I was planning on writing a piece entitled "Judaism Rising" in response to the joy and inspiration I feel thanks to the rabbinic community gathered this week in Dallas, Texas at the international Rabbinical Assembly Convention. I was going to (and still might) share story after story that fly in the face of the many downcast demographic analysts and uninspired observers of American Judaism, challenging their contagious hopelessness with the amazing spirit of that sacred gathering.
Instead, I've chosen to share something much simpler. I point to my own pounding heart as evidence that Torah is a pulsing reality in the world. A few nights ago I stood with hundreds of rabbis, tears streaming down my face, shocked into the awareness that the Chassidic teaching I'd shared many times, of a closed heart suddenly cracked open by God's spirit, applied to me
In a nondescript hotel room in Texas, surrounded by rabbis who are black and white, old and young, straight and gay, women and men, layers of hidden, accumulated spiritual scar tissue burst apart and revealed my own wounded heart. Both those scars and the sudden revelation are due to more things than I can possibly list, but each is an aspect of the legacy I cherish as a rabbi. I feel called to help build the Jewish people, to share the precious gift of Torah. And that recent holy gathering reminded me, among other things, that I am not alone in sensing this sacred calling, in answering it with everything I am.
It's not easy to be a rabbi, but what meaningful labor is easy? "Lefum Tza'ara Agra / According to the pain is the reward" we read in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Ancestors). Well, sometimes being a rabbi can be painful. We love so very much. We love our People and we love people. We love our Torah, our Land, our World, our Tradition. There is just so much for which we care, and that kind of open-ness is a vulnerable way to live and work and serve, especially in light of the natural interpersonal dynamics spiritual communities experience in a fast-changing world. It can be hard to be a rabbi. We are people, but in the eyes of others we are sometimes also symbols for something much bigger.
Personally speaking, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of serving as a rabbi. I wouldn't have it any other way. Sacred vulnerability is an important thing in my life. I believe that's an essential part of being created in God's image. It can be tough, but that just means that the reward is very great indeed.
That night, surrounded by my colleagues, I suddenly felt my heartbeat. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson shared a profound teaching, the culmination of an already impressive gathering of Jewish leaders. Though his knowledge is deep, it wasn't scholarship that moved me so. The heart-wisdom of Rabbi Artson's teaching opened me up and shattered my defenses in a way I didn't even know I needed. And, when I looked around the room, I saw I was far from alone in this experience. A precious friend and I could barely bring ourselves to leave the room even when the rest of the group had departed. A few minutes later a small group returned to that newly-sanctified space and sang some more. I haven't stopped crying from the fragile, beautiful harmonies. I don't want to. With every tear comes deep healing. Healing I didn't know I needed, healing that comes from sharing something unique and magnificent with a special group of friends and partners.
Rabbi Artson reminded us all that, in the words of the prophet Nechemia, "God's Joy is our strength. (Neh. 8:10)" Thanks to his channeling of the Divine, that very joy, God's Holy Joy, filled every corner of the room, creeping into our bodies, infusing our prayers, bringing tears to our eyes and hope to our souls.
We sang, ate, learned, comforted, cried, laughed, and restored each other's souls. I'm so very grateful to be part of the Rabbinical Assembly, the global community of Conservative/Masorti rabbis. What warmth and care pervade our chevrah, our community of friends.
Rabbis felt Joy. Now we return home to serve with Love, to help our communities share in the holiness we experienced, to touch souls with healing and connectedness, to infuse Life itself with joy.