Dear ALEPH and Ohalah hevre
Names, and opening our eyes

My second smicha

Getting my wings. Photo by Janice Rubin.

At the Ohalah conference of Jewish Renewal clergy this year I was ordained a second time, as a Mashpi'ah Ruchanit -- a Jewish Spiritual Director. This journey began three years ago, with the first winter intensive retreat of this second hashpa'ah training cohort; I wrote about that in the post Our first four days of hashpa'ah.

What is hashpa'ah? The Hebrew term comes from the root which connotes shefa, divine flow; a mashpia (M) or mashpi'ah (F) strives to help people discern the presence of God in their lives. (The most common English term for this work is spiritual direction.) For me, hashpa'ah is first and foremost a relationship. In my practice of hashpa'ah, I hope to help others navigate Jewish faith and practice in a way which encourages and fosters deeper relationship with the Divine -- as my own mashpi'ah does for me.

ALEPH's spiritual direction training program is unique; as far as I know it's the only one of its kind (leading both to certification and to smicha, ordination). It includes four intensive classes (learning done in-person on retreat), three semesters of teleconference coursework, four semesters of supervised hashpa'ah practice with individuals and groups, and supplemental learning in related areas. Participants trained individually and in group settings with mashpi'im (spiritual directors) who supported our spiritual growth in relationship to God and sacred service, and who modeled different forms of spiritual counseling and spiritual direction for and with us.

Reb Zalman addresses the hashpa'ah musmachim. Photo by Janice Rubin.

The training culminated in a beautiful ceremony. Two by two we approached the bimah and placed items of personal meaning on the bedecked table which served as our makeshift altar. There was some chant, some learning (I especially enjoyed Reb Zalman's short history of hashpa'ah, from his experiences in Chabad in 1942 all the way through the foundation of this ordination program), and some presentations by the musmachim which aimed to offer glimpses of our training and our work.

And then we were each called up by name. Each of us stood with our teachers on all four sides: Reb Nadya behind us, Reb Shohama in front of us, Reb Sarah and Reb Shawn to left and right. One by one each of us was ordained to serve as mashpi'a(h) ruchani(t) and blessed to go forward from the place where our teachers stand. And then we left the bimah, collected our items from the makeshift altar, and processed down the aisle through the gateway of our teachers' arched hands... receive, with great laughter, pairs of beautiful bright red feathered wings. Because we learned a lot during these three years about angels in Jewish tradition, and this hashpa'ah smicha is sometimes jokingly referred-to in our community as "getting your wings." And while while we take the work of spiritual direction seriously, and we take the calling of helping others connect with the presence of God seriously, we tend not to take ourselves too seriously. The beautiful certificate of ordination, I'll frame and place in my rabbinic office; the wings, I suspect, may stay in my home office, mementos of a sweet moment at Ohalah 5772.