Ritual of Transition

Rabbi Diane Teaches and Gives Thanks
at the December 29th Ritual of Transition


This week’s Torah portion, which reports Jacob’s death and final, enigmatic blessings to his sons, begins with the words “va-y’khi Yaakov, And Jacob lived….” We approach the moment of Jacob’s death by evoking the fullness of his eventful life. The Torah has already set this precedent: a few weeks ago we read the parashah that tells of Sarah’s death and Abraham’s mourning of her—“chayyei Sarah, Sarah’s life.”

Somehow death, the Torah seems to be saying, rounds out and completes a life, creating the perspective from which it can be truly known and valued. Va’y’khi Ya-akov b’eretz mitzrayim sh’va esrei shana; va’yehi y’mei Ya’akov, sh’nei khayyav, sheva shanim v’arba-ah oo-me-ot shanah. Vayik’r’vu Yisrael lamut…. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. And such were the days of Jacob, the years—the changes—of his life: seven years and 140 years. And the time approached for Israel to die…
(Genesis 47:28-29)

It is Jacob, the brilliant conniver, stealer of birthrights, breeder of spotted sheep, manipulator par excellence, prodigious progenitor of sons and, yes, one daughter—Jacob who has lived in and held on and survived the narrow places and spaces of life. But it is Yisrael, the great soul who has struggled with the Divine and the human, and has proved capable, who is revealed in full glory as he lets go into death.

In truth, every breath we take embodies a full cycle of living and dying—of inspiration and expiration. To the extent to which I hold back my breath, inhibit the expiration, my capacity to inspire is diminished. My breath—my life—become shallow.

And so my friends, it is our moment to exhale together, to honor and to celebrate the many powerful moments we have shared, to bless and release them, and to look to the future. We have had a great run together, a three-year marathon filled with the kind of challenges that build strength, define character, create legacy. We have wrestled with one other…and we have proven capable…of raising money, of setting and meeting goals, of creating infrastructure, of beginning and ending services on time—more or less, of contributing to the larger Bay Area Jewish community as a full and respected participant. We have opened our hearts to G~d and to one another.

It has not been an easy three years. There have been illnesses, deaths, crises. I have made mistakes. I believe you know that I have never intended to harm, and yet sometimes I have harmed, and for this I ask your understanding and your forgiveness.

In the end, no other person—no partner, no friend, no community, no rabbi can do the work of healing and spirit that each one of us can and must do for ourselves. And to the extent that we are willing, individually and collectively to do that work, we grow in our capacity for love and our ability to be together in community.

In this spirit, and in acknowledgement of all the growth and deepening that we have experienced together, I want to thank the whole Aquarian Minyan community, past, present, and future. I’ve been taught that it’s always dangerous to thank individuals, since you’re bound to leave someone out. But I really feel the need, so please bear with me (and please know that if even though your name may not be listed individually below, I so value your contributions and the time we have spent together!) So, I thank and honor…

  • all the Minyan’s past and present spiritual leaders, particularly Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank z”l, Reuven and Yehudit Goldfarb, and Rabbis Victor and Nadya Gross, upon whose shoulders I stand and through whose successes and mistakes I have learned
  • all those who have served on the Council during these past three years
  • Abigail Grafton, who deeply loves this community and whose dedicated work on so many levels has allowed the Minyan to meet its contractual obligations impeccably during my entire tenure as community rabbi
  • Shoshana Dembitz, who has supported Abigail through these difficult years of illness and who has been my partner in programming and service leadership
  • Barry and Debby Barkan, always there to elevate, help, and encourage
  • Miriam Stampfer, whose love for and engagement with this community lives in our makhzor
  • Karen Roekard who kept the community together in difficult times and whose spiritual power shines through
  • Marcia Brooks, faithful community member who held the logistics created so many memorable events and fed us so well
  • all the donors, big and small, who have demonstrated their faith in the community and in me through financial contributions
  • Frank Born, Don Adams, Marty Gross, and Claudia Miller, and Neal Cronin for enormous personal support, for spiritual leadership, and for acting as liaisons between me and the larger community
  • Stephanie Brown, who helped me design and hold the High Holy Day ritual container this year with such loving attention to detail, and who jumped in to help create this ritual
  • everyone who has worked so hard to create this beautiful Ritual of Transition, and special thanks to Lea Delson and Ann Litwak for gathering and arranging mementoes of my time with the Minyan, along with people’s well wishes, into a gorgeous scrapbook
  • Fran Avni and Achi Ben Shalom who have, over and over again, generously given of their musical souls to the community
  • the larger Bay Area rabbinic community for welcoming me into your midst and supporting my work with the Minyan, and especially Rabbi SaraLeya Schley, my dear friend, who has helped, taught, and supported me in more ways that I can name
  • my mentor Dr. Len Felder, who has been with me since nearly the beginning of rabbinical school and my spiritual director, Janice Farrell
  • my dear husband, Rabbi Burt Jacobson, who has loved and supported me, and grown with me, advised me, co-led with me, fed me, taken me to movies, learned to make beds and do laundry, and listened to me complain more than anyone should every have to listen, with unstinting generosity and presence
  • The Holy One of Blessing, the Divine Presence that constantly blesses us all in more ways than we can ever know

    At David Wolfe-Blank’s funeral, after the pine box containing his remains was drummed and sung into the ground by Native American shaman friends—someone sounded a mighty blast on the shofar, and a starburst of joyful, liberated energy rose and expanded into the sky, above the heads of all of the grieving ones, still in shock, gathered at the graveside. Everyone could feel it, like the sonic boom of an invisible, speeding jet, a great soul blasting off.

    I bless us all, to embrace what is coming—to open our eyes and hearts and welcome with joy the full force of this unknown future! Let us not shrink from feeling fear, uncertainty, the sadness of loss! Only when we have opened to these feelings, watered them, and offered them back to the Great WHoly-ness from which they spring, will we not be ruled by them.

    At the end of this week’s Torah reading we will have ended for another year our journeying with the great archetypal ancestors of our lineage—Avraham and Sarah and Hagar, Yitzhak and Yishmael, Rivkah and her twins, Ya-akov and Esav, Yosef and his brothers, Dina and her sorrows. “hazak, hazak, v’nitkhazek!” we will exclaim to each other. Don’t settle for less! Let us strengthen ourselves in our faith, in our learning, in our support of one another in the ways of Torah, and in love, always.

    Rabbi Diane
    December 29, 2009 12th Tevet 5770