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Faith Matters: Short Sermon, Pay Attention to Details

11/15/2015 06:11:18 PM


This column first appeared on June 20, 2015, in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

By Rabbi Dr. Rob Lennick

My wife Heidi loves sunflowers! (This is explained at the end of this column.)

People tend to dread the Book of Leviticus with all of its laws and details. Some see the Law of Moses (which is actually God’s Law) as somehow too exacting and even obsolete. God has offered newer forms of creating a covenant. I believe God makes many covenants in a variety of ways. After all, why would God create so many different children only to select one that is spiritually preferred based on how they express their faith?

I believe, that when Jesus speaks of “fulfilling” and not “abolishing” the Law in Matthew 5:17, he means he will be a living example of its full expression, not a force to invalidate or supplant it. I believe he meant, that without the Law, faith lacks substance. That is why Leviticus is important.

Leviticus is no doubt the wordiest and driest of any Biblical book. In pages and pages of what seem to be oppressive details, the book explains the manner in which the tabernacle was to be assembled and disassembled — down to the very last bolt, screw, piece of molding and board. As if that weren’t enough, the instructions are repeated verbatim more than a dozen times.

We wonder, why such fixation on detail and repetition? The answer is in the Book of Numbers. There, we learn about the Nazarites. These people, of their own individual choices, would, for a predetermined length of time, become servants in the ancient temple to help the Levites and priests conduct the ancient religious practices. The servant was required to take vows not to drink liquor, cut his hair, engage in intimate relations or leave the sacred areas of the temple complex. Each Nazarite made personal sacrifices to become closer to God through learning and doing the detailed practices associated with the ancient holy rituals.

Why so much attention to the details? Could it be from an inner drive to become closer to God through devotion to the details of the ritual? These special servants feel especially satisfied when things are done right. And while some of us might not choose that path, it’s not as arcane as it seems. Their faith was expressed through honoring the details as a way to show their love of God. Some might think the “devil” is in the details — I suggest quite the opposite: Love is in the details.

One could argue that Judaism is in many ways a religion of details, a religion of paying attention. What does this teach us about our own lives? Here is the 15-word sermon:

We truly love someone, when we pay attention to the details that matter to him.

So, now, I should end the article. Sorry … almost.

Here is the commentary: Think about someone you truly love. Do you pay attention to the details that matter to him?

Now to Sunflowers. Heidi has a particular love of flowers — but not just any flowers: She loves sunflowers. So, I very consciously go on a quest to find her sunflowers, even when they are not in season. And when she sees them, she has an expression she has only when those flowers arrive. It’s an expression of recognition: “Wow, I really do matter. He must love me. He paid attention to what I love. He made a real effort.”

The Nazarite or someone specifically devoted to the details of religious practice is also on a quest of sorts to deliver to God what God loves. And when these people make that quest, they are truly happy to go the extra mile to make it just right, as God would want it.

How do we feel when that kind of effort is made for us by the people we love? We see that we matter. Do we make that kind of effort for others? Do we show the people we love just how much they matter? Hopefully, we sacrifice things we desire to show our love for others. The idea of giving to the people we love the specific things they ask for with a high regard for the details — This is at the very heart of Leviticus as it reveals an all-important, obvious but often overlooked truth: Love is an action. Not an emotion. Not a sentiment. Not a platitude. Love is an action. Anything less is like vapor.

A rabbi was sitting with his very young daughter, and the little girl said, “I love you, Daddy.”

He responded, “That’s wonderful. I love you, too. Can you show me your love?”

The little girl jumped up on his lap, threw her arms around his neck, looked him in the eyes, grinned and said, “Daddy, that’s easy.” She gave him the biggest hug and kissed him. She laid her head on his shoulder, put her thumb back in her mouth and everything, every aspect of creation, was in perfect harmony at that moment.

“Show me your love! Show me that I matter. Show me by your effort to value my details.”

Now, ask yourself: Do I hear the details of my partner’s or friend’s needs? Am I patient enough to actually do more than hear, but to discern what the people I love truly need from me? Am I rushed to do what my beloved ask of me, but much more concerned and methodical with what I want for myself? Do I close myself off from the true nature of love by judging the needs of the people I claim to love, and then either dismiss or invalidate those needs? Do I take love for granted, as if it has a life of its own, needing little tending? Do I actually become complacent or even lazy about loving? Am I open to the possibilities that all of my relationships can be more loving and fulfilling simply by focusing on the details in what the people I love ask from me?

Leviticus is trying to teach us — not that the devil is in the details, but that love is in the details. It’s as simple as these 15 words:

We truly love someone, when we pay attention to the details that matter to them.

Do the details matter? You bet! Is Leviticus boring? You bet! Is the message of Leviticus profound? More we might have thought.

Cool, I just saw Sunflowers at Walmart! Gotta go.

Rabbi Rob Lennick is the spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chaim in Bentonville. Contact him at (484) 707-0047.

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