As you read these words, I will be back from my January sabbatical. As I write them, I am with you from afar, wanting to share my gratitude for this precious time and wanting to let you know a bit about how I have spent my time. It is a privilege to be able to have shifted my focus from the daily tasks of work and life in order to live fully in a different kind of present, where clutter is cleared from the landscape and perspective is sharpened.
During my month away, I discovered that it isn’t so easy to let go and allow the present moment to envelop in such a fashion that tasks recede and living expands. How do we fill our lives? How do we shape each day? Too often, we allow the day to shape us. Tasks that have to get done take precedence. Events that happen to us consume our time before we get to decide how we would choose to use our time.
I have chosen to spend much of my time studying the texts of Jewish Mysticism. I look forward to sharing what I have learned with you as I am developing a 4-week Lunch & Learn on Jewish Mysticism. Do mark your calendars now for the 4 Wednesdays in April at noon for our class. The challenge of making life meaningful has been with us forever. In our age we have unique challenges – like those that technology has created for us – but there have always been distractions in life and there have always been efforts to clear those distractions so we can create lives of meaning. Jewish Mysticism is based on the belief that we humans can attain a consciousness that leads us to experience awe and wonder at any moment. It is the simplest of opportunities because it is right before us all the time, but it is the hardest of endeavors because we humans are so easily distracted. The Jewish mystics dedicated their lives, their study, their every-day routines, to achieve a level of consciousness that they described as an experience of the Divine. I have been spending much of my time reading the texts of Jewish mysticism and discovering just how hard and challenging but also how compelling the language of mysticism is.
Consider this. We are all familiar with the 121st psalm. We often recite this psalm at times of tragedy or loss. We say: “I lift my eyes to the heavens, from where (m’ayin in the Hebrew) will my help come? The mystics say no. We’ve got it wrong. Look again. The word ‘m’ayin,’ which we think so obviously means ‘from where?’ could also be pronounced ‘m’ayn’ which translates as ‘from Nothing.’ It is not a question at all; it is an answer. Where does our help come from? From Nothing. Our help comes from Nothing. What the mystics are suggesting is that ‘Nothingness’ is at the center – not in a nihilistic way, but to remind us that no thing is crucial, rather it is being itself that is crucial.
I have been personally focused on the challenge of being more and doing less. It is easier to do while away. Even then, it is not so easy for distractions rise like the mist on the waters. You sometimes don’t even notice that they are distractions, but they are always there.
This has been a precious time for me. I have had time for learning and time for rest and time for fun. Being full-time with Nancy has been the best of blessings. It has been a privilege to be away from the constant demands of the rabbinate, but it is also from afar that it becomes so clear how precious our TBT community is.
I return to you invigorated and excited about all of our upcoming adventures at hand: our congregational trip to Israel, our re-imagining of our building and strengthening and beautifying it for the future, our marking together of Jewish time and celebrating Shabbat together each week, and being with you to celebrate your lives, the peaks and the valleys, to celebrate the awe and wonder of life together.