This past Tuesday, JTS confered honorary doctorates on RA Members who have been in the rabbinate for 25 years or more. (see the list of honorees, and the JTS press release). Gilah Dror, RA President, delivered greetings from the RA:
Chancellor Eisen, Provost Alan Cooper, esteemed colleagues, friends and relatives,
“Zeh hayom asah Adonai, nagilah v’nism’cha vo – This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice on this very special day”! It is with great pleasure that I bring greetings of the international Rabbinical Assembly at this very special event as the Jewish Theological Seminary awards honorary doctorates to 42 rabbis, members of the Rabbinical Assembly, who have served the Jewish community with distinction for a quarter century or more.
Religious leadership is both an awesome privilege and a tremendous challenge, and twenty-five years of excellence and devotion is truly worthy of note, of gratitude, and of celebration. As a rabbi, who is only nearing that quarter of a century of service, I know that we are required to have tremendous strength and faith; that we are continuously challenged to find ways to ensure that despite the waves of change that take place around us as the years go by, the promise of Torah is fulfilled in every generation; that the vision of Torah is appreciated for its relevance; and that the wisdom of Torah remains compelling and inspiring for us and for those around us. And, I know that we don’t always grasp from moment to moment exactly how we will be able to fulfill this momentous challenge.
In this week’s Parasha, Parashat Lech Lecha, Abram dares to express his doubt. God says to Abram: “Al Tirah Avram – don’t be afraid, Avram; Anochi magen lach – I am a shield to you. S’charcha har-bey me’od – Your reward shall be very great”. But Abram is skeptical: He says: “Adonai elohim, ma titen li? - O Lord, God, what can You give me? Va’anochi holech ariri – seeing that I shall die childless”!....And God assures Abram by saying to him: Not only will you have an heir, but go out and look at the stars in the sky. Can you count them? God says to Avram: “Ko yi’h’yeh zar’ehcha – Thus shall your offspring be” – as many as the stars in the sky. And the Torah tells us: “V’he’e’min ba’Adonai – Abram had faith in God”. And that faith sustained him and enabled him to be the religious leader that he was throughout the rest of his life. God promised Abram: “ko y’hi’yeh zar’ehcha. “Thus will be your offspring” . “Ko” means “thus”, but “Ko” (kaf, heh) in numerology is also the equivalent of 25.
Twenty-five years of rabbinic service is enabled by the kind of faith that Abram had, that even when he could not fathom how things would work out, he continued on, believing that with God’s help there would be ways to meet the challenges of the times. That is the kind of faith that keeps rabbis who serve in all capacities - congregational rabbis, Jewish communal professionals, educators, and chaplains from the United States and abroad – vibrant. That is what keeps us rabbis on our toes – always looking for ways to fulfill the vision and the promise of Torah; always looking for ways to enhance the connection of the Jewish people to Torah and to Israel and to share God’s light with the world through the gift of Torah.
In the name of all of the members of the international Rabbinical Assembly, I salute our honorees today for their quarter of a century or more of service and I pray that they may continue to be blessed with the faith and with the strength and the energy to enjoy and to transmit the joy and the blessings of Torah, of God, and of rabbinic service to our people for many more years to come.
Mazal tov! Alu v’hatzlichu! May you go from strength to strength!