I’ve known days when a passing sight
Was window to the infinite.
-From ‘Roots’, by Thomas Sharp in “Behold, this Dreamer!” ed. Walter de la Mare
Sometimes it’s the small things that matter, the small things that we can hold on to, tiny things that can give us a glimpse of the infinite.
This week, we start the book of Leviticus, called in Hebrew Vayikra after the first word. Something that has often puzzled rabbis and Torah readers is that the last letter of the word Vayikra, the aleph, is always written small. Why do we write the Torah scroll that way?
Leviticus is a book that is often impenetrable to modern audiences, dealing as it does with questions of sacrifices, purity and the priesthood of ancient Israel. Yet if we can look past all that, we may be able to catch a glimpse of the deepest of meanings beneath. After all, I believe that humans haven’t changed that much over thousands of years, that we still have the basic needs, the same fundamental fears and worries.
When viewed through that lens Leviticus comes alive – it’s concerned with fear of death, fear of contamination (the passages on quarantine have rarely seemed more relevant). Leviticus is about using ritual to bind communities together, to try to bridge the chasm between the divine infinity and limited human beings. Thousands of years ago our ancestors sought to close that division with blood and fire. How can we bridge that gap today?
The small aleph of Leviticus reminds us that it is often in the small things that we can gain a window to the infinite. Small acts of prayer, of charity, of kindness, are all ways in which we can touch the divine, they bring us closer to each other and to our deepest selves.
Sometimes the problems of the world can seem huge and impossible. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is one of those situations that I’ve found often overwhelming in magnitude, not knowing what I can possibly do to respond. I imagine many of you feel the same way – some in our community have ancestors who lived in the region, some have family and friends who are there now – whatever your reality it’s easy to feel lost and overcome with anxiety.
The words of my teacher and friends Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg have been a great help to me in these moments. He wrote that we need “faith writ small. It is the faith which tells us never to succumb to the feeling that we make no difference or that our actions don’t matter. It’s the day-by-day faith of the ordinary mitzvah: keep going, keep helping whoever you can, keep giving, keep blessing God and life and for the small things, keep doing what’s good and fair, keep a hospitable heart and home, keep planting hope, keep validating what we and others can – and often succeed – in doing, take nothing for granted.”
In moments of great anxiety, it’s important to do something positive, however small. Perhaps you can donate some money (Masorti Olami, our international umbrella body, is collecting for Masorti Ukraine whose synagogues have become bomb shelters and refugee camps – you can donate here – https://masortiolami.org/one-time-donation/). Perhaps you can write to your MP to support refugees here at home, or donate food to a local food bank. There’s always something to do, and we have to have faith that in the small action we can make the world just a little better.
Our community of NSNS is also looking for people to make small actions.
We’ve reached an amazing place as a community, with more and more people looking to access our services and be part of our shul. The next step to take is to move to weekly shabbat morning services, making it easier than ever for you to come to synagogue. We want you to be able to know that whenever you need us, Shul will be there for you to find company, community and prayer. To expand, we need your help.
Every time we meet as a community we need a few volunteers to help with setting up, staying on the door for security, running kiddush, working with the kids. These jobs are small and simple, but make a huge difference to the life of the community and, I believe, give an opportunity for a window into the infinite. It is in giving and helping others that we sometimes can help ourselves, in reaching others that we can get closer to God.
Over the next few months, I and some volunteers will be reaching out to all the members of New Stoke Newington Shul to find out how you’d like to get involved. There is so much opportunity and we want to help you find your place. If you can’t come on Shabbat morning, then there are opportunities from home, if you don’t have much time, there are small things that would make a big difference.
When Moses asks for donations to build the Tabernacle he is overwhelmed by the response and receives so much that he has to tell everyone to stop giving. I hope that by the summer we will be in a similar position, and, with your help, we’ll be able to offer weekly Shabbat morning services, and much more besides, in the Autumn.