Category Archives: Rabbi

Tu B’Shevat (February 10th) and the Importance of Sabbatical

Dear Congregation, Can you believe we are already 3 weeks into Rabbi’s sabbatical? We have two months to go, and she will be back with us. As she meditates and hikes and studies and engages in serious renewal, we, the Clergy Renewal Team, want to challenge you to consider thinking about renewal for yourself.

As you open up this Menorah, we are in the Hebrew month of Shevat, the 11th Hebrew month counting from Nissan. Shevat is originally from an Akkadian term that means heavy rains. The month of Shevat is the core of the rainy season in Israel. Israel is a country very much dependent on seasonal rains. When the rains are lighter, drought is a real possibility. With drought comes famine, with famine comes starvation, death, war, and the origins of the Book of Lamentations. When the rains are heavy and robust, there is abundance. There is water in the streams, in the water table, in the cisterns, and in the wells. With full wells, there is green grass, vegetables, full mikvahs, and abundance. With abundance comes feasting, ease, joy, song, and restoration.

As individual humans, we are also dependent on water. Without physical water, we die in just several days. However, the Torah is full of references to another kind of water. You can think of it as a life-giving force, as spiritual energy, as a kind of living water that connects us with the Divine. Psalm 36 talks about it as a “fountain of life.” The Prophet Isaiah talks with joy about drawing “water from the wells of salvation.”

As you go into this month and start preparing for Tu B’Shavat, the birthday of the trees, think about whether you are getting enough water. As you are intentionally drinking your 8 glasses of water today and blessing your kidneys, consider thinking about what are the things that you’re doing to replenish your spiritual wells. It is impossible to draw water out of an empty cistern. Many of us can accidentally run our spiritual wells dry as we work and travel and over-commit and run ourselves ragged. We can dip into our inner resources so much that there seems like nothing is left. What are you doing to rest, to renew, to nurture yourself? What would a day of Shabbat look like where at the end of it you felt as if you could say “my cup runneth over?”

What you do for rest & renewal is likely very unique. You may discover, over time, that some things that filled your cup ten years ago no longer work – and while others that felt painfully boring now feel soothing. We as a clergy renewal team all have different practices that help us renew. Some of our favorites:

  • Geri: Communing with water, like soaking in a hot bath, swimming at the JCC, watching the rainfall, and combining the water experience with singing and humming.
  • Tikkun: Early morning coffee in a quiet house, steam room relaxation.
  • JoAnne: Traveling, lunch with friends, walking the neighborhood trails, and being in our beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.
  • Channah: Walking up to Sunset Rd, meditating, singing, baking, shabbat services, and having tea with friends.
  • Seth: I find that a clean-living environment is very soothing. When appropriate moments avail themselves, I like to turn on some Crosby Stills and Nash and Swiffer away my daily stress. When the task is complete, I feel relaxed, reinvigorated and often times achieve a sense of clarity.

Between You and Me

“If you stop doing hard things,” she said, “you’ll stop being able to do hard things.”  That was what my health instructor said during class a couple of weeks ago.  She was lamenting how her mother, who used to be on her feet all the time while she was working, had retired, joined the YMCA and gravitated towards doing chair yoga as her primary movement practice.  Because her standing muscles slowly atrophied, she took a fall in the locker room and was heading into surgery to repair various injuries.

When she said that, I realized that my whole life has been guided by a similar principle.  If I had allowed my natural shyness to win the day, I’d have never taken a public speaking class in college.  If I had never taken that class and gained experience facing my paralyzing fears, I might not have summoned the chutzpah to apply to Rabbinical school.  If I’d have given myself over to those persistent and unpleasant nerves for the first 15 years of my rabbinate (!), I may have given up on being a rabbi. It’s not that I’m never nervous before speaking.  It’s not that all my talks are amazing.  It is that I’ve built a strong muscle for doing things that are hard for me because I’m doing them all the time: earning 3 black belts in TaeKwonDo, engaging in training programs that provide new challenges for my professional and personal life.  There are easier paths.  I’m almost 50.  I could just keep doing what I’ve always done.

The truth for all of us is that the hardest aspects of life are usually in front of us.  If we stop doing hard things, if we take the familiar road, we may stop being able to do hard things like let our children grow up and leave home, retire and find new ways to spend our time, live with new physical limitations, grieve a beloved, give up our homes and independence.

In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt famously said:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Living in the arena and daring greatly has made all the difference for me.  You may reflect and discover the same is true for you.  I am grateful to you for all the opportunities you’ve given me to learn and teach and stay in the arena so that I can better serve as your rabbi.