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Kal = 130

October 2005

We are now celebrating the 130th year of Congregation Rodfei Zedek.  In Hebrew, the number 130 is represented by the letters kuf, lamed.  These letters, in turn, spell out the word kal, which is generally translated as “light,” in the sense of “easy,” “of minor value,” “unimportant.”

Our Talmudic literature, however, devoted some weighty and famous pronounce­ments to getting us to appreciate the value and import of that which is kal or “light.”  There are three areas, in particular, where our Sages tried to get us to change our opinion of kal so that we might change for the better as Jews and as individuals.  In our 130th year, it would do well for us to recommit ourselves to these three areas.  I trust that participation in the programs of the congregation will instruct and strengthen our members in these concerns.

First, the Sages taught that we must come to respect the so-called “unimportant” (kal) commandments or mitzvot as we do those that we deem most important.  We need to learn about all of the mitzvot. We need to study our heritage in its entirety with an open mind and heart.  We never know when something we deem “light” will take on a major significance for us.  We can find out only if we keep learning.  There is no “Judaism Lite” because any Judaism in our lives is a vehicle for holiness and understanding; but if our Jewish life impedes us from more Jewish life, we are making Judaism hard.

Second, our ancient Teachers reminded us that we must remember, in all we do, the lowly and poor (another meaning of kal) in our Jewish community and in the community at large.  Congregation Rodfei Zedek has thus led in volunteerism and collections for the Chicago Ma’ot Chitim drive, and we have been longtime members of the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council, the oldest of its kind in the country, established in 1911, which runs the soup pantry and food kitchen in our neighborhood.  Our participation in the Yad L’Yad program to help a Russian Jewish community was spearheaded by our teenagers.  We can be proud that our youth carry on the concern for the poor, the legacy of kal, that our elders and forebears have always had in this congregation.

Thirdly and lastly, the word kal, which represents 130, also means to be quick, light-footed, limber, fleet, easy-moving.  The most famous expression to use the word, kal, in this way is found in Pirke Avot (“The Chapters of the Fathers”), in the name of Rabbi Judah, the son of Tema:  “Be stark as a leopard, light (kal) as an eagle, fleet as a hart, and strong as a lion, to do the will of your Father Who is in heaven.” (5:23)  It is with this phrase that the classic Shulchan Aruch, the daily code of Jewish living, begins.  The expression has Olympic implications. It means to be athletic in our Judaism, flexible without bending on the principles and the values, quick to do a mitzvah effectively.  We must be foresighted enough to implement a new program, a new opportunity for learning and outreach, while it can advance Jewish teachings and Jewish life and to bring us closer to God, Torah, and the People Israel.

God grant that we have our consciousness raised by these three meanings of kal in the Year Kal (130), that we might continue to build and to sustain this Congregation Rodfei Zedek, and that it might flourish and be a blessing for generations to come!

Bivrachah uv’shalom, Rabbi Elliot B. Gertel

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