Avodah Talk by Don Adams

Avodah Talk by Don Adams

Author’s note: The following is an adaptation of the notes I prepared at Rabbi Diane’s request for remarks on community leadership at this year’s Avodah service. My heart is filled with gratitude for all of those present for moving me beyond these words; but still, most of the following were said, and I offer them as a partial remembrance for those present, and as a way of sharing with those who could not be. And also as an encouragement for YOU to reflect on what you will do to lead us in the Minyan community forward in the year just begun. Don’t hide yourself! L’shanah tovah!

-- Don Adams

So much has changed since the Temple was destroyed! [We’d just read a portion describing the Temple sacrifices for these holy days.] When the Temple stood, one man – the cohen gadol – was vested with the holiest work we are about to symbolically undertake: entering into the Holy of Holies. But since the destruction of the Temple, for almost two millennia, we’ve had a different set of tasks to carry out:

  • to maintain our tradition in diaspora, in our homes;
  • to create spaces of holiness in our communities
  • to remember our highest purposes
  • to treat each other as if we could see the Divine in each and every face

To do what was once done for us, in the Temple, on our own — in ordinary spaces and time, with our ordinary selves and abilities — calls for an entirely different kind of participation in spiritual practice, in community and in leadership than what we commemorate here.

And we can also think of these tasks in an even larger sense: my first teacher was someone who struggled with what it meant to be a leader right here in River City —Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank z’l of blessed memory — who wrote:

This task is our task: to grow the keli [or container] of ourselves and society

so the world can become a co-dwelling place for us and the Divine.

Our theme this year has been building community, because this is a priority for our community. Community is not a thing; it’s a process, a process of engagement. The kind of leadership this calls for is naturally one of process, not results. It requires participation by all of us, not just one person who we send into the holy place on our behalf, with a rope tied around her ankle, just in case.

[And for an older community like the Minyan, continuing involvement is essential, because our community changes each time a new person enters the room, and each time someone leaves, as Hannah Cohen had just reminded us in the Yizkor service.]

The foundation of this process is practice throughout the year, not only on this holiest of days. We have inherited — and we are renewing in our time — an amazing spiritual technology, generating and focusing energies for our inner work and our work to repair the world.

Reb. David conveyed to me the beauty of the interlocking rhythm of the entire cycle of the Jewish year. We can’t just parachute in for these Days of Awe, do our thing and leave. We need to keep returning, for ours is a communal practice. … [Here, I remember speaking about what this has meant for me more personally.]

So leadership starts with each one of us:

  • to take charge of the impulses that pull us away from communal spiritual practice – because our practice is fundamentally communal
  • to look into our own hearts and lives, to discover what we have to contribute to our holiest work
  • to recognize and appreciate – and support -- the contributions of others who step forward, taking on major roles, like our rabbi
  • to remember that every task – no matter how minor or mundane – is part of the collective cohen gadol that we are, with the world as our Temple.

We have an opportunity every Shabbos our community comes together:

  • to come early, to help make an empty space ready for our holy work
  • to generate the spiritual energy that’s needed for that work, davvening through the whole service
  • to meet the Divine, from wherever we stand that Shabbos
  • to study Torah

[And then to participate in a nourishing vegetarian potluck lunch, though I skipped this joking reference in my notes, out of respect for our fast.]

[And here came an improvised section, inspired by the service: I was struck by the multiple references made in the services so far: “don’t hide yourself” … “uncover yourself” … “let your tears flow” .. stepping forward despite our feeling of unreadiness. Our community practice is a tikkun for the separation we feel so painfully in this life, for our sense of powerlessness, for our despair.]

I bless us all that these High Holy Days will leave us with the energy and the resolve to participate in this collective leadership function and to contribute to community life throughout this new year. May it be a truly blessed one for you and yours. Shana tovah.