Behold, I am sending a messenger before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared
הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ מַלְאָךְ לְפָנֶיךָ לִשְׁמָרְךָ בַּדָּרֶךְ וְלַהֲבִיאֲךָ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הֲכִנֹתִי (Exodus 23:20, Mishpatim)
During the week I work at a retirement community in Philadelphia. I hang out with seniors, we talk, have fun and sometimes it’s serious as I witness their journey though this last stage of their life. A few days ago, on Martin Luther King day I met a couple, Carla and Sam, they have been married for 65 years, Sam recently suffered a stroke and I was told that he probably would not live past Friday. I met their son, a family friend and the hospice staff. Sam was laying in a hospital bed in the middle of their tiny one bedroom apartment. I talked to Sam, even held his hand, I’m not sure if he knew I was in the room are not, but for me it was a touching moment especially since I knew on my next visit he would not be with us. Carla was so happy that I the “Rabbi” came to see them and talk with them. She told me how long they had been married, and in 65 years they never went to bed angry. She was very happy to share this with me and tell me about their lives and I was very humbled by the experience.
Today, I led a Tu Bishvat seder at the same retirement community. It was only the second Tu Bishvat seder I had ever been to and the first one I led. The residents were so excited that I was there and people wanted to know where I was sitting so they could sit next to me. I had also learned that Sam had passed away yesterday and Carla was staying with her son for the rest of the week.
I talk a lot about the assumptions that people make about me, because I’m queer, Jewish and black but I too am guilty of assumptions. If someone would have asked me a year ago, if I would want to work in a Jewish retirement community I would have said no. I would have assumed that demographic would be the least accepting of a black, female rabbi who is also queer, and honestly, quite the opposite is true. They really don’t seem to care, they are just happy to sit down with me, and talk and share their lives. I never knew how happy people could be if you just sat down and really listened. I met a woman in her 90’s, she lost her husband and her only child and really has lost the will to live but after our conversation she left with a smile. Another woman in her 80’s suffered horrible abuse from her daughter, escaped to safety and is now living in this community, she has shared things with me and I know she is only telling me because she feels safe and because I carry the title “Rabbi”
As someone who did not grow up understanding the relationship between a person and their rabbi or their minister, I’m taken back by the tremendous gift; that I get to share in people’s lives. I get to experience the joy and the sadness with people. This gift and these relationships that I am forming with people, the experience is hard to put into words. I keep saying that I am a witness to people’s lives but it’s more than that. After meeting with my spiritual director she said this quote from this weeks Torah portion
הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ מַלְאָךְ לְפָנֶיךָ לִשְׁמָרְךָ בַּדָּרֶךְ וְלַהֲבִיאֲךָ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הֲכִנֹתִי
Behold, I am sending a messenger before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared (Exodus 23:20, Mishpatim).
Am I a messenger? Who are the messengers in our lives?