Categories
High Holy Days Poetry

Hin’ni: Here I Am, The Confession of a Broken Heart

I am here.
I am here.
I stand before the open Ark and
the eternal scrolls of our people
dressed in white light.
I stand ready to enter into the Holy Days,
to offer prayers that urge me
to live better, kinder,
ever present to the pain of others,
to become a compassionate vessel, trustworthy
holding hope in the midst of despair.

Hin’ni
I am here, I am here.
I stand on the edge between earth and heaven,
between what I know and what I can never understand,
between life and life everlasting.
Mortality hovers, a rippling presence,
always there, lingering, waiting, holding.
I am here.

Hin’ni
I am here
I stand resilient, determined,
though I have been taken down,
forced to live a different way.
The rhythm of life has been altered.
Time unfolds and morphs, expands and stands still.
I have been called to be present, to pay attention.
What have I learned?
What have I done with the time I have been given,
glorious time of never-ending possibility?
Have I squandered the beauty, the radiance of life,
an offering to my inner being?

Who am I?
Where have I gone astray?
Am I worthy to pray with my people?
May I be worthy to pray with my people.

Hear my plea,
grant me the faith, courage and wisdom
to enter into cheshbon hanefesh:
the fragility and humility of self-examination.

Hin’ni,
I am here, I am here.
May this fractured heart, softened
and hold love and compassion,
in a way it never has before.

Hin’ni, I am here.


Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation BJBE in the Chicago area and is renown for her creative liturgy. Her work explores the need for meaning and purpose in our busy lives, creating an intentional life, spiritual awakening, forgiveness, as well as inspirational leadership and creating the synagogue for the twenty-first century. Her latest work includes Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice, available for purchase through the CCAR Press.

Categories
Healing Holiday Passover Pesach spirituality

When Is Enough, Enough Already?

With Pesach just concluded, I am still contemplating part of the seder. In my family, like many others, we add to the singing of Dayeinu, the wonderful custom of smiting one another with scallion. “Dai, dai yeinu, dai, dai yeinu…,” we sing joyfully. “It would have been enough. Enough, enough, enough. To bring us out of Egypt, to give us Shabbat, to give us Torah—enough, enough.

But when examining the stages of Dayeinu, I wonder, would each of these moments really have been enough? To have been brought out of Egypt, but left at the Red Sea? To have been brought into the desert, but with no manna? To have been brought to Sinai, but with no Torah? Would that really have been enough?

And so, too, now we wonder. In each of our lives, we have moments when it is simply not “enough.” To have been given chemo for our cancer, but given —lo dai.  To have cutting-edge treatment for my depression, without feeling better—lo dai. To work towards a vaccine, without lowering the rate of transmission of COVID-19—lo dai.  

And, when, at the time of Elijah’s cup, we remember and recite the tradition of “pour out Your wrath,” when we note that “in every generation, tyrants have risen up to oppress us,” we might think—yes, God, enough. Perhaps more than enough. In this time of coronavirus, we may think, “Yes, oh God, enough already.” Surely we could learn to feel God’s presence, God’s redemption in our lives without yet another plague or persecution.  

I led two Zoom seders this year. Ordinarily I lead one, and my family is invited out to the other. Not only was I exhausted afterwards, but it was hard to tell how they went. As opposed to “in-person” sedarim, online ones are murky. Were other people singing along? Was there joy in being together? Did we lift up our voices together in Hallel, and were we silly as a group in the songs at the end? Or were people just tired, bored, waiting for the end?

If I felt worn out after two nights of leading family and friends, I can only imagine both the over-functioning of my pulpit and other working colleagues, and their need for positive feedback, to know that their efforts are hitting the mark often enough. That they are dai.  

And so it occurs to me that perhaps this is what Dayeinu means to us this year. Not that we say to God, “What You have done for us is enough,” but rather, “Dayei-nu” “we are dai, we are enough.” If our seder leadership brought our families to Sinai (without a major Torah revelation), well, then, we are dai! We are good enough, and we did enough. If our remote visits to the sick and with mourners comforts them, but not as good as a hug would have, אנחנו די, we are enough! And if we are leading remote services on Shabbat, then, remember—we, too, need a Shabbat, a rest—because we have needs, because we are enough, not God.

In this extraordinary time of uncertainty and fear, of rabbis rising to do remarkable work, let our Pesach hymn carry us forth. God, give us enough to work with, when we affirm that we, ourselves, are enough. And that is the blessing of gratitude and limits, of thanksgiving and self-acceptance, wrapped into a song of joy and scallions.


Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado. She may be reached at ravsjcohen@gmail.com.

Categories
Books Healing Poetry Prayer spirituality

Book Excerpt: “Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice,” By Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

CCAR Press is honored to release Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar’s latest book, Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice. This collection includes prayers for personal use, prayers for use at communal gatherings, prayers and readings for moments of grief and moments of joy, a collection of daily Psalms, and focus phrases and questions for meditation. Rabbi Kedar’s new book is available for purchase now.

Below, we are share one of the many inspiring passages found in Amen.

Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice, and other publications by Rabbi Kedar, are available for purchase here.

“The Archaeologist of the Soul”

I suppose that the archaeologist
delights in brokenness.
Shards are proof of life.
Though a vessel, whole, but dusty
and rare, is also good.

I suppose that the archaeologist
does not agonize over the charred
lines of destruction signifying
a war, a conquest, a loss, a fire,
or a complete collapse.
The blackened layer
seared upon the balk
is discovery.

So why do I mourn,
and shiver,
and resist?
Why do I weep
as I dig deeper
and deeper still?
Dust, dirt,
buckets of rubble,
brokenness,
a fire or two,
shattered layers
of a life that
rebuilds upon
the discarded,
the destroyed,
and then
the reconstructed,
only to break again,
and deeper still,
shards upon shards,
layers upon layers.

If you look carefully,
the earth reveals its secrets.
So does the soul,
and the cell,
and the sinew,
and the thought,
and the wisp of memory,
and the laugh,
and the cry,
and the heart,
that seeks its deepest truth,
digging down,
down to bedrock.

Rock bottom they call it,
and in Hebrew,
the Mother Rock.

God of grace,
teach me
that the layers
of brokenness
create a whole.


Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation BJBE in the Chicago area. Her previously published books include God Whispers, The Dance of the Dolphin (Our Dance with God), The Bridge to Forgiveness, and Omer: A Counting. She is published in numerous anthologies and is renowned for her creative liturgy. Rabbi Kedar teaches courses and leads retreats that explore the need for meaning and purpose in our busy lives, creating an intentional life, spiritual awakening, forgiveness, as well as inspirational leadership and creating the synagogue for the twenty-first century. Her latest work has culminated in the newly released Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice, now available for purchase through CCAR Press.

Categories
spirituality

Sitting With the Unknown: Continual Revelation of the Not-Yet Revealed

I have a quote on my bathroom vanity that reads, “I have no idea what’s going to happen, and I love it!”  In the middle there is a stick person with his hands triumphantly in the air.  Care to guess how many times I have exclaimed back to this piece of paper, “I do not love it!  I do not love it??!”

I framed this quote and its invitation to sit with the unknown precisely because, it is so, so difficult! We want the comfort of believing that we determine our destiny, or if we do X, Y, and Z this way, we will get what we want.  And while many of our actions shape our fate in profound ways, more often than not, we cannot control what happens to us or our loved ones.

There are some whose faith holds that God has a plan for them, and this is the reassurance that they need in times of uncertainty.  And yet, there are also many of us who do not believe the Eternal directly intervenes in human affairs, or that the Divine is even capable of intervening.  In fact, the Torah goes to great lengths to reassure the searching Jew that skepticism is healthy, legitimate, and even cele­brated in Jewish life.[1]  Rabbi Daniel Gordis asks, “Why does Ju­daism validate doubt? Judaism takes doubt seriously because it takes people seriously.  It recognizes that if Jewish life is to touch us, then it has to meet us where we are. That “place,” Jewish tradition understands, is often a place of bewilderment, of hurt, of skepticism.[2]

And yet, this place of bewilderment or skepticism also invites us to unite with the Eternal.  Reaching out to the Transcendent in moments of uncertainty is deeply Jewish. Our relationship with the Divine Mystery is not supposed to be easy blind faith.

Judaism doesn’t ask us to deny our doubts or fears.  Instead, it invites us to feel God’s presence precisely in these challenging moments.  Bringing mindfulness to these moments offers a helpful path through the struggle.  When we feel powerless, the practice of gratitude can open our hearts connecting us to the simple and profound—our ability to see the light glinting off a tree’s verdant leaves or feel the cool sweetness of a breeze across our face, or to taste the sweetness of a summer peach.

Acceptance of the present moment is another mindfulness practice. It requires patience and strength to sit with discomfort because we do not always know when our thoughts or circumstances will change. Practicing acceptance while sitting with discomfort or the unknown invites us to move into the Divine Mystery even as the unknown scares us. We are afraid things will never change even though we know things always change!  To master our fear, we tell stories and make explanations. However, it can be more skillful to let go of knowing.  Freedom comes with surrender to the unknown.

Martin Buber teaches, “the world is not comprehensible but it is embraceable.”  We do not always need to know how things will turn out, instead we can focus on how we respond in the moment. We can only feel the Divine when we are truly present.  God does not appear when we are worrying about the future, God is manifest in moments when we inhabit the here and now.

Sometimes we cannot summon tools to sit with the unknown, move into the mystery, or connect with gratitude. Sometimes, we are lost in a downward spiral.  If we are able to reach out to our friends, teachers, colleagues, and fellow seekers in these moments, they remind us that this is only temporary.  We have had other challenging moments and will again. They remind us that while the darkness may feel stifling or terrifying, it will shift.  They reassure us that they have been there too; moments of unknown darkness are part of the experience of being human.

We may draw solace in the thought that the Divine weeps with us too sometimes.  God is present in our tears and fear.  With this consolation, we are no longer alone. Here we find peace in the unknown.

The Sefat Emet, a nineteenth century Hasidic rabbi, claimed that the destiny of the Jewish people lies precisely in our openness to the continual revelation of the not-yet-revealed.  The constant quest is openness to the Mystery.  Openness to the unknown.  And we can choose for it to be terrifying and miserable.  Or we can use it as an invitation to feel God’s presence—from gratitude, remaining present, and communal support.

There will probably be many more times when I will holler at the stick figure on my bathroom vanity.  In these times, my thoughts will be projecting all sorts of terrible possibilities in the future, or that a particular situation feels intolerable.  Instead, may these moments open us to the continual revelation of the not-yet-revealed– with patience, with acceptance, and with wonder.

Rabbi Jessica Kessler Marshall joyously serves Temple Beth Or in Everett, Washington.

 

[1] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/from-belief-to-faith/

[2] Ibid.

Categories
Books spirituality

Do the Jewish People Have a Unique Vocation among the Nations? Do You Affirm Hope in a “Messanic Age”?

As we ask big questions during the High Holy Days, Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions, presents a range of Jewish responses to both theological and philosophical questions pertaining to God, humanity, and the Jewish people. In the spirit of the High Holy Days, we would like to share some of the inspirational responses included in the book, for a thoughtful and meaningful New Year.

Another world is possible. I affirm Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s insight that “faith is not acceptance but protest, against the world that is, in the name of the world that is not yet but ought to be” (To Heal a Fractured World, 27). To the extent that the mythology of a messianic age inspires work to alleviate poverty and oppression, violence and violation, I believe. I affirm religious ideas that give hope in a broken world and catalyze efforts for its repair—even if we never get “there.” As Danny Siegel adapted from a Yiddish proverb, “If you always assume the person sitting next to you is the Messiah, waiting for some simple human kindness, you will soon come to weigh your words and watch your hands. And if he chooses not to be revealed in your time, it will not matter” (Siegel, And God Braided Eve’s Hair).

Do the Jewish people have some special role in this endeavor? Mordecai Kaplan suggested the concept of vocation as a substitute for the dangerous arrogance of chosenness and the religious imperialism of mission. As an obviously human construct, vocation guards against the insidious notion that God plays favorites or that sacred purpose might be the monopoly of any one people. We have heard the divine call in a unique and essential way, as have other religious traditions.LITFXXX_Page_1

Each path has the capacity to inspire its adherents with faith in the importance of their work, and God has an enduring stake in our embodiment of the teaching, making the covenant(s) real and reciprocal.

There is no scarcity in chosenness, because God does not cease to “choose,” calling us to respond. In fact, God never shuts up.

Yes, Jews have a unique vocation, profoundly bound up with living and learning Torah. Even the idea of vocation is fraught, however, open to perilous transformation of a sacred task into destiny, obligation into prerogative. Tanach (l”b,), “the Hebrew Bible,” cautions us against such contortions. Although Genesis is replete with insight about the conundrum of divinely sanctioned destiny—Cain’s murderous rage at being unchosen, Jacob’s duplicity in capturing the birthright and blessing, and so on—it is the Joseph novella that is perhaps most instructive for our current purposes.

Joseph is certain of his unique role in the story of redemption, and it breeds resentment among the brothers. It is only in their mutual recognition of “vocation” that the divine plan for blessing can unfold. The covenantal promise is, for the first time, transmitted to all the siblings, and they become embedded in relationships of reciprocal dependence with each other and with the Egyptians. Blessing flows between and among the households of Creation. The vision of Isaiah is similar: “In that day, Israel shall be a third partner with Egypt and Assyria as a blessing on earth; for YHVH of Hosts will bless them saying: Blessed be My people Egypt, My handiwork Assyria, and My legacy Israel.” (19:24–25). We only get there together.

Rabbi Rachel S. Mikva serves as the director of the Center for Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary.

Excerpted from Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions, edited by Rabbi Paul Citrin and published in 2015 by CCAR Press.

Categories
Books Death spirituality

What is Your Concept of Soul and Afterlife?

As we ask big questions during the High Holy Days, Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions, presents a range of Jewish responses to both theological and philosophical questions pertaining to God, humanity, and the Jewish people. In the spirit of the High Holy Days, we would like to share some of the inspirational responses included in the book, for a thoughtful and meaningful New Year.

In yoga class we do an exercise where we imagine holding a basketball in our hands. With minds focused on the present, feet planted, and hearts lifted, with our hands we trace the shape, push against the edges, even toss it into the air and catch it. We can feel the ball even though we can’t see it; we interact with it even though it is not there. The same is true of the souls of our loved ones after they have died.

At the first Yizkor service led by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, nearly twenty-five years after my mother died, he taught something that has taken me twenty-five years to understand: “Our relationships with our loved ones continue even after they are gone.” Like the basketball at yoga class, we can’t see them or feel them, but we can hold them, and our relationships with their souls, with our own souls touched by them, continue.LITFXXX_Page_1

For many years I thought my soul, the sparkling sacred essence of who I am, was a response to my mother’s death, that I am who I am because she died, that I took on her soul when we buried her young body. But now I know that isn’t entirely true. I have my own soul, formed and shaped, expressing my own values, dreams, and personality, breathed into me by God on the day I was born, not on the day she died. I am a wife and mother, a friend and a rabbi, not only because my mother died when I was a child, but because in the eleven years that we had together in this world, she shared her soul, her passions and commitments, with me—and because in the years since I have made them my own. She was clear and consistent about her core values, and they endure and find new expression in my life: hospitality, Jewish life in America and Israel, teaching and learning, nurturing friendship, being part of a complicated family, expressing creativity, being organized and in charge. With my feet planted, as I breathe deeply, focus quietly, lift my heart, feel confident and supported, I can see her soul and my own. I feel and embrace our ever-evolving and deepening relationship, life and after-life, breathing together for eternity.

Rabbi Debra J. Robbins serves Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX.

Excerpted from Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions, edited by Rabbi Paul Citrin and published in 2015 by CCAR Press.

Categories
Death Healing spirituality

If I Should Meet God

A disciple came to his rabbi and lamented: “Rabbi, I have all these terrible thoughts. I am even afraid to say them. I feel absolutely terrible that I can even think these thoughts. Rabbi, I simply cannot believe. Sometimes I even think that God doesn’t exist.”

“Why not, my son?” the rabbi asked.

“Because I see in this world deceit and corruption.”

The rabbi answered: “So why do you care?

The disciple continued: “I see in this world hunger, poverty, and homelessness.”

And the rabbi once again responded: “So why do you care?”

The disciple protested: “if God is absent there is no purpose to the entire world. And if there is no purpose to the entire world, then there is no purpose to life – and that troubles my soul greatly.”

Then the rabbi said to his troubled follower: “Do not be disturbed. If you care so much, you are a believer!”

When the atheist Stephen Fry is questioned as to what he would say if he met God, he leaves the interviewer at a loss for words when he responds: “if I should meet God I’ll say: “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is so much misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil!”

As a rabbi wrote: “it is time to raise the bar in the conversation about religion and faith, with the knowledge that most people, whether religious, agnostic, atheist, or whatever-ish, truly do want to do what is right, to find and express love, to live a life of purpose, and to be in a meaningful relationship with others.”

“It is good to question and challenge those with whom we disagree, but we deserve more than pithy catch phrases, caricatures of those who we have defined as our enemy, and the childish need to win. Human beings can be glorious creatures who, through conscious choice, can bring healing to the world, and we all need to do this together.”

In my many years as a rabbi, and especially since my illness, I have come to believe that more important than any theology or system of belief is caring, compassion and loving kindness. I have evolved spiritually to believe that no matter what we believe or don’t believe the true heart of our humanity is human goodness and decency.

Rabbi Hirshel Jaffe serves as Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Jacob in Newburgh, NY.  Rabbi Jaffe just celebrated his 80th Birthday in Israel after surviving cancer for the fourth time. 

This blog was originally posted on The Running Rabbi. 

Categories
spirituality

Spirituality in the Rabbinate

I was ordained in 2007, and accepted the position as the solo rabbi in a very small, extremely remote congregation in southeast Alabama.  My nearest colleague (Rabbi Elliot Stevens) is a two hour drive away.  Mine is the only synagogue in 100 mile radius, and we are located in the buckle of the Bible Belt where it is assumed if you walk and breathe, you must be a Christian.  My congregation is wonderful, and I have really enjoyed my 8 1/2 years here.

However, I should tell you that while I learned so much at HUC, I was not prepared spiritually at all.  We never talked about our relationships with God, we never prayed, except at services. Every meeting here in the south begins with a prayer, and I swear I was a deer in the headlights the first time I was asked to begin a meeting with a spontaneous prayer.

I think the lack of spiritual training hurts us and it hurts our congregations.  I have never once been asked to translate Talmud; in fact, most of my congregants only have a vague idea what Talmud is.  But when I do sermons or adult education on prayer or God, I am overwhelmed by the response. There is such a hunger among our congregants for a relationship with God, to learn about God and prayer.  And it is the area where I seem to have the least expertise.  Thank goodness for good books!

And I have so felt so empty spiritually myself so much of the time.  I cannot pray during services.  I have no cantor, so it is just me leading services and the music.  How can I do all that and focus on God?  It just doesn’t happen. I tried praying on my own using the prayer book.  That did not work at all.  And I am so busy because I am the only rabbi around.  It is truly a 24/7 job. Finding time to enhance my spirituality falls on the back burner.

I have been fortunate to be involved with a group of Christian clergy women, all seminary ordained. We meet once a month to study, or to let our hair down and complain about how the robes never fit right, or why dresses and slacks don’t have pockets to put your portable mike in, or most importantly to share serious problems we are having. There are many people down here who don’t think women should be leading a congregation, so we are a support group for each other.

I was surprised when I found out that all of the other clergy in my group are REQUIRED to have spiritual direction.  Required!!  The nun from the Catholic Church is REQUIRED to go to a spirituality retreat every year.  I wondered why we Reform Rabbis do not have anything like that.  I thought about it for a very long time, and finally approached one of the women ministers to ask about spiritual direction.  Of course, a Jewish spiritual director is out of the question here in Alabama, but I have a director who is Methodist. I have been seeing her once a month, driving two hours each way.  I’m slowly but surely getting my head straight and reestablishing the relationship I had with God before I started HUC.  I find it ironic that I lost the relationship I had with God which helped propel me into HUC while I was at HUC.  In any event, I look forward to seeing Lesley each month, and think I am becoming a better rabbi because of the explorations I am doing with her.

So I want to ask, why do we not have any training in this most important aspect of our rabbinate?  I took four required classes in Talmud, yet never talked to anyone about God, except theoretically as part of a Bible class or Philosophy.  I know now that the Institute for Jewish Spirituality does very good work in this field.  I am also aware that some inroads for spirituality training have been made on the LA and NY campuses of HUC, but I have not heard anything about Cincinnati.  And Rabbi Rex Perlmeter wrote a blog post around the High Holy Days about spirituality programs he is doing through the CCAR.  We are becoming more aware of the need to talk and teach about spirituality and our relationship with God.  I hope it continues and becomes an integral part of training for future rabbis.

Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith serves Temple Emanu-El of Dothan, Alabama

Categories
spirituality

How is Your Jewish Self?

Out of nowhere, in a Facebook message, she asked her father, who is more Jewish– you or Rabbi Kedar?

And so, in a Facebook message to me, he relayed the message, my daughter wants to know who is more Jewish, me or you.

I answered; we are not in a contest, no winner or loser. Just a journey toward expansiveness. I walk with you, I said to him. Let us consider together a few more questions. My guess is, I said, we are equally engaged in four of the five categories? He agreed.

And so now I ask you, how is your Jewish self?

Judaism is belonging: Do I claim Judaism as my past, my tradition, my heritage and my people? Do I cast my destiny with the Jewish people? Do Jewish rituals, customs matter to me? Am I part of a Jewish community? Do I participate in that community? Do I care? Do I belong?

Judaism is choice and consciousness: Am I a Jew by default or by intention? Is my Judaism white noise in the background until some event turns up the volume? Like High Holidays. Or my child’s Bar Mitzvah. Or when someone I love dies. Or an attack on Israel. When I am uncomfortable do I hide my Jewishness? Even at work? Am I satisfied with a seventh grade Jewish education? Or do I choose more?

Judaism is a perspective: Do I see the world through the lens of my Jewish sense of ethics? Is the Jewish story my story? Am I aware of being Jewish everyday? Is Judaism an integrated part of my life? When I see, watch the world and when I try to understand my life, do I have a Jewish filter? Sometimes? Ever?

Judaism is what I do: Do I pray? Bless? Study? Read? Give away my time and volunteer? Give away my money and help others? Do I give away my kindness, and heal? Do I have a sense of obligation to behave in a Jewish way? Do I feel the rhythm of the Jewish calendar? Does Jewish time enter into my time? Shabbat? Holidays?

Judaism is tending to the spirit: Am I aware of my spiritual life? Do I talk to God? Do I allow myself to struggle with my faith? Does my life have meaning? Do I have purpose? Do I sit quietly, settle down. Ever? Do I practice love?

I pose the questions, to me, to you. Everyday is an answer.

Rabbi Karyn Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation BJBE, in Deerfield, IL.

Categories
Prayer Rabbis

Texas: Unexpected Moments of Awe

It has happened to me (more than once in my lifetime) that a person will come and tell me something about what will happen next in my life. It is most often a very specific bit of advice from someone I know but not well; it is normally not someone I would seek out for counsel. And every time it is the same thing: the person will see me out at a social gathering – often at a gathering in which it was not a given that I would be there – and announce to me ‘I have a message for you,’ as if they had just listened to a voice mail addressed specifically to me.

When that happens, I know to listen: the person will invariably tell me something that I need to know about what will happen next.

The most recent example occurred right before I started my job search a few years ago. At a party, an acquaintance came up (someone who did not know that I was looking for work) and told me the following: ‘You will leave here; there is a move in your future. It will be some place – like Texas – that you’ve never considered before.”

“Texas?” I asked, wondering, “Why Texas?” It’s not the first place I would pick.

She shook her head: “It’s not Texas specifically; it could be Texas, or it could be somewhere else; I can’t tell you where exactly. But it’s a part of the world that you have never considered before. They need you, and you need them. They need to hear what you have to say, and you need them to hear it. You will both benefit.”

Okay.

At that point in the process, I had not even mapped out what I wanted to do. So I took her comments under advisement.

A few months later, I had come to the (somewhat surprising) conclusion that I really wanted to go back to congregational work. I love academics, of course, but I realized that I missed that element of transcendence that hovers over the work of a rabbi.

So I called the Director of Placement and told him that I was thinking of returning to congregational work. After he quizzed me about my general background and interests, his first question regarding my search was: “Have you ever considered living in Texas?”

Okay.

“Texas is fine,” I tell him. “I am open to living in any location.”

It did not turn out to be Texas, but my move was to a place I’d not known existed. Nonetheless, the advice to be open to new places, to leaving, to going somewhere I had not considered before was indeed helpful. When the option came open, I was in a place spiritually and emotionally to accept it, and to do so joyously, without doubt. I left with a clear heart.

I cannot give you a good reason why this phenomenon takes place; I simply cannot explain it. I can tell you that the Bible records several instances of a person – ‘ish’ – who appears mid-narrative with instructions as to what will happen next. Joseph, for example, finds his brothers after encountering such a person.

The person’s instruction is not necessarily one that makes the road smooth; rather, it is an announcement of what needs to happen next. And it has happened enough times now that I heed its call.

And it can be subtle. Recall, for example, the story of Elijah the prophet’s encounter with God. Elijah has retreated to a cave after a difficult set of circumstances to try and regroup. He is a wanted man, and he is experiencing grave doubt. And then he seeks God. This is how the text describes the encounter:

“There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.”

“After the wind – an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake.”

“After the earthquake – fire; but the Lord was not in the fire.”

“And after the fire – a still, small voice.”

Elijah encounters God as a still small voice after the fire and noise and trembling.

There are things in this life that you just know intuitively, in a spiritual way, in a ‘still, small voice’ kind of way. There is an element of God in that knowledge.

Our perception of the world, as we move through our lives, involves this interplay of presence and absence, of articulate speech and of silent wonder. But we do not ever capture its fullness; in truth, we simply cannot.

As I said: I cannot tell you why it happens, any of it. I can only stand in awe and listen.

Rabbi Kari Tuling, PhD serves Temple Beth Israel and teaches at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh.