Some of you might be wondering why the rabbi of your shul drives a Taxi. That’s right. I drive a Taxi. I used to have a yellow Taxi, now it is Red. The Taxi is loaned to me by my friend, Jerry. On top of the Taxi is an ad that says, “Celebrate your New Year at The National Synagogue.” We have thirty of these ads on Taxi’s around the city.
Someone asked me last week: “How many people have called up after seeing the ad on the Taxi?”
I have no idea. But exactly how many called up is not the point. I want to explain the point with a story from Tractate Yoma, the tractate from the Talmud that discusses the laws of Yom Kippur.
On Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol entered into the Holy of Holies. It was the only time during the year that he entered this sacred spot. Normally, no one was permitted to enter it. Inside the Holy of Holies, there was the Aron, the sacred Ark. Resting upon this ark, were the cherubim.
What did the cherubim look like? By tradition, one had the face of a male and one had the face of a female. And they had wings like angels.
The Talmud (Yoma 54a) tells us that on the holidays, the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies would be rolled back and the cheruvim would be displayed to the people. Ve-hayu meurim zeh ba-zeh, and they would be embracing each other. And the kohanim would say, “re-u chibatchem lifnei ha-makom ke-chibat zachar u-nekeivah, see how their love before God is like the love of a man for a woman.” And the Talmud explains, that the way the cherubim embraced each other was “ke-ish he-meurah be-levayah shelo, as a man who is joined to his companion.”
Why would the holiest place on earth display the cherubim embracing each other in such an embrace? Many of us might blush just thinking about it! This is what the rabbis displayed to the people on the holidays! Why is it that the High Priest enters into this place and sees this image on Yom Kippur?
This image of the cherubim can be our guide for Yom Kippur.
The loving embrace of the cherubim represents what we all need to bring to our service of Hashem: Deep Passion.
There are different types of loving relationships. For example, there is a parent to child. This is perhaps the strongest love, as it is a relationship that can never be severed. Even if a parent and child fight, they are still parent and child. And then there is the relationship of a beloved for another. This relationship can’t be as strong as a parent-child relationship, since this relationship can be severed. However, as long as this relationship exists it can be the most passionate relationship there is.
The Cherubim are shown in a passionate embrace to teach us that when we serve God we should seek a passionate relationship with God. We must serve God with passion. We should seek God, like a lover seeks their companion. We should serve God, like a lover serves. And we should be proud of our love with God, like a lover is a proud of their beloved.
This is the thinking behind the ad on our taxi. This is what the taxi means to me. And this is the reason why I drive the Taxi. Even if not a single person sees the ad and decides to call, the Taxi has served its purpose.
First, the Taxi shows what kind of shul we are. We are a community that seeks to welcome as many people as possible to the congregation. If you have never been to Synagogue in your life, the Taxi ad tells us that you are most welcome in our shul. The Taxi reminds us that we want the doors of our shul to always remain open. The Taxi reminds us to always be aware that there might be strangers interested in joining our community. And if they need a “ride” to get to the shul, then we are happy to turn the meter off and give them a lift.
Second, the Taxi reminds us that we are very proud of our Judaism. We think it is beautiful and uplifting. God created this world in His infinite kindness. In doing so, He shared the idea of faith with the world. We want to imitate God. We want to practice the kindness of God. We share our love of Torah with as many people as possible. We are not trying to convert people, but we are trying to communicate how much we love our faith. And how much our faith helps us in life.
And, third, the Taxi represents passion. We are passionate about our faith. We will go to the end of the world to demonstrate our love and gratitude for God. We will experiment. We will take chances. We will go to the street. Our deep love for the Torah inspires us to share the beauty of the Torah.
At the very end of the Laws of Repentance (10:3), Maimonides explains the ideal relationship with God. “It must be a love so strong, until one is completely bound up with God so that one thinks about God at all times. It should be like one who literally gets love sick and never stops thinking about their lover (ke-ilu choleh choli ahavah).”
This is the relationship with God we seek. So how do we get there?
The simple answer to this question is we act with passion when we realize the significance of everything we do. We must ask ourselves before every act, “How is this action being performed in service to Hashem? How will this action bring me even closer to God?” When we internalize and understand, then the passion will follow.
If we do so, then no matter what act we do, the act will be a passionate act in service of Hashem.
Our responsibility is not only to share this love of Torah with the larger world, but also with our inner community. And, for many of us, our passion increases when we are inspired by the members of our congregation in a communal setting. Passion can be contagious.
It can be contagious for good and contagious for bad. We need to be vigilant in this area. So, if you have concerns about your passion waning or about a segment of the population who might be feeling distant, then speak with me. This is one of the major challenges of a spiritual community: to keep our passion alive and strong; to keep our community fully engaged and excited. For example this is one of the reasons behind our Legacy Heritage Synagogue Innovation Project: MAKOM. It is an attempt; a response to concerns of parents about keeping the interest of their girls for Torah alive. We are trying in our own way to inspire our growing girls to be passionate about Torah; to feel the energy of the Torah; and to proudly connect with it.
Now, to learn all of this from a Taxi, might be asking a bit much from the Taxi. But its not about the Taxi, it is about the mindset.
Some people have questioned me about why I drive a taxi. They also wonder why I hand stuff out on the street around the holidays. In a respectful way, they question whether the approach is properly rabbinic. I welcome their questions. But my answer is that these actions represent my embrace of the passion that I have to serve Hashem. I want to bring my love and passion to as many people as possible. That to me is the epirome of the rabbinate.
Recently I read a story in a book by Rabbi Irwin Kula called “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life.” He tells the story of a different D.C. taxi driver—a colleague of mine—named Daniel. Rabbi Kula tells how Daniel picked him up at 5 AM on a humid, stifling, typical DC day. Daniel picked him up with a smile. On his dashboard was a computer. Daniel kept a list of all his customers—who expected him early, who was always late, who liked to stop at an ATM etc…. Daniel said, “Whenever you take people from here to there, its more than just a taxi ride.”
Maybe this can be our new motto. We want to take people from here to there. It IS, indeed, much more than just a taxi ride.