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6.23.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2017 9:59 pm
by RabbiMark
Are We There Yet?

My ordination was about three months ago. I tried very hard to not attach too many expectations to either the ceremony itself or the impact it would have on me so that I could just be present in the moment, and I was fairly successful in that regard. Yet, the effect has been more substantial than I anticipated in a number of ways, from the amount of inner emotional/spiritual space that opened up after having reached that milestone to feeling more comfortable hearing the title “rabbi” being placed in front of my name, being able to own that in a new kind of way. As with all things, it’s not all sunshine and smicha; there are the challenging pieces as well. One of the challenges that has emerged for me is the feeling of wanting to “graduate”- now that I’ve achieved that, now that I’m done, I can relax a bit, rest on my laurels. I’m done getting to that point; now I can relax.

In Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s The Thirteen Petalled Rose, in the chapter on Tshuvah, he illuminates this challenge and opportunity beautifully:
Jewish thought pays little attention to inner tranquility and peace of mind. The feeling of ‘behold, I’ve arrived’ could well undermine the capacity to continue, suggesting as it does that the Infinite can be reached in a finite number of steps. In fact, the very concept of the Divine as infinite implies an activity that is endless, of which one must never grow weary.
I do not believe Steinsaltz is saying that we should not celebrate meaningful moments, nor do I think he’s wholly cynical about personal achievements. In this quote, rather, he’s describing the appeal, and the danger, of getting stuck in a place of self-congratulatory spiritual success, rather than finding the motivation and desire to keep moving in the right direction.

This week, we read about Korach’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron, leading a faction of Israelites against their ordained leaders. Korach’s claim against them seems to be somewhat reasonable: why shouldn’t Moses and Aaron open up their elitist power structure? However, a closer reading of Korach’s words, via Yeshayahu Leibowitz, highlights how he cloaks his claim in a compelling half-truth, the ultimate skill of any decent demagogue. A few weeks ago, we read the holiness code, in which God tells Moses of the people, “k’doshim t’hiyu,” you will be holy - it’s a process that has begun, but not yet completed. Yet, in Korach’s words, he states “kol ha’eidah, kulam k’doshim,” all of the people, all of them are holy!

The difference is subtle yet critical, a quantum leap in perspective. Korach sees holiness as something that has been achieved by everyone, thereby making them worthy of power and control, rather than seeing holiness as an ongoing process, necessitating guides for consistent and ongoing growth. In a sense, this is no surprise - this parsha comes the week after an entire generation of Israelites has been told they won’t enter the Promised Land. Who wouldn’t want a clear, concrete destination at that point? Yet openness to the ongoing process, rather than grasping for an unachievable accomplishment, is crucial.

I see the Korach within myself, the part of me asking, in a spiritual sense: “Am I there yet?” The answer is, as always, a both/and, yes and no. I’m already here, on the path I have the opportunity and obligation to be on...and no, I’m not there yet, and I won’t ever fully get there. Holiness is a process we’ve all begun, and will never totally complete.

Holding the memory of my ordination in mind, the physical and spiritual fullness of that room, I’m grateful to be a part of a community which knows how much work there’s yet to do. Together, we can move past asking: “Are we there yet?” to stating, wholly: “Thank God we’re right here, right now.”

Shabbat shalom.
Rabbi Matt Shapiro