Rabbi Laura Metzger
Does it seem there have been a lot of funerals recently?
Maybe it’s my age. As we get older, we’re increasingly aware of death’s reality. Or maybe it’s the season; there are more funerals in winter, more lives letting go.
Knowing this, though, doesn’t remove the weight of loss.
Last winter, as I wrote for Community, I was mourning a dear friend and mentor, Suzy Post. This winter, as I write, I am mourning a dear friend and mentor, Dr. Leah Dickstein. They were both strong women, passionately committed to making life better for other people.
Their deaths leave us feeling not only sad, but exposed. We have become the examples and leaders. We have become the ones who must stand up for righteousness and against bigotry of every kind. We must be the ones creating safe spaces wherein to nurture the strengths of all human beings of all shades, shapes and sexes.
It’s a heavy burden and I wonder, am I ready for it? And if not, will I take it on anyway?
The answer is, of course, I have no choice. It is mine now. Yours, too.
This month, we are reading passages in the book of Exodus. We focus on the leadership of Moses and on the plagues that finally forced Pharaoh to give in and release the Hebrews held in bondage. Let’s take this a step farther:
The narrative of Exodus is one of leaving one place in order to move towards another. It is leaving a place of safety, albeit a narrow and restricted safety, for a place without boundaries. Indeed, as the story continues, it becomes evident that freedom holds perils. Idolatry tempts. Hunger and thirst demoralize. Fear hampers. Squabbling paralyzes. The only way forward is a complicated winding route through.
Moses did not feel ready to be a leader. He stumbled and stammered, yet he accepted when God called, as did his siblings, Aaron and Miriam. None was the perfect leader, all became the leaders the people needed, flawed yet capable.
As each generation ages, the generations that follow must step forward and lead. Loss and freedom are part of the same experience. Adulthood means losing the canopy over our heads and becoming the shelter for others. When it’s our turn, we must step up and lead.
All our life experiences will give us some of what we need. Life itself will give us some of what we need. And some of what we wish we had, we’ll have to do without, and keep doing anyway.
Leah Dickstein taught me, and I share with you, these lessons:
You must be the person only you can be and do what only you can do.
You must shape your life so that your values determine your priorities and among those priorities must be your own health, both mental and physical; your family; and your work in the wider world.
You don’t have time to beat yourself up about failures; build on them, let them spur you.
Never stop learning, teaching, creating and connecting.
You don’t have to do it all. No one can.
Above all, only you can do what you were born into this world to do. And you must. Only you have the unique set of gifts and limitations that you will use. And you must.
Moses, Miriam and Aaron learned these lessons in the wilderness. We will, too. As did our mentors, we must.
(Rabbi Laura Metzger is an independent rabbi living in Louisville.)