Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Tough Shabbat

It is now about one hour after Shabbat has ended. I still am in a bit of a fog looking back over this Shabbat, as it was my last as Rav of KJBS. In what was a very emotional day, I gave my last speech (see below), gave my last Dvar Torah at Seudah Shlisheet and gave my last class (after 10 years) of Mishne Berura. I found myself MANY times over this Shabbat reminiscing about the last 10 years and the various speeches, incidents, happy times and sad times. I truly can not believe that this has come to an end. While it is a day I had long anticipated, I did not know exactly how I would feel today. I also had no way of predicting how people would "feel" today nor how the reactions would be.

Giving the speech was a most surreal experience and I still do not believe I am past that point already. It was quite emotional for me, and I "kept it together" for most of the time. While I could give a lot of other insight into my feelings and thoughts of this day, I think that it would be TOO personal a reflection, so I have chosen to merely post the speech in its entirety below, instead.

One note...I was SO overwhelmed by the number of people in Shul this morning and how many came for this Shabbat who do not daven here....only to share in the experience of the last Shabbat! I appreciate everyone who was there!
Who would have thought that on January 22, 1972, when I celebrated my Bar Mitzva and spoke at this very pulpit, that one day I would be standing up here saying goodbye to the Shul I so love!
Allow me today to make my remarks as personal as possible. Please forgive me in advance if I find it difficult to say some of these words today, as it is one of the most difficult speeches that I have ever had to give. The truth is that I have been writing this speech in my head for the last couple of months, in anticipation of this morning.

I find it hard to believe that I stood before you exactly two years ago this Shabbat to announce our Aliya. Many questioned why I went public so early, and I told them then that the time would fly by. Little did I know HOW fast the time would truly go.

Before I make some parting remarks, I want to share with you a Dvar Torah that I feel is quite appropriate for today.
If we look at the Parasha of LAST week, the parasha dealing with the Meraglim and then look at today’s parasha, we see clearly that there is a common denominator to that may NOT seem so clear on the surface: That common denominator is the power and potential of the INDIVIDUAL. Let’s look back to last week.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of men, Moshe Rabbeinu sent 12 men to check out the Land of Canaan. Twelve...not a platoon..not a garrison...twelve men. These 12 men return and ten of them give a scathing report about the’s no eats its inhabitants. Based on the testimony, as it were, of these 10 people, the Torah tells us:
וַתִּשָּׂא כָּל־הָעֵדָה וַֽיִּתְּנוּ אֶת־קוֹלָם וַיִּבְכּוּ הָעָם בַּלַּיְלָה הַהֽוּא
The entire nation cried about this report. They had been totally and overwhelmingly influenced by the statements of these spies...but they were just 10 people! This land that G-d had promised to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov...suddenly, this land was sub-par and not worth inherting, all due to their perceptions.
The scene, so to speak, shifts to Kalev ben Yefuneh. When he opens his mouth, everyone listens to him as well. But how does he “get their attention”? As rashi tells us:
צווח ואמר, וכי זו בלבד עשה לנו בן עמרם, השומע היה סבור שבא לספר בגנותו, ומתוך שהיה בלבם על משה בשביל דברי המרגלים שתקו כלם לשמוע גנותו, אמר, והלא קרע לנו את הים והוריד לנו את המן והגיז לנו את השליו
The people were all MORE than willing to be swayed by more “dirt” on Moshe. Potentially swayed and again, merely by one person.
And back up a minute! When the Meraglim went to Canaan in the first place, we see Moshe daven for Kalev...just Kalev...that he should not fall prey to the influence of the others. But Kalev was just one man.

Look at the END of last week’s parasha: Miriam speaks Lashon Hara about her brother Moshe. Do you think for a minute that NO ONE had spoken Lashon Hara in ALL of the Bnei Yisrael besides Miriam!?! Were they such big tzadikim?? Yet, the Torah, due to her position and familial connection spends a number of Psukim on this such an extent that we look at this particular incident to teach us certain rules about Lashon Hara. BUT...Miriam was just one person!

And look at today’s reading: ONE MAN...Korach...he is able to foment the very first uprising and potential schism in the Jewish people. As the Midrash tells us, he went around like a modern day politician trying to rally the troops all night long before his showdown with Moshe and Aharon.

בדברי ליצנות, כל הלילה ההוא הלך אצל השבטים ופתה אותם, כסבורין אתם שעלי לבדי אני מקפיד, איני מקפיד אלא בשביל כלכם, אלו באין ונוטלין כל הגדולות, לו המלכות ולאחיו הכהונה, עד שנתפתו כלם
"All night long, Korach tried to win the shvatim over. All night
He swayed hundreds of people to rise up against MOSHE! Again, he was one guy...not a platoon...not a guy.

And the truth is that if you look ahead over the next few weeks, you see this pattern continue! We learn about Bilaam, who seems to have the power to curse or to bless an entire nation; we see Pinchas single-handedly stand up for the honor of the Jewish people and the honor of Hashem and have such a profound impact that Hashem rewards him by making him a KOHEN!

And why is it that we seem to see these narratives one after the other at this juncture in the Torah? Because the Jews were on the verge of entering the land...twice! Once, based on the original timing promised in Mitzrayim. Then--as we go further into Sefer Bamidbar and then into Devarim--the second time as the next generation is actually poised to enter.
It is precisely at these junctures that we need to see the power of the individual. While they travelled in the dessert, they were one large nation with no official “territory.” BUT, they would now be entering the Land of Canaan and each be given their “turf.” After that, the charge would have been to build the Bet HaMikdash. At that point, there could have been all kinds of feelings by individuals that they are now part of some huge “corporation” and would lose their identity as they become a part of a more segmented population. “I live in the area of Dan and YOU live in the area of Nafatli...I wouldn’t be caught DEAD in YOUR area!” Each one’s individual identity potentially could become more and more DILUTED at this point.
It was for this reason, in my opinion, that the Torah gives us SO many narratives at this point about the influence of the individual. However, while giving us these pictures, we also learn an even greater lesson: it is when the INDIVIDUAL works WITH the population and not AGAINST the population that he is most succesful. Yes, says Hashem, you are an individual and you CAN influence my people (YES YOU CAN!)...but it needs to be on MY terms and following MY rulebook...then and only then will you be successful as you enter the Land of Canaan as my people.
Congregation KJBS is about to enter its next phase of congregational life. KJBS is about to move to new ground. It may be that some people will sit back and be satisfied with the status quo. Some may feel that they have nothing to contribute, after all “I am only one person.” I think that this is exactly the point of these multiple narratives of individuals.

Each of you, here at KJBS, CAN indeed make a difference. While this sounds like a speech that can be given at the begining of the tenure of a Rabbi, I am actually using this concept as I take leave of the Shul.

The Gemara in Brachot says:
אל יפטר אדם מחבירו אלא מתוך דבר הלכה, שמתוך כך זוכרהו.
While what I am saying today may not SEEM like Halacha, I feel that indeed it is. It is the Halacha that helps to encourage the Kedushat bet HaKenesset and its growth as a Makom Torah. If I am not remembered for anything else at KJ, I hope that I will be remembered as someone who encouraged each and every individual to make his or her mark on this Mikdash M’at.

Which brings me to the toughest part of the speech today...the “good-bye” aspect. While I know I will stay in touch with many of you and that I will hopefully see many of you in our new home in Israel, I also know that this coming week may be the last time I see many of you. It also marks my last speech at this pulpit.

Over the last 10 years, I have given well over 1000 speeches here and outside the shul. I have tried to teach, instruct, educate, enlighten, guide and uplift all of the members and members of the Chicago Jewish community. I have made every effort to do all of this to the best of my ablility. There have been mistakes that I have made along the way and for those publicly ask you all for Mechilla. But at the same time, it is very gratifying to see all of the GOOD that we have accomplished together.

I am sad and I am excited.
I am happy and I am nervous.
I am in turmoil, yet I am at peace.

This is a natural outgrowth of the monumental move we are about to embark upon by making Aliya. I am leaving behind family, friends, community and students.

While I never looked upon my position as one of POWER, I do hope that in some measure, I was able to INFLUENCE some of you over the years towards greater Avodat HaShem. The truth is that MY life has been greatly enhanced by knowing each and every one of you. In one way or another, the contact I have had with all of YOU has greatly influenced ME. It has been a good “shidduch,” and it has been one that has been symbiotic. The respect that has been shown to me has been greatly appreciated and the warmth I have felt here in these walls has been overwhelming Yes, it has been a good run.

But now the time has come to say L’Hitraot.

I look at today as merely a separation by LAND, WATER and DISTANCE...not the end of friendship or of mutual respect. While you will be served by a new Rav in the near future, always know that I am a phone call, email or Skype call away. I believe that your new Rav, Rabbi Leibtag, will be only as succesful as YOU allow him to be through YOUR input into what the shul needs to grow to the next level. Please know that you all have a standing invitation to our home in Maale Adumim...but maybe spread out the visits!

To your new Rav, Rabbi Leibtag, I quote the words of Moshe Rabbenu speaking to Yehoshua bin Nun:
כג וַיְצַו אֶת־יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן וַיֹּאמֶר חֲזַק וֶֽאֱמָץ כִּי אַתָּה תָּבִיא אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לָהֶם וְאָֽנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּֽךְ:

Rabbi Leibtag, may Hashem be with you as you lead this congregation in your Melechet HaKodesh. May He see fit to shower His manifold blessings on you and your family and give you the Chizuk, the inner fortitude to act B’derech Hashem, as you walk into the future with this fine membership.

Allow me to close with the words of thanks and a Bracha to this shul and its members. I know that I said some of this at the dinner, but it truly bears repeating.

I want to thank you for taking a chance on a guy who had no pulpit experience and for enabling me to have the MOST rewarding 10 years of my entire life as your Rav. I want to thank the officers, the board and all of the members for making this my home away from home. Thank you to my parents, siblings, nephews and nieces for davening here in spite of the fact that I was rabbi and for not giving me TOO hard a time of it. Thank you to my three beautiful daughters for whom I live and whom I cherish with every breath I take. And finally, thank you to my Eishet Chayil, Andy.

We have shared some good times, and we have shared some sad times together. Together we have witnessed some of the worst that man has to offer, such as 9/11 and some of the best that man has to offer, such as how the world came out in full force to help survivors of the great Tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004. While life is indeed a series of good and bad things that happen, I can only pray that the future holds for ll of you MANY more positive events and smachot and very little in the way of the negative and sad events.

--The time has come for me to go “home.”
--The time has come to write the next chapter in the book of the Shandalov family.

--The time has come to begin anew.

It has been my honor...and my privilege to have served for the past ten years as the Rav of Congregation Kehilath Jacob Beth Samuel.

I wish each and every one of you the best of luck in all that you do...and may Hashem be with you every step of the way.

Shabbat Shalom!