation for personal reasons. We want a Bar or Bat Mitzvah for our child, we're looking for community, or perhaps it's simply a matter of convenience and location.
Whatever the reason, most of us join a congregation almost exclusively for personal reasons. Yet we are taught that synagogues are not supposed to be used instrumentally in that way, to fulfill our personal needs. Rather, joining a synagogue should bring us out of the narrow circle of self-concern and help to open us to the needs of others.
A colleague told me the following story: at a recent fundraising meeting at my congregation, she said, things were going along smoothly until one of the men we were soliciting made a comment that took us by surprise.
He turned to the other congregants around him, and he said, 'You know what? I bet none of us in this room have ever given 'til it hurts.' He paused for emphasis. 'We've never actually given to the point where we had to give up something that we wanted to buy or something we wanted to do. None of us have ever given like that.'
There was a brief silence. People were caught off guard, and they didn't know what to say. Then somebody made an unrelated comment, and the conversation flowed back into its customary path.
So, I want to say a word about giving until it hurts, or what I will call sacrificial giving. Not in the specific context of philanthropy, but in the broader context of our lives.
On whose behalf do I engage in sacrificial giving ' by which I mean the kind of giving that involves self-deprivation, the giving up of something of significant personal value? Like most of you, I imagine, my husband and I do this for our children. We've spent hundreds of dollars on diapers and day care and babysitters, thousands of hours taking care of them, worrying about them, cooking, cleaning and shopping for them, and from what I'm told, I'll be spending thousands of hours in the future driving them around!
We've done it instinctively, without ever wondering what we could be doing with all those extra dollars or those extra hours if we had no kids.
Sacrificial giving ' giving of oneself in profound and meaningful ways, putting another's needs before our own ' sacrificial giving is born out of love.
And so I come to my real subject, which is Israel, and my real mission which is to remind all of us that we live at an extraordinary moment in history ' a narrow window in time when the Jewish people is creating something unseen for 2,000 years: a sovereign Jewish nation embodying our collective aspirations and ideals. This moment belongs to the generation of Jews now alive; it is ours to seize, or to squander.
Last night, while driving home from my congregation in Woodinville, my son Shai asked from the back seat, 'Mommy, do you remember Jerusalem?'
Now, Shai is three-and-a-half years old. Generally the questions he poses are more along the lines of 'Can I have a new Thomas train? Can we go to the park? Can I have some ice cream?' But this time, it was clear-as-a-bell 'Do you remember Jersualem?'
He was not waxing poetic, but thoughts of 'If I forget thee, O Jerusalem'' did enter my mind. Even more, I was struck by the broad memory of my toddler and the incredible power of a family trip to Israel.
In July, 40 Seattleites embarked on a trip to Israel led by my husband and I, and masterfully planned by Barry Goren. We joined 60 others from around the country for a national Family Mission to Israel. Ten days in and around beautiful Israel, from Tel Aviv to the Galilee, from Safed to Jerusalem. There were Jeep rides in the Golan, dune buggies just north of Gaza, swimming in the Mediterranean, the Kotel just before Shabbat. It was a trip of a lifetime, and clearly a trip to remember, even for a three-and-a-half year-old.
The lasting friendships you will make on such a trip, the lasting impressions, the beauty of a homeland you can only truly come to understand by being there, and meeting the people who live there and believe in their country ' these are just some of the reasons to journey to Israel. I those are not compelling enough on their own, trust me that if you never travel to the land of Israel, there will remain a piece of your Jewish soul un-ignited for as long as you live. To travel to Israel is not only a privilege, in my humble opinion, but an obligation, part of what it means to be a Jew.
There's a phrase they sometimes say in the Israeli army, 'B'shelanu amadnu' ' though literally translated as 'we stood up to what was ours,' the expression is more meant to say 'we rose to the occasion' or 'we have successfully carried out what was asked of us.'
B'shelanu amadnu. I want to be able to say that to my grandchildren, 40 years from now, when they ask me, 'Savta'grandma'when Israel was young and growing, what did you do? Did you give? Did you go?'
Rabbi Laurie Rice is the spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville. She and her husband, Rabbi Philip Rice, will be leaving the Seattle area to serve as co-senior rabbis of a congregation in Nashville, Tenn., beginning in July of 2006. More than likely, you will find them in Israel sometime next summer as well.