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We Make People Count

Updated: May 30

Dvar Torah for Congregation Shaarei Kodesh's annual meeting (May 29, 2024)

We Make People Count

Shaarei Kodesh is called many things, from the most Haimsih shul in South Florida to that shul across from the gas station. 

But I like to describe CSK in a different way:

Other places might count people, but here, we make people count. 

Our purpose statement is the following: Congregation Shaarei Kodesh exists to ignite (לְהַדְלִיק- lehadlik) the Jewish spark within each individual, journeying together as a holy, Jewish community (קהילה יהודית קדושה- Kehillah Yehudit Kedosha)

So it’s nice sometimes to be reminded of our purpose, why we exist, and who we strive to be in this community. 

This week’s parashah Behukotai is not only the perfect ending to the book of Leviticus but also the perfect parashah for the purposes of our annual budget meeting, where we pay special attention to the details of how a holy community runs. 

Chapter 27, the last chapter of Leviticus, deals with the funding of the sanctuary. But even in the mundane list of items and funds, we can see that the focus wasn’t on the building but on the people. 

Here’s a quote from the Etz Chaim Chumash:

“Maintaining the sanctuary was costly. It was necessary to provide the materials used in public sacrifice and support the clergy. The goal of the system of funding prescribed in this chapter was to secure Silver for the sanctuary and its related needs. What was donated could be redeemed; it was the redemption payment, the Silver, that was sought for the sanctuary in most cases.”

With its seemingly mundane list of silver weights, this last chapter forces us to ask an impossible question: How do we measure a person? 

Unfortunately, this is something that the Jewish people know all too well. For millennia, and tragically, today, terrorists have kidnapped members of the Jewish community and ransomed them to the Jewish community. The Jewish community, bound by the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvyium, redeeming captive hostages, pays the amount to free the Jewish hostage. 

Unfortunately, we know there is a price. 

But, in God’s world, every person is priceless and holy. 

This may be why we end the Book of Leviticus with the idea of raising ordinary items (silver, etc.) in our place to the status of holiness, which is the book's theme—a blueprint for achieving proximity to the Divine. 

The Etz Chaim Commentary comments on the question: How do we measure the value of a person? 

“The world at large values rich people more than poor people, economically productive more than less productive people, fertile women more than childless women, and clever and attractive people more than others. In God’s Temple, however, people are evaluated "by the sanctuary weight" (b'shekel ha-kodesh). God views our worth differently than the world does.”

We have done so much this year, from multiple Scholars in Residences and educational opportunities to Bnai Mitzvah and family education classes to baby namings and britei milah, to comforting mourners and burying the dead, and celebrating new couples, to welcoming JARC into our sanctuary every Shabbat, to educating young and not so young about the complexities of Israel, creating a new Israel committee, creating a new Exploring Judaism class with three conversion candidates and others who are learning along the way, and youth group and religious school, and new and innovative prayer through Spirits of Shabbat, a beautiful new ark and furniture, and so much more that I probably left out and so much more to come. 

But, through it all, we can never forget who we really are:

Other places might count people, but here, we make people count.

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