October 11, 2016 | 10 Tishrei 5777
Delivered by Rabbi Neil Sandler
Boy, I have been looking forward to this opportunity for quite a while!
Now it’s only a month and a half away!
Ever since our leadership said, “Yes” nearly a year and a half ago, I have been planning.
It’s not entirely set. There are still some details to plan.
But I have purchased plane tickets for different trips during this period.
I have hotel reservations.
I have rented an apartment in Jerusalem for a month.
I have selected the classes I will take at the Conservative Yeshiva there.
Susan and I are planning our week in Italy.
I am getting my study curriculum for my prayer project in order, and I am lining up the synagogues I will visit for Shabbat services.
I have written my column for the next issue of Beineinu so you will gain a greater understanding of what I will be doing for four months and how we will support Rabbi Rosenthal while I am away.
About the only thing of any consequence I have left to plan is which Atlanta Braves exhibition games I will go to in Florida next March.
I am psyched!
At the same time, I have allowed some doubts to creep in.
“Should I be doing this now?”
“After all, we’ve got some big initiatives going on at the synagogue…chief among them the capital campaign.”
“I want to get this done. I want to get that done.”
“Should I really be going now?”
Don’t misunderstand me.
I don’t lie awake at night pondering these things, but every now and then, I have some doubts … and then I realize this –
Those doubts are more a statement about me than they are about the life of our congregation.
Now, when I say “more a statement about me …” I know what you are thinking.
You’re thinking, “Oh, that Rabbi Sandler. He is so selfless. He’s always looking at what is best for us and not at what is best for him.”
If you are having that thought, I don’t want to discourage you. I want to thank you for putting me on that pedestal.
I, however, will take myself off of it …
When I say “more a statement about me than about the congregation,” I am quite aware that it’s an ego-based statement.
“How are they going to manage without ME?”
But then my better self kicks into gear – “Neil, they’ll do just fine without you.”
Of course, I have exaggerated a bit.
I’m just going to be away for four months, and then I’ll be back.
But what about a person who contemplates a permanent change in career or in his/her life?!
The possibility of such change always creates a level of concern or anxiety.
“Should I do this?”
“What will it mean for me?”
“What will it mean for my family?”
And what about those of you who are retired or who are contemplating retirement?
The issues are different.
Unlike a sabbatical or a significant professional change, we’re not concerned with a “need for renewal.”
After all, retirement isn’t a time for personal growth ….
Are you taking classes at one of the local colleges or in other senior adult programs?
If not, it’s likely that someone you know is doing so.
Retirees travel on Elderhostel trips and on other educational programs here and internationally in significant numbers.
It’s not just that they love to travel.
They choose these programs because they are still curious and want to learn about our endlessly intriguing world.
Retirees are seeking other potentially fascinating changes.
Recently I came across a New York Times op-ed with a title that surprised me – “Retire to Manhattan and Live Long.”
At age 67, the author moved to Manhattan from Dallas.
Obviously he wanted something very different in his life.
It appears he is not alone.
Census records reflect a movement of 60+ year olds to Manhattan.
Apparently these people who never lived in New York are finding Manhattan attractive as a place to spend their retirement years.
At least they are up for something new and want to give it a try.
What if you are still working?
If you are still professionally active, then the need for personal renewal is pressing … even when you don’t recognize it.
The cost of constantly working is often significant on those closest to us.
But at its core the cost of this grind is greatest on us.
In words we often bring to mind at this time of year, the Psalmist urges us to be mindful about what we, all too often, take for granted – time.
“Teach us to use all of our days, that we may attain a heart of wisdom. (Ps. 90:12)
You have heard this sentiment – “No one ever dies, goes to heaven and says, ‘I wish I would have spent more time at the office!’”
When I was a young rabbi, I couldn’t spend enough time at the office.
I did Susan and my children no favors during their formative years as I worked hard and sought to please everyone else.
It took a toll on me too.
But today I hear the Psalmist.
He speaks directly to me.
He challenges me.
My days are still quite full.
But I am wiser now, more mature.
I know that by using this upcoming sabbatical wisely, to step back from my daily responsibilities and focus on just a couple of things, I will, God-willing, be more effective when I return.
So much for me.
What about you?
Most of you can’t do what I am about to do.
But you can still do some things that will enable you to pause, step back, reflect and, if necessary, reorient.
And it doesn’t matter how old you are!
I believe the way to do this entails three steps.
Do any one of the three, periodically if not regularly, and you will enjoy a break that refreshes and opens potential opportunities.
Do all three steps, and you will more than likely experience these benefits.
The first step is Shabbat, a pause in our week that can serve to refresh, reset and, if necessary, reorient.
Notice, please, what I am not saying.
I am not saying traditional Shabbat observance.
I am not saying every Shabbat.
Of course, Shabbat is most effective when celebrated in the way our tradition prescribes.
Nonetheless however you celebrate Shabbat and however often you celebrate it there is a very desirable purpose.
That purpose was best described years ago by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, of blessed memory.
Rabbi Kaplan spoke of an oil painter at his canvas who steps away from the canvas in order to look at his work.
He does so to gain perspective.
So long as the painter remains at his canvas he can step no farther back than arm’s length.
But with that step back, he can see things differently and then return to his canvas with a renewed and richer perspective.
That is what Shabbat is supposed to be about for us, Kaplan said … a time to step back from the “canvas of our lives,” reflect and then return to whatever we do during the week refreshed and with some new perspectives.
Like a sabbatical, Shabbat is not just about physical rest.
It’s also about renewal.
And you can enjoy that possibility every single week.
The second step can be part of the Shabbat experience that I have just described or it can be done apart from it.
It’s called “reflection.”
I’m not referring to distinct, meditative practice, but you do have to do something that encourages a contemplative mood.
Maybe it’s reading inspirational literature.
Maybe it is consciously altering your environment to create a peaceful, soothing place.
Every one of us here has the ability to create a space that encourages reflection and stimulates new ways of thinking.
And when you find yourself able to engage in such reflection, be ready to do step #3 – Write.
Last year Rabbi Rachel Cowan and Dr. Linda Thal wrote this book – Wise Aging: Living with Joy, Resilience and Spirit.
Let me read a paragraph from the back cover:
“Aging all too often … “
All of us, God-willing, will, if we are fortunate, age.
But how will we age?
Part of the answer to that question is out of our control.
But much of our aging process and elderly years is in our control.
Do we want to grow and share something special with others?
That’s what this book is about, and we will spend some time with it when I return from sabbatical.
Early in the book, Rachel and Linda write about the value of journaling.
Let me read you a sample. (page 20)
What are you curious about?
What do you want to explore?
Those are questions we ought to ask ourselves from time to time.
When we do so in honest ways irrespective of age, genuine renewal will be possible.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, of blessed memory, shared an inviting vision of life no matter what our age may be, but especially if we achieve length of years, as he was fortunate to do.
It is a wise vision born of much reflection, I’m sure.
Sometimes people ask me, Peres said, ‘What is the greatest achievement you have reached in your lifetime or that you will reach in the future?” So I reply that there was a great painter named Mordecai Ardon who was asked which picture was the most beautiful he had ever painted. Ardon replied, “The picture I will paint tomorrow.’ That, Peres said, is also my answer.”
What beautiful picture can you paint tomorrow?
A story is told about an immortal eagle.
How did it remain forever alive, not subject to the normal rules of nature?
Every thousand years or so it would fly upward toward the sun until the heat caused many of its feathers to drop off.
At that point, the eagle would glide to the earth and remain on the ground until it had regenerated a new coat of feathers.
Then, again, now in ways somewhat different from previously, it soared.
Friends – Unlike that eagle none of us will live for a thousand years.
Yet as we work, grow older and, God – willing, eventually retire, we too can replenish our feathers.
With God’s help, we can “soar” as we rest, reflect, refresh and write.
Thus renewed, may we continue to “soar.”