Here’s the d’var Torah I meant to offer today at CBI, until services were cancelled on account of dangerously low temperatures. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.) Stay safe and warm, y’all!
This week’s Torah portion, Bo, contains one of my favorite verses in Torah: va’anachnu lo neda mah na’avod et Adonai ad bo’enu shamah, “And we shall not know with what we are to serve Adonai until we get there.”
In context, it’s speaking about animal sacrifice. Moses and Aaron have come before Pharaoh to ask permission for all of the Israelites to travel into the wilderness in order to pray to our God, and in that era, prayer meant sacrificing animals on the altar.
But in our own post-sacrificial era, a deeper meaning comes through. We never know with what we will be called to serve God until we “get there,” wherever “there” is. This moment. The next moment. The moment after that.
I love this verse in part because it was one of the themes of my ordination ceremony. The ten of us who received smicha together offered divrei Torah, words of Torah, in the middle of the ceremony. We wove together the stories in Bo and Beshalach — preparing to depart from Mitzrayim, and the Exodus into the unknown — with our own journeys from yearning to ordination, to this new mantle of service which we were about to take on.
Some of my classmates offered prose. Others, music. I offered poetry. Poetry about taking the leap into the unknown, even when you don’t feel ready. Poetry about trusting that there will be enough — that you will be enough — that manna, and Torah, and hope, and love, will continue flowing.
The children of Israel didn’t know what they would find in the wilderness. Surely they had no idea that they would wander for forty years in the space in-between where they had left and where they were going. But they trusted — at least in their better moments! — that they would find the inner resources they needed.
We don’t know what this new year will hold. What will 2014 bring for us? Surely there will be joy, and there will be sorrow. There will be exultation, and there will be grief. Will we be able to face both the bitter and the sweet with kindness and compassion?
We shall not know with what we are to serve Adonai until we get there. Each of us serves in our own way, with the skills and abilities we’ve been given. In each moment, a new opportunity to serve. And each of us will encounter tasks which we are uniquely suited to perform. The Hasidic masters teach that there are broken places which only you can heal; there are sparks which only you can uplift.
Just before my ordination, one of my dearest teachers blessed me that I might find sustenance in serving the servants of the Most High. I serve God through serving you: my community, those who thirst for Torah and for connection with something greater than themselves. And all of us, as Jews, serve God. With mitzvot — with good deeds — with our search for meaning — with our acts toward healing the world and completing the work of creation.
Serving God isn’t something which only rabbis do. It’s something we’re all called to do. That’s what it means to be Jews. Our ancestors left Pharaoh’s slavery and embraced covenant with God: not servitude, but service.
We shall not know with what we are to serve Adonai until we get there. We are called to bring all of ourselves, all of our hearts and souls, all of our inner resources to serving the One Who speaks the universe into being. And we each serve in our own unique way.
May we enter into this new year secure in the faith that we’ll have the inner resources to serve in whatever ways we are called, to meet whatever challenges lie ahead. We won’t know what 2014 will hold until we get there. But in our response to what arises, we can always choose kindness over selfishness, compassion over indifference. We can aspire to serve with all that we are.