CCAR Newsletter May - June 2017 - Insert2

(continued from front page) FROM THE PRESIDENT Rabbi David Stein

whipped. But the possibilities of the word ruchot beckon
us. Mi she'eino yachol l'chavein et haruchot might also
be someone for whom ruach has become elusive or
difficult to locate-someone who is spiritually disoriented, even dis-spirited. In these deeply challenging
times, and in the safety and strength of this chevrah,
that might describe us too.
So what does the text instruct us, the sometimes
disoriented ones, to do? Y'chavein libo k'neged aviv
shebashamayim-when our normative, earthbound
sense of direction is shaken, we are to direct our hearts
to the Holy.
Now maybe that wasn't the biggest of reveals, but it's
surely easier said than done. It is up to each of us to be
rigorous about the question: what for me is my sulam
mutzav artza, v'rosho magia hashamaima? What, for
each of us, is the spiritual practice that both roots and
elevates us, that stands in opposition to the seductive
ping of the latest urgent email, and actually fortifies us
for the work?
I am not the most prescriptive of rabbis, but I would
say if you don't have such a spiritual practice, leave
right now and get one. Whatever that practice is for
you-text study, chevruta, yoga, meditation, a regular
conversation with a trusted colleague; a walk in the
woods, a gym where you're not worrying about what
you look like, an hour at the piano, the mooring of
t'filah or a daily blessing practice-whatever it is, can
you make it not only a routine, but a spiritual discipline?
Not only a ladder, but a sustaining well? Can you bring
to it the humility and the consciousness of one who is
disoriented; can you make it a reconnection with ruach?
My own belief, and now I'm really telling you
something you already know, is that such practice is an
indispensable source of integrity and sustenance for all
the other work we do. Being able to step out into quiet
and discernment helps our urgent decisions to also be
purposeful. It helps our time on the ramparts to have
not only force, but depth. Such practice can remind
us that the work of public advocacy, even for a good
cause, has its own sneaky ego traps and that there is
no power like the power of humility. It helps us be less
wind-whipped; it helps us reconnect with ruchot.
That sense of compass in a turbulent time is no small
thing. There is not, for example, some easy or grand
recipe for what a rabbi can get away with in a sermon
on social justice-what might be achievable for one
rabbi in one setting might be beyond the pale for
another rabbi in a different place; and what a rabbi
can get away with is not necessarily what makes that
rabbi most effective. Finding our ruchot again can help
us live with the fact that there are no easy answers and
help us, case by case, to reject paralysis for the best
and bravest decisions we can make, so that we can be
the bearers of justice and compassion into a world that
desperately needs us.
Ours is not a time, nor a rabbinate, nor a tradition
of easy answers and tidy packages. In this morning's
parashah, we read again the measurements for the
Aron. Regarding the Aron, a number of Chasidic
commentators offer first the same observation and then
a common core insight (Itturei Torah, Ex. 25:10). They
note that most of the construction measurements for
the Mishkan contain at least some whole numbers-the
goats' hair cloths for the tent are to be thirty cubits by
four cubits; the table is two cubits long by one cubit
wide by one and a half cubits high; the altar is a cubit
long and a cubit wide and two cubits high. But when it

comes to the Aron, the Holy Ark itself, the measurements
are exclusively in halves, what these sages call amot
shevurot, "broken numbers": the Ark is to be two and
a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide, and one
and a half cubits high.
Why? To teach all of us, they say, and maybe especially
us rabbis, that we are always only half. We are never
complete. Our learning is never complete, our souls
are never complete, our ethical standards require
vigilance, our sh'leimut is a work in progress. Sometimes
well-anchored, sometimes unmoored, we always find
ourselves in the middle of the journey.
The Holy Ark measured in half cubits stands in splendid
opposition to the false fullness of ego, to the toxic
certainties that derail any kind of real conversation
on the urgent issues of the day. It stands to affirm
complexity, unevenness, the value of listening beyond my
own neatly beveled edges.
What would a half-cubit conversation about Israel
look like? We hope to explore that at this convention,
and even more, hope to learn how to cultivate that
conversation in our own settings at home. And we are
blessed at this convention to have the largest number
of participants from MARAM at a non-Israel CCAR
convention in our history.
It is a truism that the political conversation about
Israel in Israel is more robust and multi-vocal than the
conversation we allow ourselves in North America. Our
conversation about Israel, never easy, has fallen prey to
new norms of polarized polemic. We are afraid of being
honest. We listen only for the code words that permit
snap prejudgments; we make pariahs out of potential
partners. Many of our colleagues don't feel the freedom
to say what they think, lest they suffer real repercussions.
This is a rabbinic problem and a Zionist one. I believe
that Israel suffers as a result of our inability to have
a productive conversation about Palestinians, the
two-state solution, the threat from Iran, the rights of
Progressive Jews to holy spaces and holy matrimony,
about the best way to secure a future for an Israel
that is a Jewish, just, and democratic state. A univocal
Zionism is a failed Zionism.
And there is plenty of half-cubit listening to be done
within our Conference as well. The Reform rabbinic
voice emanates from a dazzling array of settings:
congregations small and large, campuses and
community centers, hospitals and prisons and aircraft
carriers, in the boisterous laughter of the waterfront
at camp or the hushed sanctity of hospice. But across
those settings, our membership survey last year
demonstrated loud and clear how lonely and isolated
so many of our colleagues feel. That sense of isolation
is an issue in and of itself and can easily become a trip
wire for other problems.
So it is up to us to reach out and draw near, to lend
courage to one another for our work on the ramparts
of justice, to listen to stories told by diverse voices, to
provide the resources to shore up colleagues in this
sometimes lonely work. A CCAR of half cubits will be
one where we do not presume that because we know
our own rabbinate we know someone else's. A CCAR
of half cubits is one where we set the goal of ongoing
ethics education and rabbinic education writ large and
then listen hard for the best way to get there.
Amidst all the listening we need to do, let me emphasize
in particular the brave expression of pain that has
come from our women colleagues in recent weeks

about decades' worth of incidents of aggression and
diminution, from laypeople and rabbis, in setting after
setting. Discussions are already under way among
the major arms of our movement-and how blessed
we are in such outstanding movement partners-to
address the numerous dimensions we hope to explore
together-from the economic justice issue of pay equity
to the social justice issue of sexual harassment to the
more general but no less urgent questions of speech
awareness and seichel.
No woman rabbi should be subjected to leering or
demeaning comments, regardless of their supposed
intent; and no woman rabbi should ever be paid less
than her male counterpart for the same sacred work. As
your leadership, we commit to a process of exploration
and action. We are listening, and all of us are less than
half so long as these conditions persist.
For a Torah portion of technicalities, Vayak'heil sure has
a lot of heart. Even the few verses we read today give us
n'sa'o libo, n'div lev, chochmat lev, nasa liban, and more.
And in that motif a reminder: that after all the rods and
sockets and poles, after all the cubits whole and half,
after all the board meetings and budget meetings, after
the ones who love us and the ones who don't, after the
sermons that work and the sermons that don't, amidst
all the bean counting of a technical parashah and our
sometimes technical days, there is an unmistakable
refrain. Lev: heart and heart and heart again. Because
in this crazy privilege/calling of ours, that's what we can
bring, and in the end that's what we have.
I have a favorite midrash related to this week's
parashah-it comes from P'sikta D'Rav Kahana (1:3),
and it goes like this:
"While Moses was on Mount Sinai, the Holy One
showed him red fire, green fire, black fire and white
fire and said to him: 'Make the Tabernacle for Me in
these fiery colors.' Moses asked the Holy One: 'Master
of universes, where am I to get red fire, green fire,
black fire, and white fire?' In considering Moses's
question, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Berechiah cited the
following parable: A king appeared before his steward
in a garment covered entirely with precious stones and
said to him: 'Make one like this for me.' The steward
replied: 'My Lord king, who am I to get materials
with which to make a garment covered entirely with
precious stones?' The king replied: 'Follow the pattern
with whatever materials you have, and I will still reign
in my glory.'"
That is what is asked of us who are privileged to be
called rabbi-to follow the pattern with whatever
materials we have. To bring our own gifts of heart and
mind, whatever they might be, and however short they
will inevitably fall of some perfect ideal. Our own fires
and hues-and that will be enough for God's presence
to sustain and pervade existence.
And what is the pattern? The Torah of compassion, the
organizing for justice, the joy of camp, the whispered
comfort at graveside, the spark in a learner's eyes,
the song that lifts prayer, the threshold of the hospital
room as bridge to a sacred realm. Follow that pattern
with whatever you have, God says, and it will be better
than all the pyrotechnics of the heavens. The Mishkan
you build from your gifts will shine more brightly; the
garment you make from your deeds will be the garb of
the Most High. It will bring strength and luster to God's
world, and it will likely be durable in a storm-it will
probably hold up just fine, even in a turbulent time.
Kein y'hi ratzon.


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter May - June 2017

CCAR Newsletter May - June 2017 - 1
CCAR Newsletter May - June 2017 - 2
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