Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Yesterday, the master class in orchestral conducting, held in the big tent at the Aspen Music Festival, was overwhelmed by the sounds of a summer storm; God’s percussion drowned out full orchestration of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The “congregation” united in smiles of good humor, accepting the offer of garbage bags to shield us as we exited the tent to walk through the surrounding grove of shivering aspen trees, and out to the road.
My soul was fed. I had seen great artistry, heard music close to my heart, shared the reverberation of nature’s power in the context of community, and laughed heartily with friends and strangers alike. My body was also fed, enlivened by the welcome sting of torrential rain, then soothed by a long hot bath. Bathed and showered, my husband and I, and the friends with whom we are sharing a vacation home reconvened to prepare the exquisite meal we would spend our evening enjoying as we engaged in protracted and far-ranging conversation into the night.
I offer my present lightness of being as Torah, the Torah of embracing our fullest selves, reverent and irreverent impulses equally inspired by the divine.
Surely, as reflections of God, we are meant to feel and express God’s own joy and God’s own humor and God’s own appetite. It’s just that we get caught up in our causes, our goals, our troubles, our responsibilities, and we forget the full range of what is human, and of what is, therefore, holy. Perhaps summer vacation is a gateway to the Days of Awe, as we re-engage in delights we’ve set aside and revisit aspects of self we might elevate in our re-calibration of who we truly wish to be in the coming year.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses reaches out to God in concern for the succession of his leadership, praying: “Let the Lord, God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a leader of the community who will go out before them…” The epithet “God of the spirits of all flesh” is unusual. Why does Moses call upon the aspect of God that attends to the spirit of flesh?
Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev teaches that Moses prays for a leader who will be sensitive to the human – fleshly – condition. He says that we humans, beings of the flesh, are sometimes distracted from the work of bettering our world by our personal needs and desires. That’s what it means to be human rather than angelic. God knows and celebrates this, but Moses worries that human leaders might not be so holistic.
Levi Yitzchak says that God learned this lesson from Abraham who expressed hospitality to the visiting angels by feeding them. He did this, Levi Yitzchak teaches, to demonstrate to God that, unlike angels, we must attend to sustaining our bodily selves. Indeed, an expression of our goodness is our care for the fleshly needs of others.
Moshe prays to hand his mantle on to a leader who will “Go out before” the community, advancing the holiness of their human frailty and their human delight.
This week, I am expressing my frailty in the embrace of dear friends and I am remembering neglected delights. As I remember the continuing permission granted to celebrate and express the whole woman that I am, I reach out in the hope that you too will take time this summer to indulge aspects of self that need loving attention.
And may my own self-care enrich in my communal leadership.