Dear Family and Friends:
Rabbis probably listen to other rabbis differently than most folks. At least I expect that I do. During T’fillot, when the rabbi gets up to speak, my ears pick up in a professional kind of way. It is not that I don’t pay attention to the message, I do. But I also pay particular attention to how the message is delivered. I’m talking style, structure, language, spontaneity. I’m not advocating that anyone listen to their rabbis this way. Better to think about what the rabbi is saying instead of how it is said.
Last night we attended the installation of our new rabbi here in Bloomington, Indiana at Congregation Beth Shalom. Beth Shalom itself is a unique synagogue made up of Reform, Conservative, traditional, Renewal and secular Jews. It offers prayer opportunities for each group. Yet there is a sense of community here that is wonderful. It is a Jewishly knowledgeable and intelligent congregation (lots of IU professors in the crowd). Last night the place was packed, the service was beautiful and the rabbis were interesting. That’s a good night in Temple.
One of our rabbi’s mentors was present and gave the installation sermon. He spoke very well but I couldn't help thinking that we were hearing a traditional three-point sermon. He told us what he was going to say, made his three points, and then told us what he had said. Just the way you’re supposed to. It was good that he explained that the role of the rabbi has three aspects; 1. As Rav, a teacher and transmitter of our heritage; 2. As rebbe, a spiritual leader, and, 3. As pastor, aiding congregants through all of life’s joys and challenges. Nothing revolutionary, but well said.
Thinking back on the evening though, I am happy to say that my cynical, professional listen style broke down when our rabbi addressed the congregation. He articulated something that has been a part of my philosophy and even character; something that I've not heard before and I was moved by it. In a nutshell, Rabbi Besser stated that the goal of our Jewish lives is redemption. He said that it is our job to make the world a better place, and that we, individually and working together, in what we do and how we act, accomplish God’s design. Rabbi Besser told the congregation that he felt there would always be wars, poverty, evil in the world and that hoping or praying that God eliminate those things is OK, but the reality is that we can only do what we can do. We can pray for these things, but WE have to make them happen. Like they say, “all politics is local.” The rabbi was saying Judaism is local as well. This is an over simplification of the message, but that’s what I walked away with.
At camp we translated Tom Paxton’s song, “Peace Will Come,” into Hebrew…Shalom Yavo. The next line is, “Let it begin with me.” Translated to Sh’Yatchil Iti. That Sh’Yatchil Iti always stayed in my head and rang in my ears all of these years. I had one of our Israeli artists paint the words on one of my banjos. And I believe that the basic motivation and direction I followed all of those years at camp was my attempt to create a place where we repaired the world daily, where by our actions and relationships, where through the work the struggle and the triumph (and sometimes defeat) we reached a sort of redemption. We bring God into our lives. We create the sacred. It is all local. And, as I've said many times, we are God’s mirror. God sees God’s reflection through us and the good things we do for one another. She’Yatchil Iti. Let it begin with me.
I couldn't tell you if the rabbi’s sermon was well said. I can’t remember the structure or the style. But I left feeling like one of his congregants and that was a good thing.
Be good to each other. Bring peace into the world.