D’var Torah on the occasion of the Aquarian Minyan ritual of Homecoming and Transition
on the occasion of the Aquarian Minyan ritual of Homecoming and Transition
June 16 2007 30 Sivan 5767
Rosh Hodesh Tammuz
Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible—not to have run away.
The vision that I began with [a paragraph from the “rabbinic vision” section of my AJR application]:
The ability to hold space for others, to offer information in a way and at a pace that people can absorb and process it, is a great and overlooked skill. I've cultivated this kind of "invisible" leadership as a teacher of movement, creative process, bodywork, as a therapist and an artist. As a rabbi, I would offer my ability to bring forward the felt life of the body, so vital, I believe, to any healthy spiritual practice. I would hope to help others access the authentic voice that spontaneously rises in praise and prayer. I would facilitate deep, whole-body listening, the sh'ma capacity, that makes us available not only to God-in-the-cosmos (or the-cosmos-in-God!), but to God in each other, in nature, in ourselves. I envision environments -- workshops, retreats, worship services, planning meetings -- where the physical and emotional actually co-exist with the mental, where spirit emerges lightly and joyfully, where laughter and tears flow equally easily, where people look into each others' eyes and touch each other with healing intent, where learning happens in love. The forms of the community-to-be are circles, squares, triangles, dyads, octagons, clumps infinity signs -- anything but "proscenium," with its invisible wall between teachers/ritual leaders and congregants.
So this leads me to my gratitude practice, and I ask you to witness:
- to The Wholly-One-Beyond-Naming, through whose grace and power we are able to abide in these bodies and be here together.
- to Yehudit Goldfarb -- Tisha B’Av at the Bet Midrash led her to suggest me to the Minyan Council as a “rabbinic presence” for the High Holy Days.
- to the Minyan Council for inviting me to participate in High Holy Days
- to the Minyan Task Force, which met regularly over a period of six months to clarify the Minyan’s present mission and desires around leadership.
- to Reb ZalmanSchachter-Shalomi and the many friends and colleagues who counseled me on how to unertake this work
- to Abigail Grafton, without whose tireless work on behalf of the Minyan, programming, hosting meetings there would likely be no Minyan at this time, and who spearheaded the fundraising campaign that brought me on board.
- to Barry Barkan, Abi’s co-shomer and pillar and of the Minyan for so long, and to Debbie Barkan whose gentle urging and ever-present encouragement have helped me stay the course many times over these past months when I wanted to run away
- to all on the Minyan Council and all members for contributing your time and service and money to bring us to this moment of transition toward a lively and expanding future—especially Shoshana Dembitz who ritual coordinator and supporter par excellence of Abi
- to Rabbi Min Kantrowitz for facilitating this evening and being a dear friend and colleague for the past seven years
- to Marcia Brooks for being a staunch and loving Levite, creating the room and the food and for welcoming me into this community the very first time I visited back in 2003, at Estelle’s first healing service at Northbrae Church
- to the anonymous donor who footed the bill for this evening’s meal
- to my Jewish teachers, reaching back into my childhood and especially those who have encouraged and mentored me in more recent years, including R. David Wolfe-Blank z”l who inspired me to begin rabbinical studies and to my incredible teachers and colleagues at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles, including R. SaraLeya Schley who couldn’t be here this evening, and to all of you, now my teachers. What has been given is priceless and I am so grateful
- to my amazing JewBu and artist community in Minnesota, who sustained me through many years of learning and self-refinement as I wandered through in my personal midbar,
- to Rabbi Wayne Dosick and Ellen Dosick and the Elijah Minyan and to my dear friends and spiritual buddies of Havurat Shir Ha-Yam in San Diego, who sent me to rabbinic school, taught me, learned with me, offered me a an enthusiastic and protected environment in which to cut my rabbinic teeth, and administered anesthetic when the path became too painful to bear!
- to my parents, sisters and brothers, who helped create loving, lifelong channels of Jewish possibility, and who would have loved to be here this evening.
- and finally to R. Burt Jacobson, my dear partner in chayyim, whose sheer persistence brought me to the Bay Area and whose loving support, in more ways than I can name, has made it possible for me to grow into my chelek, my calling, and to offer my time and energies to the Minyan at this time.
The Aquarian Minyan, as we all know, is a powerhouse of a community. Seeded indirectly by Reb Shlomo and directly by Reb Zalman at the very birth of the current wave of Jewish Renewal, it draws energy both from the model of the hassidic rebbe, an 18th century hierarchical model, and the values of western democracy, including the 20th century upsurge of feminism that has so drastically changed the face of western culture in general and Jewish culture in particular. With these seemingly opposing values at its root, it’s no wonder our community, along with others like it across the country, has a multi-valent relationship with spiritual leadership.
In this morning Torah’s portion, we read of how Korach and his followers gather at the ohel mo-ed, the Tent of Meeting, to protest Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership. The ohel mo-ed constitutes the outer enclosure of the mishkan, the space designed to channel Holy energy into the midst of the Israelite camp, But after Korach and his fellow Levites are swallowed by the earth, Moses, in order to establish a clear mandate for kahuna or priesthood, places the staffs of all the tribal leaders along with Aaron’s staff before the eydut, the place of Witness, the inner enclosure of the mishkan that housed of the Holy Ark. It is here that Aaron’s staff blossoms with ripening almonds. It is here that the people are instructed in protocols for approaching the awesome power of the Holy in ways that, according to Moses as God’s channel, foster life and not death.
What transforms an ohel moe-ed, a place where people come to together at appointed times—to discuss, to argue, to organize and re-organize, to worship, to learn, to celebrate—into an ohel eydut, a holy, covenantal space or, as Rabbi Min pointed out this morning, with a different choice of vowel, an ohel edot —a community of witnesses gathered in shared purpose and love to testify to and embody the Power and Presence of the One, a space that overflows with blessing, like the waters issuing from beneath the very steps of the re-built Temple in Ezekiel’s vision, nourishing the entire world from the font of Creation itself? How can we learn to transition with ease among the many models and purposes of community that we are bound to sequentially, and sometimes simultaneously, embody?
I too have a multivalent relationship with Jewish spiritual leadership. Growing up in the Reform movement in the 50’s and ‘60’s, involved with Temple and camp and Israel through my late teens, I had many charismatic male teachers and rabbis, but no models of women as spiritual leaders within the Jewish world. To move into this role I have had to address, and continue to have to address, resistances and fears that live deep within my body, as unconscious patterns. The untying of these knots, the restoration of a clear flow of movement and possibility is, I believe, a key—perhaps the key—mandate of my rabbinate. Perhaps in part because of these patterns, and also because of who I am as a person—an artist, introvert, contemplative—I never though I would become a congregational rabbi. This is what I thought I would do (read from essay)
This coming week’s parashah, Khukat, contains the death of Miriam. With few words, like the stark kri’ah with which clothing is ripped at a funeral, to make real our loss, Torah tells us only “Miriam died there and she was buried there (in Kadesh). And there was no water for the assembly…” (B’midbar 20:1-2) A few years ago at the Festival of Miriam at Elat Chayyim, I had the powerful experience of dancing the death of Miriam. While preparing for that dance, I was overcome with both deep grief and the insight that the archetypal Feminine energies had to go underground for a long time. I believe that the Aquarian Minyan’s mandate has, in part, been about reclaiming from the Earth Miriam’s gifts and prophetic wisdom, about reopening the bountiful well of living water that disappeared when she died, replaced by the frustration pervasive reliance on force that must poison our world when the sources of the Feminine, Divine and human, cease to flow freely. Perhaps this is one reason that you have trusted me—a servant of the dancing, singing Prophetess, a knower of the body’s wisdom, a seeker of flow—to be a teacher in your midst.
Our struggle together will be to find the abundance of this resource, to keep the Divine Feminine and human feminine flow of generative power unblocked as we learn to braid it with the Divine Masculine and human masculine energies of creating and manifesting structure through all worlds. These two forces need each other. We need to heal the rupture between them in sacred marriage, as we move forward toward a sustainable future together.
So perhaps the Minyan’s mandate is also about reclaiming from the Earth in which they were sealed the energy of Korach and his eydah, this community of witnesses whose forceful energy and desires to approach the Holy directly, in their own ways could perhaps have served the community had there been a way to hear, the time to train, the skill to expand consciousness. Easier to seal dissidents into the ground, to abort the challenges to leadership, to banish the “small minds.” What we often fail to see is that, in doing so, we ourselves become small and tight, perpetuating the very values we profess to abhor. We can’t afford to do that anymore, not to subscribe to any version of “god” that seems to demand it. We need to ground our own energy, each one of us to commit deeply to work on dissolving that which blocks light in ourselves, in order that as a community, we may become transparent to the Great Light/Dark/Emptiness—that we may become a beacon of the Holy. God willing, we will have many years to learn and practice and grow together.