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During my sabbatical, I am reflecting on my rabbinate. I was 18 when I decided to become a rabbi. Now, three decades later, I am in professional transition, leaving a congregation I have cherished and served for 20 years. It’s important that I reevaluate my rabbinate, and consider what motivates me to grow as a rabbi for the next twenty years. Here are some of those reflections. I will add to them from time to time. I welcome your feedback to
Vayyeitzei – D’var Torah for IRAC
Jacob is leaving his birthplace, his family, the only homeland he has ever known. Running for his life, away from the brother whose birthright he has stolen, Jacob lies down to sleep. He is uncomfortable, not only emotionally but physically: His pillow is but a pile of stones.
And he dreams. He envisions angels, ascending and descending a ladder, planted upon the earth beside him, its uppermost rungs in the heavens.
Rabbis of old teach that our forefather is experiencing an angelic shift change, as it were. The angels responsible for accompanying us in the Land of Israel are departing. Others of God’s messengers, charged with watching over our journeys חוץ לארץ, outside of Israel, will now tover.
As I write, I have just left Israel after a ten day sojourn there, accompanied by 24 congregants and countless angels, seen and unseen. Like Jacob, we could sense the departure of those angels as we left the Land. We had been guided to experience new holiness. We were moved by the warmth and the work of our Shabbat hosts at Kehillat Mevasseret Zion, the first whose struggle was successful to establish a synagogue on municipally-allotted land, and what a magnificent synagogue it is! We accessed the holiness of Robinson’s Arch with a blessing for a newlywed couple, but we shared the frustration of Women at the Wall: Why couldn’t we celebrate our simcha at the Kotel? We celebrated Shabbat with first year students at HUC-JIR and one of our angels in the Land, Na’ama Kelman; and we rejoiced as we learned about our College-Institute’s Ordination of seven new Israeli Reform Rabbis.
Then, like Jacob, we became frightened — not for our own lives and limbs, we assured our families and friends back home — but for the people of Askelon, of Sderot, of Ashdod, of Gan Yavneh, of Nir Oz, and…over a million Israelis sleeping in bomb shelters.
As our scheduled time in Israel came to a close, Israel struck back at the terrorists decisively. Angels were hard to find, as too much of the world, quiet about attacks upon Israel, vociferously objected to killing a terrorist. A terrorist!
And so, like Jacob, we left the land in discomfort, not in fear for our lives, but wondering if we were abandoning Israel at its time of greatest need. No, it was not a need we could fulfill by extending our trip, and we did leave, faithful that, even as angels had accompanied us in the land, angels would accompany us back in San Antonio, too.
May we, Israelis and diaspora Jews alike, awaken from this difficult period — strife between Jews and Palestinians, and yes, sadly, between Jews, and Jews. Then, like Jacob before us, may we proclaim, “God is in this place,” in the Land of Israel and wherever our people may travel.