Divre Harav – November/2019

Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi

Beginning this month, I will be on Sabbatical for three months. It is a common practice of rabbis and other clergy to be given a periodic Sabbatical from their regular duties for reflection, for rekindling the spirit and the sense of calling by God, for reconnecting more deeply with the tradition (Scripture, theology, liturgy), and for deepening one’s own spiritual life. My last Sabbatical was five years ago. While on Sabbatical, I will not be available for my normal Rabbinic duties. I will not be coming into the office, attending meetings, or scheduling appointments. I will not be taking phone calls or responding to email for routine questions. I will not be teaching, leading study groups, leading services, or giving Divre Torah. The office will refer calls or email either to the president or to the appropriate committee.

Clergy organizations suggest that a Sabbatical should not be heavily structured. The idea is to have free time for unexpected projects and learning. I will be spending a great deal of time time reading and studying. I will be out of town for part of the time, but most of the time will be spent in Grand Rapids. 

Previous Sabbaticals have focused on:

2004-5 – Visiting small synagogues Tefillah Tidbits, Dale Carnegie graduate assistant

2009-10 – Visiting churches to learn the art of preaching, Dale Carnegie graduate assistant

2014-15 – Writing group, Guide to funeral practice, Psalm Blog, Dale Carnegie graduate assistant

This Sabbatical, I will be working with the Local First organization on a national project to create materials supporting a “Sacred Economy” initiative. They describe the project this way:

We believe a Sacred Economy:
is that ordering of relationships
that enables and encourages people
to activate their talents and energies

to create, exchange, and use goods and services
to provide for humanity’s everyday needs,
in a truly loving manner,
befitting that Love that is the signature identity
and desire of both God and the human person.

I’ll begin by working to identify teachings and language that resonates across spiritual traditions, political spectrums, and people groups, gathering multi-faith resources related to the sacred economy and connected topics. I’m looking forward to meeting with people from many different faith traditions to learn how their personal faith and sense of the Sacred affects the way they structure their business, and what texts or traditions shape their decision-making process.

During my Sabbatical, a number of people and committees will be picking up some of my responsibilities. Services will be led by Stuart Rapaport. As of the beginning of October, seven slots were open for divre Torah and 2 slots were open for leading Torah discussions. A d’var Torah should be about 12 minutes. The Torah study should be a 50 minute interactive session. To sign up, go to https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1akhLglgeGsuICPyT0aWjPhnOmhGUcmk65wMrPOXn7AY/edit#gid=0 or http://tinyurl.com/CAITorahSignup.

The one exception I will make in a normal Sabbatical practice will involve officiating at funerals, if I am in town. However, during normal office hours the initial phone call regarding a funeral should go the office. At other times (weekdays 7:00 am – 10:00 am and 3:30 pm – 10:00 pm or weekends), please call Stuart Rapaport. After the basic funeral arrangements (include date and time) have been set, I will be contacted. If I am available, I will contact the family to speak about the funeral service.  Otherwise, Stuart will handle the funeral service.

This will be my fourth three-month Sabbatical. I understand that the many people in the congregation really stretch themselves to cover for me while I’m away, and I am immensely grateful for this opportunity. Todah Rabbah!

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • Sh’mittah – Sabbatical year, once every seven years, a Sabbath of the land.
  • Yovel – Jubilee year, once every 50 years, every seven Sabbatical cycles, an economic realignment.

The Story of Soup

I shared two Sabbatical articles with my writing group last week. Aside from the small suggestions of grammar and sentence structure, I heard comments that I need to pay more attention to story. These articles could be more than just a journal of my activities. They should be the ongoing story of a series of transformative activities. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be in a profession that allows them an unstructured leave from daily responsibilities to spend an extended period of time learning and thinking. However, the Sabbatical can be experienced in microcosm if the story can be translated into the reader’s life.

Here’s a story from the first week of Sabbatical: One of my more mundane activities has been making soup. When I was first learning to cook seriously, in my early 20’s, I thought cooking soup required magic. My mother is a wonderful cook. I could never figure out how she could turn water into this rich, fragrant, golden liquid called chicken soup until I tried it for myself. I discovered that cooking soup simply requires throwing the ingredients into a pot of water and cooking it for hours, letting the magic of chemistry blend the flavors together, pull the starches and bind the liquid together into … soup!

If all you have at your disposal is standard kitchen equipment (i.e., no pressure cooker), you can’t rush the process of making soup. You can’t turn the stove up to high and make the magic happen faster. Similarly, the learning that happens during a sabbatical takes time. What do you do when you don’t have extended unstructured time? One answer, the Jewish answer, is that you can build a mini-sabbatical, called Shabbat, into your week. Magic happens on Shabbat when you decline to schedule shopping, entertainment opportunities, or children’s obligations, but rather spend the time in prayer (preferably community-based prayer), study, reading, contemplation, socializing, and eating meals with family and/or friends.

Winter is approaching. What a good time to make soup and make Shabbat!