By Rabbi Adir Yolkut
My what a year we’ve had here at WJC! We started off with another meaningful High Holiday experience with our building full of song and intentional prayer. We’ve had some great Rhythm and Ruach and Simple and Soulful services, trying to infuse fresh prayer perspectives while honoring our storied tradition and history.
Our young people had some rocking times at our Hanukkah and Purim festivals, while our older young people greatly enjoyed their first full year with Adam in Hebrew High. We learned in-depth with Rabbi Paley at our edifying Scholar in
Residence weekend. There have been many full lifecycle experiences where we’ve both celebrated new life and honored those who have passed on.
All that is to say, it has run the full gamut and now we break for what will hopefully be a quiet, smooth, and refreshing summer. So, what can our tradition tell us about this transition from the hubbub of beginning and endings to a kind of period of emptiness? As we look back on the full experience of a year at WJC, how do we proceed over these next few months?
In many ways, this transition can be informed by the shift that takes place between the books of Leviticus and Bamidbar. Bamidbar, in the desert, is a much better name than Numbers, which is how it’s usually translated. As much as Leviticus was about rules, order, and creating, which parallels our year of beginnings and endings, Bamidbar, in the desert, parallels the wildness of the summer, where we don’t have as much structure.
The Midrash Tanhuma asks the following question: “Why is it called Bamidbar? To tell you that one who is not willing to make herself void, like the desert, cannot acquire the Torah.” The idea here is that unless you are willing to be completely empty, to let everything go, you cannot expect to be able to receive divine wisdom.
Most of the book of Bamidbar is replete with stories of people who can’t let things go. Korach, the spies, even Aaron and Miriam struggle with this new found freedom. To fight against this, the Torah urges us to work on diminishing the self and
making yourself wild and free. I think the same dynamic can be at play in our community. Synagogues are complex places because we want to hold on to our successes of the year that passed. Certainly, here, where there was so much to celebrate, we should. Yet, also, we need to know that the year ahead could be wildly different: new needs, new people, new structures built.
While there is nothing wrong with taking bits and pieces of what was, it’s also important to free ourselves. When we do this, we put ourselves in the position to acquire. That way, when the next set of new beginnings and endings comes with 5779, we’ll be an open and willing receptacle for all the beautiful opportunities that will arise.
Have a restful summer!