This past weekend Debbie and I traveled to the Denver suburb, Broomfield, Colorado, for the ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal Shabbaton (Sabbath study weekend) and my graduation from the ALEPH Hashpa’ah: Training Program for Jewish Spiritual Directors. Simply put, after three years of study and practice, I am a certified Spiritual Director. The Hebrew term that ALEPH uses for this is Mashpia Ruchani.
It was an emotional weekend. Much of the joy came from just having Debbie at my side. It was very satisfying to introduce her to my friends and colleagues and teachers after a ten-year affiliation with ALEPH. I enjoyed hearing her describe what she saw as she visited this rarefied environment for three days. She said she saw a lot of love, spirituality, and intensity in this group.
The graduation Saturday night was pleasant and joyous, but far from the most emotional aspect of the weekend. For me, there really were two moments that stand out above all others.
The first was a blessing that David Aladgem, a rabbinical student, gave to our graduating class at the conclusion of the afternoon service on Friday. I asked David later if he had a written text of his remarks to share. He said it had been extemporaneous and, moreover, he did not remember what he said. He then quoted Rabbi Shohama Weiner, the founder of our program, as saying: “When you can’t remember a blessing, even after trying, that means that you were channeling the Source.” “And, quite frankly,” he added, “that is what it felt like.” I would have to concur. I stood with my classmates, arms encircling one another, huddled under a chuppah (bridal canopy) while his words so deeply penetrated my heart that tears flowed down my cheek. In this I was not alone. Part of David’s blessing was inspired by words from Rabbi Lawrence Kushner’s book Honey From the Rock.
And Jacob had a dream
After David read these words, he offered each of us a spoon to dip into a bowl of honey so we could have the sweet sticky substance melt on our tongues as the blessing was conferred. In his blessing, David made reference to the delicate work that we do as companions on the spiritual journeys of others. Our job is to assist in making their connections between heaven and earth. To do this, as we lovingly discern when to speak and what to say, we too must reach gently for that heavenly connection. When this happens, radiance like honey truly flows down from on high. David’s blessing was that we may achieve that divine flow. And, of course I am broadly paraphrasing, because, like David, I do not remember exactly what he said. I just know how sweet it tasted.
The other emotional highlight occurred in a private moment.
Throughout the three years of Hashpa’ah study I have had a continuous study partner (chevruta, in Hebrew) in my friend Ira Wiesner, attorney and future rabbi from Sarasota, Florida. We met at the airport upon arrival on the first day of our program. Compared to him, I was a veteran ALEPH student, for this was his very first ALEPH experience. I noticed his deer-in-the-headlights look and, naturally, offered some assistance. It was a gesture that has since earned many dividends. This weekend, in an extraordinary act of generosity, Ira made a gift of a book of Psalms and a personal, handwritten note to each of his classmates. He handed these out to us Saturday afternoon after our graduation rehearsal. I took my book and note up to my room before opening them. His note to me was not a formulaic farewell or simple acknowledgment of friendship or congratulations. It was a piece of holy text in and of itself. It read:
I read it through once, somewhat stunned and moved. Then I tried reading it aloud to Debbie, and the tears flowed even more freely when I voiced, "Yesh? He's my son!" My father (the Reform rabbi to whom Ira referred), my mother, brother, and other family members of blessed memory had already entered my consciousness during the weekend. This was an unanticipated and powerful reinforcement of those connections. Ira so lovingly and poignantly gifted me not only with his blessing, but also with the blessing and the love of my dad.
One never knows when a ladder may appear where before there was only the void. I know, from talking to Ira, that his words flowed from the divine source, not unlike David's blessing the day before. Ordinarily, coming to the end of three years of study might engender some melancholy at the farewells. I sense that there was less of that on this occasion in part because so much of our work has been done virtually, but more so because the love that Debbie observed among the class will endure.
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