Thursday, June 9, 2016

Find yourself a teacher, get yourself a partner for study, see everyone positively - comments on a song marking 35 years in the rabbinate

     This past Monday, the 35th anniversary of my rabbinic ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion came and went.   There had been some marking of that milestone at Temple Beth-El of Las Cruces, New Mexico, my current congregation, this past weekend, with a treat after our Shabbat dinner and a cake at a "Songs of 1966" program the next night at which I shared some of the hit songs from the first year that I actually paid attention to "Top 40" radio.   
     I also gave this landmark time in my rabbinate a nod in my annual message to my congregation on May 10, 2016.   I used this statement from the Sayings of the Rabbis, Pirkei Avot, by Rabbi Joshua Ben Perachyah as the focus of my remarks, the same saying that I had featured in the essay that accompanied my first official "rabbinic resume" in 1981:  "Find yourself a RAV/teacher, and acquire for yourself a study partner/friend/colleague, and judge/view everyone positively (or give everyone the benefit of the doubt)."  
    What I already knew then, was that I was (and am) someone who likes to share knowledge and important moments in life with community members.   That is what rabbis do, but that is what I had always done while growing up at my home Temple in Kansas City (B'nai Jehudah), in my participation in camp programs at the Reform Jewish camps in Wisconsin (OSRUI) and Warwick, New York (National Torah Corps at Kutz Camp in 1970), and at University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) Hillel Foundation.   I found this as well in my student congregation, Temple B'nai Moshe in LaSalle/Peru, Illinois, where I served for three years before my ordination.    
      So the first resume led me to Temple Israel of Dayton, Ohio, where I served with Rabbi Irv Bloom and where I met Rhonda Marks, director of Children and Youth Services at the Dayton Jewish Center.  Rhonda and I married after my first year in Dayton, in August of 1982.  Our journey has taken us to Topeka, Kansas, Dover, New Hampshire and now Las Cruces.    
     The melody for the Hebrew saying by Rabbi Joshua came to me yesterday (June 8) at the end of a long lunch.  As I wrote the verses last night and this morning, I wanted to reflect in a "compact lyric package" the values of sharing, learning from others, compassion, and humility which, I believe, strengthen and deepen relationships in congregational and community life.   
       The first verse expresses the essence of the first part of Rabbi Joshua's saying: 
There is a time to sit and listen
We'll never learn all there is to know
Whenever we share our own wisdom
We'll understand there's always room to grow. 

I still feel that there is much room to grow at this point in my career and at age 61.   The potential for growth keeps me thinking in a youthful way!    

The next verse posed the challenge of getting the last two parts of the saying into four lines, because I felt that two verses would be enough.  So, the result was this text: 
Side by side, we search with wonder
Accepting every question we may raise
Through compassion, we find the answer
Guide our hearts, God of all our days. 

This verses characterizes just about every study session, touring group visits to Temple, and religious school class context in which I have found myself.   All questions are in-bounds.   The point about compassion as the answer is that the "destination" of study and working together within a community is the development of relationships.   "Guide our hearts, God of all our days" is a reference to a Talmudic blessing (Berachot 17a) which ends with declaration (Rabbi Lawrence Kushner's translation): May your lips speak wisdom
and your fulfillment be in righteousness
even as you ever yearn to hear the words
of the Holy Ancient One of Old.

As a songwriter, what I have found is that I write for myself as an expression of what's inside me.  Whether others appreciate what I create or relate to my songs (I do have that hope every time, of course!) isn't as important as just putting my thoughts and feelings into words and melody.   I always hope to touch one person, and, in the the spirit of Rabbi Joshua's saying, that one person would become my study partner or, even, potentially, my teacher.
Here is the link to the first performance of "Asei L'cha Rav" from this afternoon, an hour after the song's creation: 


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