I have a confession to make. I can often be found early on Sunday mornings watching Joel Osteen preach on television. Joel Osteen is Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston who, in true evangelical style, brings passion, love, and warmth to his preaching. Like his congregants, I find myself captivated by his confident presence. When the camera pans the audience, you can see their faces engaged and enthralled with his message, hanging onto his every word. Every week he puts on this incredible show of faith and energy, which never appears to falter.
As a teacher and preacher, it usually follows that the more energy I put out into my teachings, the more interested the class is in the material. If I am excited about a topic, that excitement shines through, and soon the students are revved up about the learning ahead. On the other hand, there are also mornings when not even the greatest exertion of energy can liven up the room, and I can walk out of a service or class feeling as though I’ve emptied my entire energy reserve with nothing to show for it. It certainly makes me wonder where Joel Osteen gets the energy and charisma to inspire and invigorate thousands of people every week.
This week we read parshat Tzav, which reviews the instructions for the priests with regard to the various sacrifices. We learn about offerings of thanks, offerings of well-being, offerings of guilt, and offerings of free will. This is also the parshah in which we receive the commandment against mixing milk and meat and learn about the gifts that the priests receive from the well-being offerings made.
In the discussion of the offerings, the Torah teaches that offerings are most often to be made using fire. Chapter 6, verse 2 states: “Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it.” The last Hebrew word in this verse could also be read as “within him” instead of “on it.” This interpretation teaches that the fire of the altar for God must be paralleled in the person serving God. In this case, the priest must have a fiery passion within him in order to continue his work. Today, we might understand this as the need for our own spiritual leaders to remain passionate and excited about their own work so it can inspire us.
The text teaches that the sacred nature of serving God that we find as the job of rabbis, priests, and other clergy must never be lost. Just as the Toraidic priest is inspired and filled with passion by the well-being offerings given by the community, so too our leaders today gain inspiration and increased passion from the excitement and love of their community. A medieval commentator states that it is the responsibility of the congregation to see that the enthusiasm and dedication of the clergy is never extinguished.
As I see it, this is a mutual responsibility. Even more so, I believe there is a give and take between clergy and community that keeps the passion burning for both. I am grateful every day to be a part of a school community that challenges me, inspires me, and lifts me up. We are blessed in a community where pre-K children ask insightful questions about God’s origin and 8th graders offer bold and intelligent commentary as to how religion and science come together. May we take a lesson from students young and old to keep asking questions so that the fire of inspiration in each of us burns brightly all our lives.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: The English word “inspire” comes from the Latin for “to breathe.” Which image of inspiration or passion resonates more with you, that of breath or fire?