Saying Good-Bye at Sacred Thresholds
Last night at Temple Sinai, we commemorated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance and Heroism Day with a special service and artist exhibit. The exhibit was from Mi Polen, a museum of Jewish history in Warsaw and centered on the Jewish symbol of the mezuzah. The Nazis deported millions of Jews throughout Poland to ghettos and then extermination camps during the Holocaust. When they tore families, children and the elderly out of their homes, Jews would often take the mezuzot on their doors with them – or more often, the Poles that would later move into these dwellings would strip off the mezuzot, or plaster over them. The presentation last night was about how two Polish artists who preserve the shapes of the missing mezuzah in cast bronze and create new mezuzot covers out of the imprint of where mezuzot had been.
So I have been thinking all week about the symbol of the mezuzah. How the mezuzah on the doorposts of our homes represents the sacredness of goings and comings. Every time we notice the mezuzah as we leave our homes and go into the world or enter our sanctuaries from the hustle and bustle of the world outside, we remember the words of the Shema and V’ahavta written inside. We remember that every passing of the threshold is an opportunity to affirm the sanctity of life through good deeds. We remember to infuse a sense of duty and higher purpose into all that we do, inside and outside the home.
Aside from Yom HaShoah, I have also been thinking quite a lot about the mezuzah, because of the Jewish wisdom around how we elevate all transitions to the realm of the holy. What the mezuzah is to thresholds of place, prayer is to transitions in time. If you think about Jewish prayer services they all take place at times of transition between night and day, day and night. As Jews, we have meaningful ceremonies of holiness at times of transition in the life cycle as well, and holidays that mark the transitions between harvests and seasons.
The transition from one rabbi to the next, or in our case, to the next two rabbis, creates an opportunity for elevating our consciousness and awareness of the holy. It’s a time for contemplating where we have been and where we are headed in the life of the congregation. But such a period of transition needs to be approached with an elevated consciousness, much like in crossing a threshold, the mezuzah does nothing if we fail to notice it. Why does Judaism bless transitions in space and in time so seriously? Perhaps because there is something scary and indeed, unsettling, about all transitions. There is an adjustment that each of us needs to make and a heightened awareness of danger that we must have and take with us from one place or moment to the next.
But we can’t do anything elevated or holy at times of transition if we do not first name and talk about our sense of loss. Every change that’s ever worth making involves loss and indeed, grief, before we can embrace the new. In the case of a rabbi transition, this sense of loss may be experienced in different ways. Some people might be glad to see one rabbi go, while others may be sad and feel like they are losing a trusted friend or guide. Some might be angry at my decision to leave or feel a sense of “what, are we not good enough as a community for you?!” even as such a person might also know, I hope, that my decision to leave was not personal. But whatever your feelings in times of transition, acknowledge them, talk about them, and in so doing we can begin to move through them. This also will create more receptiveness when the new rabbis Zober arrive in July.
Sometimes when I light the havdallah candle on Saturday night after Shabbat, I am truly sad to be saying good-bye to a sweet and rejuvenating day of rest. Sometimes I am excited about what the week to come holds in store, and that excitement eclipses the sadness of Shabbat coming to an end.
I and the congregation have both grown as rabbi and spiritual community in many ways over the past five years. I want to celebrate the new families that have become engaged during my time here. I want to celebrate the social action culture we’ve begun to build with a broad base of volunteers. And I want to celebrate the culture of Shabbat morning prayer, which has grown and which I’ve helped nurture at Temple Sinai, even as we’ve introduced musical Shabbat Unplugged services once a month on Friday nights. I want to celebrate so much of what we’ve done together over these past five years. And I want to say that I am excited about the future for Temple Sinai.
I also want to say that now is the time for us to start saying good-bye. For all of you to dream about what you hope to be a part of in years to come and for me to tie up loose ends and create as much order as I can for the next rabbis to step into this position and begin to make it their own the day after I leave on June 30.
I hope we can approach this rabbinic transition with the same love that we associate with the mezuzah as we pass in and out of our dwellings. Not love for rabbi, but love for God and for the Temple Sinai community, that can adapt and change, love for endings and beginnings, and even love we feel in the human pull of the heart when we encounter loss. Remember that feeling loss only means you also felt love, for love is a prerequisite for loss. As I leave Temple Sinai over the coming months, my heart is full of love for the openness and support I’ve experienced, for the embrace of collaboration and partnership so many of you have shown me as your rabbi.
And I want to say, thank you for the sacred privilege of being your rabbi these past five years. Thank you for strengthening my heart, as a rabbi and as a human being. Thank you for caring for me, and for helping me grow. And for the honor of being part of your spiritual and Jewish growth as well. I will forever be grateful. And maybe, just maybe, gratitude is that other helpful quality of awareness we can tap into at times of transition that remind us of how lucky we are: to be Jewish, to be free, to have community that supports us at the threshold moments in our lives. Community that we can never take for granted.