I know what it's like to be spiritually thirsty. I know what it's like to feel "on the outside," in galut -- exile -- from community and from God.
I've told the story here many times of how, at the end of my first week-long retreat with Jewish Renewal community, I was walking in the fields talking with God as was the practice of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav. For personal reasons I'd felt alienated from God and from Jewish community for a long time. I told God that I was grateful to be on speaking terms again, and that I wished I didn't have to leave God behind when I went home again -- and suddenly it was clear as day, as obvious as the wildflower-laden field in front of me, that God had been with me even when I had felt distant, and that God would be with me wherever I went. It was a life-changing moment.
Jewish Renewal was my door back in to community, tradition, relationship with God. I am endlessly grateful for the compassionate welcome, and for the amazing teachings I've been blessed to receive from my teachers there. When I entered into rabbinic school, one of my most fervent hopes for my rabbinate was that I would have the opportunity to open this door for others who felt the way I had once felt -- not certain whether or not there was a place for them at the Jewish communal table.
At one of my Rabbis Without Borders Fellows gatherings last year, we talked about the question "who is your Torah for?" I wrote a blog post in response, and here's part of what I wrote then:
The idea that we teach the Torah we most need to learn is one which was already very close to our hearts. And so is the idea that the unfolding Torah of our lives is a sacred text -- different from the written Torah we find in our libraries, but also holy. And the idea of "using Jewish" to serve people -- bringing Jewish wisdom, Jewish tools, to bear on the work of serving God and serving humanity -- is also close to my heart. We were all asked to ponder, and to answer, the question of "who is my Torah for?" As soon as I heard the question, my answer arose in me.
My Torah is for anyone who is thirsty. Anyone who's thirsty for connection, for community, for God. Anyone who wants to make their lives holy or to become more conscious of the holiness in the everyday. Anyone who wants access to the rich toolbox of Jewish wisdom and traditions and ideas which I am blessed to have as my yerusha, my inheritance...
(The whole thing is here: Rabbis Without Borders: Who is your Torah for?)
Every time I get to sit down with someone and hear their story, I am grateful that I get to do this work. Every time I get to sit down with someone and listen to the words of their heart, I am grateful that I get to do this work. And every time I'm able to give something back in return -- whether it's a teaching or a practice, a tallit or a book, or just a word of welcome -- I am grateful that I get to do this work, and grateful for the teachers who opened up this toolbox for me so that I can share its contents with those who need.