“What is certain is that you love bringing things back to life. It is a wonderful feeling to identify the undermining factors, eradicate them, and restore something to its true glory.” Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Gallup Press, 2007, p. 153)
Strengthsfinder 2.0 is a popular assessment tool for identifying and applying an individual’s strengths. The book is based on the premise that we should spend more time in our professional lives building upon our strengths than trying to overcome our weaknesses. Everyone loves the story of an underdog overcoming overwhelming odds to achieve, but that model of success is not usually the best application of our resources! The quote above refers to the person who possesses a “restorative” talent, the ability to resuscitate and rekindle the vitality of relationships. Indeed, institutions can be revitalized; relationships can be resuscitated. This can only happen, however, when the right “match” is achieved—when a restorer is brought into a relationship where restoration is needed.
As an adjunct lecturer at the Jewish Theological Seminary, I work with students who are preparing to transition into new professional settings. Among my goals is to help budding cantors and rabbis recognize their own strengths, and identify the professional opportunities where they will experience fulfillment and success, and feel valued for what they bring to the task. Not every available opportunity is the right opportunity for every candidate. In the moments of rejection, we learn about the nature of relationships, the needs of our potential partner, and our own strengths and talents.
This week’s haftarah for Shabbat Hagadol, from the prophet Malachi, tells us that a day of restoration is approaching. The children of Israel seemingly stand back to back with God, too ashamed in their imperfection to face the Divine, perhaps anxious about the prospect of confronting their strained relationships. The prophet announces that God will provide a restorer in Elijah, one who will reconcile the open and eager hearts of parents and children to each other.
Passover, the season of restoration is once again upon us. Many of us are headed home at this time of year—children to parents, families to one another, even institutions to their missions–perhaps anxious about the prospect of confronting those with whom we have strained relationships. Not everyone is cut out for every task. Perhaps there is someone among us who is particularly “restorative” by nature, who will restore our hearts to each other?
Who among us is prepared to play the role of Elijah?
Rabbi Craig Scheff
I was one of sixty women, all members of the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, who gathered at the Jewish Theological Seminary on Monday and Tuesday, December 9 and 10 to connect, learn and replenish our minds and souls. The title of the conference was “Leaning In, Leaning Out, Learning from Each Other.” The learning, prayer, and opportunity to connect were all valuable.
But that is not what is on my mind as I think about the conference in the days since it ended. I am thinking about what it means to be present, completely and wholly present. In her opening talk, Rabbi Amy Eilberg, the first ordained woman of the Conservative Movement of Judaism, explained to us that her work has been about cultivating compassion. That work, she asserted, can only happen through true listening, through being present to another and thereby to God. She reminded us that careers in the rabbinate are guided by what we believe God wants of us more than by ambition.
I spent the rest of the day asking myself how I could ever know what God wants of me. As I listened to fellow rabbis, talked in small groups, and took notes, I asked myself the question about what God wants. And then the answer came to me as I pictured myself in our sanctuary at the OJC. Above the ark, the words are carved: “Shiviti Adonai l’negdi tamid.” I place God before me always.
I can know what God wants of me by being quiet enough, in the sanctuary of my soul, to listen. And to do that? I must be present. I must be in the moment with each of you, with the children of the Religious School, with the youngest children and their grown-ups at Early Kabbalat Shabbat. I must be fully present in your loved one’s hospital room, at your kitchen table or across the table from you at Starbucks. I must be present in the moments we share on the telephone.
And then, at the end of our moment, I must listen to my soul deeply enough to reassure myself that I am doing what God wants of me. Did I listen to you? Was I fully present to you?
It is not easy to be fully present in the year 2013. As we rabbis sat in a room, sharing our dreams, our insecurities, our prayers, many of us focused on the faces of whoever was speaking. If I place God before me always, then I must look for God in the faces of my fellows.
But a great number of us were typing away on i-pads, laptops, phones. Several in the room were tweeting. A difficult conversation erupted about this fact when confidentiality was breached with tweets that quoted what specific women were saying. Those who were tweeting defended their actions by stating the importance of sharing what was happening in the room with the public. I wonder how we can be in this moment, however, when we are already shaping it to share it with a nameless public. I understand that tweeting is meant to connect us, but doesn’t it distance us instead?
One rabbi said that she is more focused when she is tweeting than when she is just listening. There is a difference, however, between being focused and being present. Rabbi Eilberg had just told us that we must remember to be present to others. The result of the conversation was to shut down the tweeters. Sometimes it is valuable and important to get the word out. I understand the value of social media; after all, here I am blogging to you all! But sometimes it is much more important to get the word in. Lean in, lean out. Utimately, we chose to lean in, to lean within, to be present to each other and to ourselves — with the hope and prayer of being present to God.