It seems appropriate that my last Shabbat message centers on a series of remarkable episodes from this week’s Torah portion, Hukkat. There is, perhaps, no portion that initiates greater change for the people than this portion. As the Israelites continue their wandering, three important and community altering events occur: Miriam dies; Aaron dies; and Moses learns that he will die before entering the Promised Land. The relative stability and predictability that the Israelites had enjoyed is crumbling, but it doesn’t collapse. Despite some difficult moments at these points of major transition, the Israelites continue to move forward towards the Promised Land. When Joshua assumes the mantle of leadership from Moses at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, he is successful in leading them to a new chapter of their lives and the history of our People.
With my tenure coming to an end tomorrow afternoon, Temple Beth El is marking just its second significant rabbinic transition in almost fifty years. For many, there is an understandable sense of grief and loss. I am grateful for the outpouring of love and support that so many of you have bestowed upon me. Your notes and emails, one to one conversations, and your presence at the farewell celebration three weeks ago and my final Friday night service last week have been so uplifting and affirming, even in this bittersweet moment. While we experience mutual sadness, know too that positive change is on the horizon. Rabbi Kohn will ably lead this special congregation through this year of transition as he helps prepare you to welcome your new settled rabbi a year from now. A fresh set of eyes, new ideas, and new inspiration will help TBE move forward in the year ahead.
As always, I am inspired by the lessons of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who writes in this week’s portion the following observations about the transition that the Israelites are experiencing at this moment and the consolation that can be derived from a deeper understanding of the text:
“Even down here on earth, something of us lives on, as it did for Aaron in the form of his sons who carry the name of the priesthood to this day, as it did for Moses in the form of his disciples who studied and lived by his words as they do to this day, and as it did for Miriam in the lives of all those women who, by their courage, taught men the true meaning of faith. For good or bad, our lives have an impact on other lives, and the ripples of our deeds spread ever outward across space and time. We are part of the undying river of life.” (Read his entire essay here
My prayer is that your memory of me and recognition of my contributions to TBE over these past thirteen years will live on in your values, outlook and actions. I hope that the ripples of the work we created together spreads outward and continues to influence and inspire you in the work you do. Leaders of TBE come and go, however, the institution remains stable and firm. In the years ahead may the foundation of TBE grow even stronger and may its next rabbis, just as its previous rabbis, remain strong and resolute in all their endeavors.
Serving this congregation has been a true blessing and privilege; I am most grateful for having had this live changing opportunity to be your rabbi for the past thirteen years.
Wishing you a Shabbat of wholeness and peace.
Rabbi Charles K. Briskin