This past Thursday there was a gathering of rabbis and rabbinical students at Congregation Valley Beth Shalom, in honor of the birthday of Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. We were told that it was the largest such gathering in Los Angeles history, with rabbis from all the movements of Judaism, and teachers from the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements. I had the privilege of listening to Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, and then hearing a panel of Rabbi Greenberg, Rabbi Schulweis, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Rabbi David Hartman, and our own rosh yeshivah (head of our rabbinical school at HUC) Rabbi David Ellenson.
All of the speakers were wonderful. I always have the urge, when I see Rabbi Ellenson, to point and declare loudly, "He's MY rosh yeshivah!" but that day, I was grateful to have all of them as my teachers. Rabbi Hartman, particularly, helped me refocus my heart on the rabbinate. It's so easy to get lost in the assignments and the schedule and whatnot -- in the minutiae of filling requirements -- and sometimes it is good to pause and think again about what I am doing and why.
His speech was one I expect to see published someday, and I cannot do justice to it here, but one idea particularly struck me. The Jewish way to mend the world is to create little microcosms of the world as it can be: Shabbat, for instance. We live them the best way we can, and hope that all the participants will carry away a little bit of olam ha-bah (world to come) into the ordinary days and activities of their lives. We start small, and work on the faith that if we do our little bit well enough, it will spread.
This week I kept Shabbat more carefully than I have in a while. I set the table, and had an assortment of folks to dinner. We lingered and talked, enjoyed each others company, prayed and laughed. I woke up with my back out (something about putting the leaf in the table the day before, I think) so I didn't get to services, but it was a lovely contemplative day nevertheless, with phone calls to and from my kids and friends, a day of leftovers and love.
I'm glad that Rabbi Hartman reminded me why I started this crazy plan: I really do want to change the world, and I believe that the best way for me to do it, is to do Jewish. Keep Shabbat, clean for Passover, learn Torah, teach Torah, tune my eyes to see the b'tzelem Elohim -- the image of God -- in everyone I meet. That's why I'm in school, that's what all this is about.
Nice to remember.