Saturday, May 31, 2014

After Twenty Years (Portion Beha'alotechah)

At my rabbinic ordination, twenty six years ago, my father delivered the sermon on the weekly portion, which we read again this Shabbat—Beha’alotechah.

The portion describes the ordination of the Levites, declaring: “Bring the Levites forward before the Eternal One.  Let the Israelites lay their hands upon the Levites…that they may perform the service of the Eternal One.”
God is not content to bestow divine authority upon the Levites; such authority must come from the congregation as well.  In his ordination sermon, Dad drew a lesson from this populist passage for all of us rabbis-to-be, noting:

“The people ordain.  People will teach you about God, and their lives will be Torah.  You will share in their joys and bring them comfort in their sorrows, for they will give you access to themselves that they will extend to no one else, in the highest and lowest moments of life. They will shape you, and you will become different because of those whose lives touch yours.  You will then teach, not so much by what you say, but by who you are—the way you live.”

In recent days, I’ve often reflected on this passage that launched me into the rabbinate, for this month marks my twentieth anniversary as your rabbi at Ahavath Beth Israel.  During my two decades here, my father’s words have proven prophetic.  Together, we have shared joy and sorrow, and you have been my family and my teachers throughout.  This community has loved and supported me through thick and thin: I have raised my children here, divorced and remarried, mourned my father’s death and celebrated births, Bat Mitzvahs and graduations.  When I arrived in June of 1994, I was still, on occasion, told, “You seem too young to be a rabbi.”  I suppose that one of the perks of middle age, with its sundry aches and pains, is that at least I now look the part.

Throughout this time, it is been an enormous honor to share in your lives.  Dad was right: you have been generous beyond measure.  It is a rabbi’s unique privilege to be with his or her community in the most significant moments in their lives.  You have taught me so much Torah in our time together.  In you, our tradition lives, as flesh and blood.  Together, we have experienced pleasure and pain and everything in between, and through all of it, sought meaning and even, I daresay, holiness.  For my failures, I ask your forgiveness.  And for your gifts, I offer my thanks.

The writer Anne Lamott, whose faith is both deep and iconoclastic faith, suggests in a recent book that the heart of all religious life boils down to three words: “Help.  Thanks.  Wow.”  And so my prayer looking back on the past twenty years, and forward to our continued Jewish journey together, is just this: “May I be able to offer the kind of loving help and support that you have given me in such abundance.  May I always feel and express my heartfelt gratitude for your love.  And may I never fail to be struck by the miraculousness of these blessings.”

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