What does it mean to serve?

The definition of “serve” is varied. For example, as an intransitive verb (not having a direct object and, yes, I had to look that up), it has seven different meanings, including:

  • as a servant or in the military
  • to be of use
  • to be worthy of reliance or trust
  • to hold an office
  • to prove adequate or satisfactory
  • to help persons to food
  • to wait on customers
  • to put a ball or shuttlecock in play in games like tennis or badminton

Serve can also function as a transitive verb (taking a direct object) and as a noun.

In Hebrew, the word עֲבוֹדָה (avodah) is the traditional word for service (as in, serving God). In modern Hebrew, עֲבוֹדָה means work. When we talk about services, we call them תְפִילוֹת (t’fillot), the plural for the word prayers. What does all of this have to do with what we teach at BJEP and our lives as Jews? Whether a student, a parent or a teacher, we are all called upon to serve others in a variety of ways. How can we be most helpful to those we serve in our lives?

When I was growing up, the model I experienced for dealing with issues that arose in my family was to move into problem-solving mode. That strategy is great in business, but not so much as a cantor with developing pastoral skills. One of the things that I try to do is ask (myself or out loud), “How can I best be of service in this moment?” “What is it that would be most helpful?” Even in conversations with my own family members, including my sister and my daughter, I have found that taking the time to ask this question has resulted in them feeling really heard and a much more satisfying conversation. While it can be challenging to stop and remember to ask this question in a heated moment, I encourage all of us to pause and think, “How can I be of service?”

For those who have served in our military and made the ultimate sacrifice, we express our gratitude. We honor those who have served and those who continue to serve, in the United States and in Israel, to keep us safe and to protect our freedoms.

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