This address was given at the Tarrytown, New York, at the Smicha/Ordination ceremony for the graduating class of 2023 from the Pluralistic Rabbinical Seminary.
Becoming a Rabbi Under Roman Rule in Temple Times, 1st century of the common era, was very difficult for the Jewish people in the Land of Lit. ''the one who struggles with God.'' Israel means many things. It is first used with reference to Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29), the one who struggles with God. Jacob's children, the Jewish people, become B'nai Israel, the children of Israel. The name also refers to the land of Israel and the State of Israel. under the brutal persecution of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It was particularly difficult for the sages to study the The rabbinic compendium of lore and legend composed between 200 and 500 CE. Study of the Talmud is the focus of rabbinic scholarship. The Talmud has two versions, the main Babylonian version (Bavli) and the smaller Jerusalem version (Yerushalmi). It is written in Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic. and to teach.
On penalty of death, it was also forbidden to ordain students of the Talmud. Both the ordaining sage and the ordained scholar were put to death if caught. The entire Jewish religious life was in danger, until the great Rabbi Yehudah ben Baba publicly ordained five famous scholars, defying Hadrian’s decree. The Roman authorities were soon after these dauntless Jewish champions. The ordained scholars escaped, but Rabbi Yehudah ben Baba was caught and put to death. (Sanhedrin 14a), (N Mindel).
We have here the birth, work and death of those who choose the rabbinic life. It is way of life we teach, to hand on before we die.
(To the ordaining Rabbis present) I’m not saying you’re about to be killed by Romans Rabbis… But it may be worth keeping an eye out.
So here we are at the beginning of our Rabbinic careers, tasked with forging a new Judaism while the old guard look on. And at some point we’ll be at the end of our careers, observing changes and hopefully helping the next generation realize their strength.
For as…“Ben Zoma says: Who is honored? The one who gives honor to others… (Talmud – Avot 4:1)”
But before we consider retirement, let’s offer a prayer for what we do in our days from ordination until we pass on the mantle.
Prayer on Rabbinic Ordination:
Adonai, eternal and ever lasting God, we stand before you humbled and blessed. For today we go forth as your emissaries, known to all as rabbi, charged with the task of bringing your light into the lives of those whom we meet.
May we speak your words with great responsibility, with boundless joy, with the utmost care. May we bring healing and hope into the lives of those with whom we walk, and may we walk in your ways all the days of our life.
The psalmist wrote “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
Let us be guided as we guide others. Let us learn as we teach. Let us follow you and trust in you, as we ask others to follow and trust in us.
The psalmist wrote, “Delight thyself in God; and God shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
Adonai, the desires of my heart have brought me here. They have heard you calling and today we say “Hineni,” here I am.
Just as Joshua stepped up in your name so too may we remember your words as we go forward “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
Like all who have gone before us, we will stumble. Be the hand that helps us rise as we find our way in this new world. Let us remember our teachers. Our community and our family for we are never alone.
Let us seek. For in seeking we shall find the Divine light of all creation.
Adonai, this blessed Soul trusts in you, our “Rock and our Redeemer.” (Isaiah 26:4)
In faith and in deeds, we give ourselves to You. Healing your world, blessing in your name, a witness to your creation.
And let us say…