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    Blog/Dvar Torah

    Holy to G!d

    These are two verses in this week’s Torah portion Tetzevah Exodus Chapter 27. In last week’s Torah portion the Mishkan is created in order to store the Divine revelation. In this week, Aaron and his sons are appointed the Holy priests to carry out Hashem’s commandments. Clothing is designed for Aaron and the priests. Clothing that honors their position commandments. Clothing is designed for Aaron and the priests. Clothing that honors their position in society.

    We read:

    וְנָשָׂ֣א אַ֠הֲרֹן אֶת־שְׁמ֨וֹת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל בְּחֹ֧שֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּ֛ט עַל־לִבּ֖וֹ בְּבֹא֣וֹ אֶל־הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ לְזִכָּרֹ֥ן לִפְנֵֽי־יְהוָ֖ה תָּמִֽיד׃

    Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel on the breastpiece of decision over his heart, when he enters the sanctuary, for remembrance before the These are two verses in this week’s Torah portion Tetzevah Exodus Chapter 27. In last week’s Torah portion the Mishkan is created in order to store the Divine revelation. In this week, Aaron and his sons are appointed the Holy priests to carry out Hashem’s Hashem at all times.

    He is to always remember who he serves- the community of Israel. But then we read

    וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ צִּ֖יץ זָהָ֣ב טָה֑וֹר וּפִתַּחְתָּ֤ עָלָיו֙ פִּתּוּחֵ֣י חֹתָ֔ם קֹ֖דֶשׁ לַֽיהוָֽה׃

    You shall make a frontlet of pure gold and engrave on it the seal inscription: “Holy to Hashem.”

    This “frontlet” or sign is reminder to Aaron that everyone he sees is holy to Hashem, made in the image of the Divine. In Genesis, G!d makes humans in betzelem Elohim. In G!d’s image.

    This week is also the holiday of Purim. It is the retelling of the how a royal decree went out to destroy the Jews of Persia. One woman, Esther stood up to cruelty and to the government to save her people.

    This week, President Joe Biden acknowledged that over 500,000 people have died from covid. It was moving to see 500 candles lit on the White house portico. Like Aaron we carry the memories and the names of those who have died in our hearts. 500,000 is a difficult number and each one of those people had a name, a face, and people who loved them. The heartbreak is palpable.

    It’s been over a month, since I was ordained as a Rabbinic Pastor by Aleph- Alliance for Jewish Renewal. People who witnessed my smicha/ordination have asked me “What is a Rabbinic Pastor?” Rabbis and Cantors are known in the general society. But the concept of having one or two members of the clergy can be attributed to American Protestant culture. In European towns, the Rabbi would come to town to give two sermons a year. Life continued. Life events like weddings and funerals needed to be acknowledged. Sick people needed to be visited. The Rabbi would assign these tasks to people in the community.

    For the past 6 years I have been learning how to be a Rabbinic Pastor. I have learned Jewish texts, history, and rituals. All this prepares me to wear an invisible sign that says that everyone I encounter are holy. Recently, I finished a chaplaincy training at Miami’s urban hospital- Jackson Memorial. Each person that I witnessed struggling to breathe through intubation is etched in my heart. Each person that I counseled is etched there too.

    A few days ago, a dear man died. In my career as a Holocaust Survivor case manager I met survivors from the usual places- Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary etc. This man was an Italian survivor. He spent his childhood in the Rome ghetto. When I met him years ago, he was what you might consider a fun loving Italian. He loved Italian opera and Italian food. He always talked with his hands. He was never without a smile. We would meet sometimes in a local Barnes and Noble bookstore and talk about life. I knew he had a tough life. Like Esther, he had to hide as a boy from the people who were filled with hatred. He had to risk his life to get food for his family. He was shot at by a Nazi. Thankfully the bullet just grazed him.

    One of the reasons I stayed working with survivors long past my burnout was to take care of this man. But life had other plans for me. So on Jan 2020, I said goodbye to him. I promised that I would keep in touch. As his health declined and covid happened this promise couldn’t be kept. Every year, I brought him a cappuccino for his birthday. I brought him one for 2020. He died after an extended period of infection. Thankfully, he did not die from covid. His memory is forever etched in my heart.

    וְאַ֥תְּ וּבֵית־אָבִ֖יךְ תֹּאבֵ֑דוּ וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת׃

    “ And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” Esther 4:14

    After caring for AIDS patients, Holocaust survivors and Covid patients, maybe I was sent to be in this position.

    I hope that in this space I can continue to explain my role as a Rabbinic Pastor is through the lens of Torah. Chag Purim Sameach! 

    Live Each Day 

    Teach us to count our days rightly, that we may obtain a wise heart. Psalm 90:12

    The Psalmist reminds us that life can be taken from us at any moment. Each day is a precious gift. Soon it will be the one year anniversary of the official lockdown and quarantining for the corona virus. 

    Many people went into the hospital hoping that their breathing problems could be fixed and they would return to their families. Return to their everyday lives. Sadly for some that was not the case. People died in their hospital ICU bed often alone and often saying goodbye to their family on a cell phone. 

    A few months ago, I was called to an ICU trauma room; a young Caribbean woman was hooked up to a ventilator. Cell phones were surrounding her as I approached her bedside. Her father was distraught trying to set up cameras around her dying daughter. They were from a Caribbean island. She was the victim of a drive by gun shot. Her family including her boyfriend was still on the island. The family decided to take her off life support. This was a gut wrenching situation.

    I had counseled a woman in her 80’s for years. She was involved in a freak accident. At 6AM, a woman lost control of her car and crashed into my client’s bedroom. Thankfully there was no physical damage. But this set the stage for my client’s health to deteriorate. I knew she had spoken to her attorney about her will. Her son asked me about her end of life issues. I couldn’t address his concerns because I realized I never addressed her end of life wishes with her. This was a wakeup call for me. No matter how old we are, we still need to put wishes into either a written document or a video. 

    Written documents are a will. What will we do with property? We know what this legal document is. We have seen too many television and movies, where the rich widow or widower leaves possessions to children and heirs. If you don’t have heirs, what will you do with your possessions? Do you want the state to have your property? Do you want your family mementos thrown in the garbage? Or do you want your possessions to go to the sibling you haven’t spoken to in years. This document is done by an attorney and is notarized. 

    #Living wills and #health care surrogates-

    Who will make your decisions for you regarding your health when you can’t make those decisions? Several states including Florida have the #FIVEWISHES. This document assigns someone to make healthcare decisions for you. It also indicates what life prolonging procedures you want and what you don’t want. What do you want as you are dying? Who do you want to be around you as you are dying? If you are comatose, do you want to be resuscitated? I use to think these were simple answers. But this is not necessarily the case. There are some situations where your condition may be dire for awhile and then you recover. Maybe the question to ask what will be the quality of my life in the long run. 

    Jewish practice is pekuach hanefesh. Life is precious and must be saved at all costs. But there are exceptions.

    As someone with experience in case management, I can help you navigate these waters. The time is now and not when you and your loved ones are laying on their deathbed. Learn how to make each day precious. For more information and to request an appointment go to my website