Sunday, September 22, 2013

On Being Rabbinic + Slogging Thru the Mud

At synagogue on Friday, as we ate dinner in the succah, a friend told me a story. He had attended services for Yom Kippur at a different synagogue where the rabbi spoke to his congregation about what it was like for him to be heckled the previous week during Rosh Hashanah services. Apparently a man stood up and shouted at the rabbi in the middle of the service, calling out things like, “you’re no rabbi, you’re a fraud, you don’t belong up there, you’re not qualified to lead these people, leave now.”

In reflecting on this incident, the rabbi shared that he had found the man’s words painful and disturbing. As the man heckled him, however, he thought, “the most important thing is how I respond in this situation.” The rabbi chose to respond with compassion and forgiveness. He spoke gently and kindly to the heckler and discouraged his congregants from harming the man in any way. I do not know how the heckler was removed.

My friend related this story to me as an example of how that particular rabbi “is so rabbinic” (my friend’s words). I understood exactly what he meant by “being rabbinic.” Being thoughtful and reflective. Considering what we learn from life as it unfolds, while searching for meaning, lessons, and inspiration in our experience. Finding ways of interpreting and appreciating what we see before us rather than letting things pass us by without observing, recognizing, acknowledging, and feeling awe or wonder. Thinking before acting or speaking. I love conversing with people who are rabbinic, who live attentively, intentionally, and contemplatively. I love to hear how they find meaning in an oftentimes chaotic world and to hear their observations; their stories.

Subsequent to the incident, the rabbi learned that the heckler was mentally ill. He had just been released from a psychiatric facility and had failed to follow up on his treatment plan by taking his medication. That is where the few pieces of information I know about the situation end. I can only guess that the man either left the synagogue eventually or was removed by congregants or perhaps the police if they were called. I would guess that the heckler was experiencing hallucinations at the time of the incident. It is reasonable to surmise that many of those present might have considered the possibility that the man was anti-Semitic, violent, and/or dangerous. I wonder how many of those at the service considered that the man was struggling with mental illness. I feel certain that afterward (when he learned about the man’s illness), although shaken up, the rabbi felt gratified that he had responded with compassion rather than anger and that he had weighed his response carefully before acting.

So what does this have to do with slogging through the mud? I’m getting to that.

On Friday night, it rained the first rain of the autumn season. I woke on Saturday morning to the magnificent scent of freshly washed air, the brilliant greeny-green of damp foliage, and a sky filled with fluffy white and gray clouds. I debated whether or not to walk up behind the lake where I usually go in fair weather, because in the rainy season the path I follow dissolves into mud. The problem with the mud on the path is that it accumulates in the soles of my shoes or boots (whatever footwear I choose, doesn’t matter) and makes it difficult to walk. On Saturday I made the mistake of thinking the rain was not enough to turn the path to mud and I went up behind the lake. I had not walked far before the entire length of the bottom of my boots became weighted down with a slippery mud clot an inch thick, smooth as a surf board, dangerous to walk on. I was forced to stop frequently and clear the mud by scraping my boots on rocks, fallen trees, the edges of signposts, and anything I could find to remove the mud. My walk was hijacked by the discomfort of slogging through the mud.

I felt frustrated, but I responded by being rabbinic. I asked myself what I could learn from the experience on a deeper level. I had chosen to walk, despite the chance that there would be mud. Once made, my choice was mine to own and mine to deal with. Would I let the mud define my walk? I thought of the mud in other terms. I have made choices in my life that have provided me with a life’s journey filled with great beauty and satisfaction while at the same time causing me to slog through a lot of mud. But I chose the path, filled with the beauty along with the mud. Like the heckled rabbi, I choose to focus on my response to the mud. During my walk, I accepted the disruption and the discomfort of dealing with the mud while I enjoyed the beauty afforded by the landscape. Mud or no mud, what I value is the being rabbinic. I have been blessed with a life populated with kindred spirits who are rabbinic. 

Manzanita trees brushed with rain, that red red bark, extraordinarily beautiful.

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