This Shabbat marks my first full week back in my congregation since the end of my three month sabbatical. I am grateful for the time that I had to study, reflect, rest and rejuvenate. I took the three months to travel around the country visiting other congregations and communities, meeting with clergy, lay people and professional staff. I observed some of the most innovative and forward thinking congregations not only in the Jewish community but amongst Mormon and Evangelical Christian congregations as well. For those interested the lessons and observations from my sabbatical studies can be found at www.rabbidanmoskovitz.com (I may repost some of them here at a later date as I begin to formulate meta observations and suggestions).
As I return to the day to day life of serving my congregation I am struggling against the muscle memory of not wanting to just do things the way I have done them for the past 12 years in the rabbinate. The text that keeps coming to mind is from Pirkei Avot Chapter 2, “Rabbi Shimon says: c’she’atah mitpalel, al ta’as tefilat’cha keva – Rabbi Shimon says, when you pray, don’t make your prayer keva, fixed (routine). The alternative being Kavanah to perform your actions with a purposeful, considered intention. I have tried throughout my spiritual life to be guided by this principle, and find it even more important now after sabbatical.
It is so easy for each of us (not just rabbis and not just with prayer) to slip in to the comfort zone of ‘that’s how I have always done it’. The challenge of course is to continue to learn, grow and reinvent ourselves. We are encouraged to do this by our tradition because to just rely on our old tired but true ways is to deny that thing makes us uniquely human and not machines. A machine can perform the same repetitive task time and again, never tire, and never make a mistake. In fact if you ask a machine to do something that is is not constructed or trained to do, that is often when the machine breaks down. With people it is of course just the opposite - we are most alive when we push ourselves to try and do the unfamiliar.
In my brief week back at the congregation I have tried to make a conscious effort to do things differently and it has been both fun and a bit unsettling. Its fun because I am trying out some of the new insights and techniques I discovered during my studies. My conversations with b’nai mitzvah students are different, the format of my weekly Torah study is evolving, I’m trying some new things in worship, and trying very hard to use the phone and technology in a way that I don’t feel enslaved to it. I’m even using some new jokes on the bimah - you must know its not easy for a rabbi to give up a tried and true good one liner. Its only been seven days, but so far the intentionality of trying to be unpredictable to myself has been invigorating.
So lesson one, on my first week back is don’t go back to how it was, even if the old ways were pretty good. Honor the change, the growth we experience as human beings when we make a routine out of not doing things routinely.