Always Becoming, Always Evolving, Always Arriving

“Lech Lecha may’artzecha…” These are the first words with which the Holy One turned to our spiritual patriarch, Abraham. God knew exactly what Abraham’s mission would be… to go to the place where the Holy One would lead him, the Land of Israel.

Later in the Torah, Abraham’s personal journey would be mirrored in the lives of our Israelite ancestors in Egypt. Their points of departure were different, but the destination was the same. There was, however, one significant difference between these journeys. Abraham arrived in the destination. However, when the Torah reaches its conclusion the Israelites remain just outside the Land, poised to enter it.

In a recent class, Rabbi Brad Artson, Dean of the Ziegler Rabbinical School of the American Jewish University, remarked on the ironic nature of the Torah in this regard. So much of the Torah is devoted to the journey, but the journey’s end isn’t reached. Similarly, in their own lives, people are never really “there” or fully settled.

Journeys… never quite complete.

Over thirty-eight years ago, I was ordained a “Rabbi, Teacher and Preacher in Israel.” I completed a master’s degree in social work the next year and then set out on a great adventure. Like Abraham, I had no idea where I was heading! I didn’t know, even after ordination, if I wanted to be a pulpit rabbi! My first experience in a congregation convinced me. I gained a sense of calling and mission. I knew this was what I was meant to do. Then, in that proverbial “blink of an eye,” thirty-seven years flew by. While I haven’t reached the end of my pulpit career, I have reached the end of my tenure as a full-time rabbi. For the next year, I will serve our congregation on a part-time basis and support the efforts of our excellent and engaging rabbis, Laurence Rosenthal and Sam Blustin.

Unlike Abraham, as I began my pulpit career, I felt no “guiding hand.” But I did eventually feel God’s presence. That was sufficient and reassuring enough for me. As the years went by, I discerned more about the “destination” and what I sought to accomplish in the rabbinate.

Now it is time for a significant transition in my life…

Back in that recent class, Rabbi Artson drew out the metaphorical significance of the Israelites temporarily ending their journey in the Torah while encamped on the east bank of the Jordan River, just across from their ultimate destination. “Like the Israelites, we are,” Rabbi Artson suggested, “always becoming, always evolving, always arriving.”

That’s an apt metaphor today for my life as a congregational rabbi and spiritual leader. My full-time career is coming to an end. Yet, as a rabbi, a human being, a husband, a father, and a grandfather (God-willing, later this fall!), I am still becoming… and so are you.

What a blessing…

“Baruch Atta Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam shehechianee…” Praised are You, Sovereign of the world, who has kept me in life, sustained me and enabled me to reach this wondrous moment!

Rabbi Neil Sandler