Sunday, March 25, 2007

Where I've been

Yom Bet, The Seventh of Nissan

I just can't believe how long it's been since I've posted on this blog (Jan. 29th!!!!!!!!). This blog meant so much to me in the weeks and months when I first started it that it became hard for me to even imagine living without it. It just gave me so much outlet to express my work and my passion. I felt like I was finding my voice and a new and powerful way to make Torah live in my life. I felt like I had found a place to share how I was developing and growing as a rabbi, as a chaplain and as a person amid these precious and intense months of being a Clinical Pastoral Education resident, a pursuit that provides opportunities for spiritual and personal growth -- for confronting the ultimate questions that arise daily from being constantly so intimately in contact with the life and death that continually confront anyone willing to walk the halls of a modern hospital with their heart and their soul open -- that few other pursuits do.

But, as much as I realize what I've been missing by having put this blog aside, I also know that I used the energy I had devoted to it towards something else quite important -- to the task of working with our cancer patients here at our hospital as part of our palliative care team. That work has been so amazing and has given me so much to reflect on and (eventually) write about. Working with cancer patients means being around a lot of death, and that has certainly been draining. But, being witness to the dignity of people -- and their families -- amid their struggles with this terrible disease restores ones faith in God and in the human spirit in a way nothing else can. When a man who had expressed so much anger at God to me when he could still speak easily, chose -- through his pain and exhaustion -- to say "God, bless you; God, bless you" for his final words to me, my spirit soars in an unbelievable way. When I see a man wracked by pain refuse any pain medication because he wants to live for his sons, I am humbled. I am awed. I am awed by the stories I have seen every day since I began this work.

And, while I am truly sad to have put aside the Torah encounter I had started in this blog, I realize that now is a particularly exciting time to begin it again. In just about a week we enter that most universal of Jewish Holidays -- Passover, the great celebration of the freeing of slaves who endured unimaginable oppression and made a new beginning -- and journey! -- as a newly free people. What time could be better for restarting a journey!

And it was just this past Shabbat that we had another new beginning -- the beginning of our reading of the book of VaYikrah (of Leviticus) as part of the cycle of weekly Torah readings.

The very first word of this book is VaYikrah, which means, and He called.

And He called to Moshe, and spoke HaShem to him from the Tent of Meeting . . . (Lev. 1:1)

God calls to us in many ways, just as God called to Moses on that important day. In the chapters that follow in the Book of VaYikrah, a compelling and passionate story is told about the Israelites effort to hear that call, to find the proper way to serve God. Anyone who thinks this book is just a cold collection of laws about sacrifices has failed to peer deep into its words. In there, one will find an amazing obsession with Holiness, and a determination to become as Holy as possible. The path to that, as I hope to show you in the coming weeks of the readings from this book, is not just about figuring out how best to serve God. It is also about knowing how best to serve one's fellow human. There is no true service of God that does not involve both serving God directly and serving God's creatures and God's creation. This is one of the central messages of Judaism, the faith that refuses to look only to Heavens -- as other monotheistic religious expressions do sometimes -- and insists on always looking at the Earth as well.

Please come with me!!

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