I am wishing all my Torat Yisrael members a warm "Shabbat Shalom" now because I will not be in Rhode Island this Shabbat. For four years, I have enjoyed the privilege (and I really mean "enjoyed") of mentoring senior rabbinical students at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS).
The Legacy Heritage Foundation wanted to address the struggles of many tiny Jewish congregations around the United States and crafted a unique Fellowship program which grants funding to a select group of senior rabbinical students at JTS the opportunity to provide rabbinic leadership to congregations too small to sustain even a part-time rabbi on their own. By definition, these students are working in congregations in which there is no rabbi in the community to provide guidance, serve as a sounding board, make helpful suggestions. That's where I come in. As a mentor, I speak with my rabbinical students as they prepare for their monthly visits to their congregations, I debrief them afterwards and help them process their experiences.
As a mentor, I also spend one Shabbat a year with each of my students so I can see for myself how they "present" on the pulpit, how they interact with the members of their communities, what teaching skills they are mastering.
So I will be in Reno, Nevada for Shabbat sitting in the back of the sanctuary taking mental notes about one of my very intelligent, creative, energetic and inspiring students.
This is a great Shabbat for me to be with Zach. Not necessarily because Reno weather is better than East Greenwich weather (although it will be a few degrees warmer) but because our parashah/Torah reading this week begins with a short illustration of successful collaborative leadership. Which is most certainly an approach that new rabbis should learn to appreciate.
At the beginning of Chapter 7 of Sh'mot/Exodus, towards the middle of the parashah, God, Moses and Aaron are gathered in a strategy session. The goal is to extricate the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and to unequivocally prove to Pharaoh that the God of the Israelites is so universal a God, that the distance between the Israelite God's "home turf" of Canaan means nothing. Geographical boundaries, prior claims of local pre-eminence by local Egyptian gods all count as nothing when the God of Israel is roused to redeem Israel.
God says: "You [Moses] shall speak everything that I command you; and Aaron, your brother, shall speak to Pharaoh, that he let the children of Israel go . . . and I'll harden Pharaoh's heart, and I'll multiply My signs and wonders . . . and Egypt will know that I am Adonay when I reach out My hand on Egypt, and I'll bring out the children of Israel from among them."
According to our tradition, Moses will become the progenitor of the rabbinic role and Aaron became the progenitor of the Kohanim, the priestly caste. At this pre-exodus moment though, they are learning how to work as a team: the vision conveyed by Moses is as crucial to the success of the effort as is the polished oration of Aaron. The only way to move Pharaoh and to fill the children of Israel with the confidence to leave the familiar role of slavery is for the leadership to communicate well with each other, share a vision, and then to continually communicate and share with the people themselves. Each brings strengths and gifts and shortcomings to the role of leader and it is only by working together that their strengths are elevated and their shortcomings diminished.
Mountains can be moved with that kind of mutual respect and team work.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.