They Also Serve: A Shabbat and Purim Message from Rabbi Dr. Kobrin

Running up the FDR drive in a race this past Sunday, I felt particular gratitude for a group of people who are often taken for granted: the volunteers. At a New York Road Runners race, volunteers staff tables and medical tents to give out snacks and drinks and to offer first aid. It’s cold, boring and often thankless work; Mr. Sigal and his family have volunteered at races and he’s told me how it can feel. Waiting on the sidelines can be hard.

After painful losses in two basketball championship games last week, I reminded our Middle Schoolers that school spirit exists not only when we win (more on that another time) and that those who sit on the bench and cheer on their teammates play a very important role. They sit, and cheer — and wait.

This week’s Torah reading of Tzav describes the official ceremony by which the kohanim would begin their service. They brought a special set of offerings, and not Aaron, but his son, ha-kohen ha-mashiach tachtav me-banav, “the one anointed from his sons to succeed him,” then prepared this sacrifice. How must that have felt? Aaron’s son, who was all suited up to serve, but who was likely resigned to sitting on the bench, was given a major role in the service. Rabbi Chaim Dov Rabinowitz in his Da’at Sofrim writes that the Kohen’s sons were to be trained by their father, otherwise they might not be eligible to serve — and they had to wait, and wait, and wait for their moment.

Poet John Milton famously writes that “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Lesson one: we need to be ready for our life moments, but we also need to be patient, as we may need to sit on the bench, as it were, for a long time. But what do we do when our moment arrives? This is the lesson taught by Mordechai, who turned to Esther, who was reluctant to rock the boat and speak to her husband, and said to her u-mi yode’a im le’et kazot higa’at la-maclhut, “who knows? Maybe you became queen precisely for this situation.” When your moment does arrive, be ready to seize it.

After a difficult week of pain in New Zealand, Israel, and elsewhere, may this season of ve-nahafoch hu bring us all opportunities for joy, for knowing when and how to wait, and for moments to seize.

Simchat Purim and Shabbat Shalom!