Friday, May 25, 2007

Learning journeys

You might have thought that once the people Israel had received the Torah at Mt. Sinai that they would have been ready to enter the land promised to them. But after Sinai, their wanderings would continue for nearly another four decades. The Book of BeMidbar/במדבר (or Numbers), which we began reading last Shabbat, recounts the story of those wanderings. These wanderings were full of triumphs, but also at least as many false steps and disasters. More than once, the people Israel lost their faith. More than once, God became angry with them and despaired of them.

But, in the end -- as we all know -- the people found God's favor and were allowed to enter Canaan and to begin the process of building themselves up from a band of wandering former slaves into a proud nation with a great City, Jerusalem, at its heart. They would become a nation that would inspire the entire world with their faith. They would become a light unto the nations.

This past week, I had the privilege of watching some dear friends -- especially now Rabbi Carrie Benveniste and now Rabbi Valerie Joseph -- end their long and sometimes trying journeys towards joining me as a rabbi. It was a profound joy to be at their ordination in Los Angeles and see these compassionate, strong, intelligent and determined women begin the next great steps in the journeys to serve the people Israel. We will all be enriched by their great works.

And, I too will be beginning my own new journey in my own work of rabbinic service. This coming week I will begin the path towards becoming not just a chaplain, but an educator of chaplains (and other clergy as well) -- I will, for the first time, co-supervise a summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Four seminary students will be coming to our hospital and spending an intense 11 weeks with us, walking the halls of our nursing units, visiting patients in their distress and then coming back to the seminar room to discuss the powerful spiritual experiences they will have with those patients. From those discussions, will come their learning. And that learning is what will help them to better be there for their patients and their congregants in the future.

The path for these new students will not always be easy. Like the people Israel, at times they will be wandering. They may doubt their faith. They may despair and want to quit. They will struggle.

But it is from these struggles -- as it was for the people Israel -- that will come their strength and the gifts they will have to give to their people and to the world.

May it be the will of the Blessed Holy One that their -- and my -- learning will be great this summer. May their patients be comforted. And may Rabbis Carrie and Valerie -- and the rest of the new Ziegler school ordinees -- be a gift to the people Israel in everything that they do.

Shabbat Shalom.


This past Shabbat, by the way, I celebrated with Rabbis Carrie and Valerie at a synagogue that has great meaning to all of us -- Congregation Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, CA, led by Rabbi Dan Shevitz. Rabbi Dan pointed out that there is something in the parsha that is particularly appropriate around the ordination of new clergy. Verse 3:31 lists the things that the family of Kohat (of the tribe of Levi) will be in charge of in the Tabernable (Mishkon in Hebrew):

And their charge shall be the ark, and the table, and the lampstand, and the altars, and the utensils of the sanctuary with which they minister, and the screen, and all its service.

The Hebrew for what is translated here as "utensils of the sanctuary" is כלי הקודש/kli hakodesh, literally the Holy Vessels.

This term kli hakodesh is the closest thing the Hebrew Bible has given us to the English word "clergy". As Rabbi Dan pointed out, a vessel is something that is hollow -- that is, it is something that must be filled. It is the Holy acts of our congregants that makes a rabbi a kli kodesh. We only provide the space and structure to help bring that holiness to light.

One element of the Jewish calendar is the weekly Torah reading, or parsha. This past Shabbat's reading was BeMidbar, Numbers 1:1-4:20. The parsha is concerned with the counting of the people Israel in their tribes as they prepare for their march through the wilderness on the way to the promised land of Canaan.

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