Parshat Emor: Leviticus 21:1-24:23; Ezekiel 44:15-31.

My grandfather, Harry Starr of blessed memory, was a shul guy: He attended minyan every day, even volunteering to make breakfast most mornings for the attendees. Especially as he aged, going to the synagogue gave shape to his day, rhythm to his week and purpose to his years. 

My father, Jim Starr, has carried on his father’s legacy; he, too, is a shul guy. Among my warmest memories of my father are ones in the synagogue and at our home, celebrating Jewish life. Today, thank God, I sit next to my father for weekday minyan; and, on Shabbat and holidays, my children sit weekly with their grandparents: both my father, Jim, and my mother, Margie.

Rabbi Aaron Starr
Rabbi Aaron Starr

Indeed, participating in Jewish life in general and synagogue life are gifts that we give to our children and grandchildren that provide stability and meaning in an ever-changing world. 

In our Torah portion this week, we read again of the Jewish calendar: the cycle of the seasons that helps to give form to the unyielding march of time. Additionally, we read of God speaking to the People Israel, “You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite People” (Leviticus 22:32). For our rabbis of old, this mitzvah gives justification for selective martyrdom, and it helps to establish the notion of minyan: that certain prayers, including the Kaddish, may be said only in the midst of 10 Jewish adults.

Are we cynical about our faith or lax in our observance? Are we lacking in our learning or lazy about our efforts in caring for others? If so, then indeed we are in some ways desecrating God’s name because we Jews are God’s representatives on Earth.

However, if we celebrate our Judaism and honor our fellow Jews, we are sanctifying God’s name in the midst of our own. If we immerse ourselves in continuing education, in uplifting prayer and in the performance of acts of lovingkindness, then we are adding to the holiness of God, and we are filling our lives with meaning and with purpose. 

Worship rates and affiliation with religious institutions are on the decline in America. There is no doubt in my mind that a causal connection exists between the decline of faith communities and the increasing toxicity in our country. But we Jews do not need to be like everyone else. Our job is not only to avoid profaning God’s name as the chosen people, but to sanctify God in this world among non-Jews and among our fellow Jews alike.

Participating in Jewish life in general and synagogue life in particular are gifts that we give to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. In so doing, we give shape to our days, rhythm to our week and, in so many ways, purpose to our years. 

Rabbi Aaron Starr is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.

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