This is a very important letter. I ask you to read it carefully and thoughtfully, and help me decide what my future is with the Aquarian Minyan. In truth, we are all connected, and so my commitment to the Minyan is connected to your commitment.
In this week's Torah portion, Va'yetzei, we encounter Jacob fleeing for his life from the twin brother whose birthright he has stolen. He is heading east toward Haran and the branch of the family left back in the "old country." The first night out he stops in a certain place to sleep, lays his head on a rock, and has a dream. In the dream a sulam, a ladder, stands with its feet pointing earthward, its top reaching heavenward, while angels of the Most High ascend and descend upon it.
The Netivot Shalom, a contemporary Hasidic commentator, says that in order to understand symbol of the ladder, we need to consider the midrash on a phrase from the previous verse, "va'yifga ba-makom," usually translated, "and he (Jacob) encountered the place...." What this means, says the Midrash, is that at that moment, in that place, "the whole world was standing before Jacob like a wall."
According to legend, up until this moment Jacob had led a privileged life, a life steeped in Torah. He had spent some 14 years in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, never sleeping, occupying himself only with Torah and with holy service. Now, leaving his home in Be'er Sheva, he must "lower" himself into the world of "getting and spending" to establish his own home and family. The 14 years he spent in constant holy service are to be paralleled by the 14 years he must work in his Uncle Laban's compound-a "tainted" place of trickery, greed, and idol worship-building up his fortunes and securing the hand of beloved Rachel.
Like Jacob, the Aquarian Minyan is in the midst of transition, a "going out" from a protected place where avodah, holy service, has been the primary concern. What forms will serve to mediate between heaven and earth, to carry the community forward in holiness in the years to come?
Ironically, it is not until Jacob enters the everyday world, where he will be forced to deal with the duplicity of others, as well as to wrestle with his own shadow, that he directly encounters the God of his father and grandfather, and "ba makom ha-zeh," in this place, and receives a vision of his true birthright. Jacob's ladder can be seen as the framework of holiness through which the Jew constantly enters and engages with the world, climbing rung by rung heavenward, and descending rung by rung earthward.
It is just such a sulam, a framework, which the Aquarian Minyan as a community is engaged in "dreaming"-a new framework of holiness upon which to tread as we connect with the needs of the material world and with the simple realities of daily life, both its simkhahs and its sorrows.
Having served as your rabbi for the past 21 months, this is what I see: the Minyan can choose to gracefully move into the future as a holy havurah where people can come, flow through, receive spiritual nourishment, share creativity, make music and pray together, passing on to other communities for their other needs. Such a Minyan could run on a minimal budget, much as it did before I came on board, with wonderful lay-led activities and for-fee classes with the wealth of guest teachers available in the East Bay.
If, however, you want a Minyan that is there for you in years to come as an authentic community of purpose and support, a ladder of holiness, then the need is clear. For such a community can't be held together by one or two or three people. Here each member must take responsibility for giving generously of his or her gifts and skills to help create and support the framework.
The Minyan Council has unanimously expressed its desire to renew my brit with the community for the coming year. And I would love to continue growing my work with the Minyan. But because I have experienced the immense stresses that bear down upon me and upon the Council members-particularly on Abigail and Barry, the Co-Shomrim, and on Shoshana who handles a great deal of the programming details-in trying to meet budget and programming deadlines, and to support community members in times of need, I have made my signing of a contract for the coming year contingent upon your stepping forward, each one of you, to offer your resources and expertise, to help create this sulam-this framework for holiness.
We need folks to help immediately with fundraising, member recruitment, programming, and publicity. In the longer run, we'll need people to help with chesed (lovingkindness) work for those who are ill and dying and for their families. And of course, there is always room for new, inspired spiritual leadership and educational offerings. Contact Abigail or Barry or Shoshana today and offer to help with one of these vital areas. Your talents and time will be welcomed and appreciated, and they are essential to the health and sustenance of our community.
In our Torah text, Jacob's dream continues: "And behold YHVH was standing over him, and He said, 'I am YHVH, God of Abraham, your father, and God of Isaac...the earth upon which you are sleeping I will give to you and your offspring!' " What we build together supports our goings and our returnings. The spaces into which we bring loving consciousness, awakening from our dreams of holiness to take action, become our communal inheritance, for the Holy One inhabits those spaces with us. Then can we truly declare, together, "mah nora ha makom ha-zeh," how awesome is this place, this sacred ground of our community.
With love and blessing,