We often try to make things better, even sacred, by adding to them. We decorate a room with objects or fill it with people. We make a mundane dinner special by adding words with a toast or by reading from a special book like a Haggadah. Sometimes, the holiest moments are not made by filling space, but by creating space.
In his book, The Place Where You are Standing is Holy, Rabbi Gershon Winkler explains “God creates the universe by a process of stepping back to allow for there to be an Other, an Else, as in something or someone else. . . .A space to err, to fall, to believe, to doubt, to cry, to laugh. Our space, created by the simple motion of stepping back, the humble act of honoring the separate reality of an Other.”
I am humbled to have reached a special milestone in my rabbinic career. This summer I will practice addition by subtraction as I take the first sabbatical* of my career. For thirteen years I have tried to add to spaces. This year, with much gratitude, Carrie and I plan to spend six weeks with our kids Hannah, Noah, and Ezra in New England. We hope that this summer sabbatical will be a time to step back and learn more about each other and our family without distraction. We plan to spend some time in Acadia National Park, stepping back to see what the natural world has to teach us, and in Boston, to see what an urban environment has to offer. Professionally, I will be completing a Certificate in Grief Counseling at the University of Wisconsin (virtually). At the end of the summer, I hope to return having stepped back to see the sacred in a new light and excited to bring what I have learned to Temple Israel.
But a sabbatical is not only for me. It is also for the congregation. We are blessed to have Rabbinic Intern Ashley Barrett joining Cantor Kathy on the bima throughout the summer. Ashley grew up in our congregation and is approaching her final year of rabbinical school. In our conversations, she has already shared how excited she is to share what she has been studying at HUC-JIR as well as to apply what she has learned as she will be there for the Simchas and the challenges in our lives. She brings a new voice to our bima. Our congregation will learn a lot from her teaching and from the ways in which she approaches situations in her own way. I feel blessed to have such a formal sabbatical. I am excited to be a student again. Excited to have an extended period of time watching my children absorb new information in new environments. And I am excited to hear what we, as a congregation will learn as we step back together, to gain perspective and allow what is sacred and holy in our midst to reveal itself.
Thank you for this gift of time. May it prove to serve us all well as we work to make the spaces we share more sacred every day.