Loving God and Being Loved by God

Photograph of Reb Mimi Feigelson
Photograph of Reb Mimi Feigelson
Reb Mimi Feigelson

Reb Mimi Feigelson, is the Mashpiah Ruchanit (Spiritual Mentor) and Lecturer of Rabbinic Literature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. (WWW.ZIEGLERTORAH.ORG)
She is an Orthodox - Israeli Rabbi and an international Chassidut teacher and story teller. She was the Associate Director of Yakar, Jerusalem and Director of its Women's Beit Ha'midrash.
In 2010 Reb Mimi was recognized by The Forward as one of the fifty most influential female Rabbis in the USA, and in 2011 was accepted to the Board of Rabbi's of Southern California as an independent Orthodox rabbi. Currently Reb Mimi has embarked on pursuing a Doctorate at HUC-JIR, titled: "On the Cusp of Life: From Scared to Sacred". It is an exploration of redefining funerals and cemeteries.

posted on July 17, 2012
Torah Reading
Haftarah Reading

Three words in the Torah become six words in Rashi’s commentary. They then become multiple columns of interpretation in the teachings of the Alexander Rebbe (Rabbi Yerachmiel Yisroel Yitzchak Danziger, 1853–1910).

The Torah says: "ויעש כן אהרון" (Bamidbar 8:3) – "And Aharon did so". Meaning to say, that Aharon did as God commanded when lighting the menorah, the seven candles in the mishkan (tabernacle).

Rashi explains: "להגיד שבחו של אהרון שלא שינה" – "To tell of Aharon’s praise, that he did not change." Meaning to say, Aharon did exactly what God commanded him to do, he changed nothing of the instructions given to him by God.

The Alexander Rebbe will offer five(!) different explanations as to what Rashi (R’ Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040 – 1105) meant in those six words. The premise for his interpretations is: "Who in their right mind would think of changing a direct commandment from God?" It is from here, for example, he will suggest that Aharon stayed composed even after hearing from God what it is that God wants of him. The change that Rashi is speaking of isn’t related to the action he was called upon to perform but rather the spiritual and psychological state that he was in while fulfilling God’s wish. Aharon didn’t change. He stayed the humble, contained servant. Versus his sons that offer a foreign fire, he is contained by the commandment of kindling seven individual candles.

I believe that the questions ‘Who are we?’ and ‘How does my relationship with God change me" or even, ‘Does my relationship with God change me?’ and last but not least, ‘If it does change me, is this a good / bad thing? If it doesn’t change me is this a good / bad thing?’ are at the core of our relationship with God.

When contemplating the nature of this relationship itself, our tradition is rich with images – some more comfortable than others. Some are parental images, some of those of lovers. More often than not, around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we will be exposed to images and parables portraying a King (though at times I am happy to speak of a Queen…) and His ministers or servants. You can find this specific portrayal throughout the Talmud, the Midrash, and later in Chassidic sources. The images are also pregnant with emotion, whether it awe, love, fear, alienation, to mention but a few.

It is from this vantage point that I would like to share with you the words of Torah that I blessed our ordained class of new rabbis with, just a few weeks ago, moments before they stood in front of a beit din (a rabbinic tribune) that was to affirm them as Rabbis.

As I posed to them, I offer you this question and challenge of our relationship with God. Not only the question of how God looks upon us, but I ask, how is it that we seek to look upon God? What is the nature and characteristics of this relationship that we seek to highlight? What would it mean to pause at some point in our day just long enough to feel God’s love shine upon us? How would we walk in the world and serve our Maker if we took a moment to tell God how much we love God?

I pray our breath is long enough to pause for both. The gift of Shabbat is that she grants us with the time for these deep inhales. May we breathe with ease. Shabbat shalom!

Ordination, May 2012 / Sivan 5772

Dear ones,

Over the last weeks I have seen this moment in front of my eyes time and again. And each time the words that come with this vision are:

היום הרת עולם היום יעמיד במשפט כל יצורי עולמים, אם כבנים, אם כעבדים

Today is the birthing of the world, today all creation stands in judgment, IF as children or IF as servants.

Granted, bringing the t’filla of Rosh Hashana, is a step up from ‘Chanaleh and her Shabbat dress’ that I shared last year, but none the less, we parted only yesterday from Yom Yerushalayim and are on the cusp of receiving the Torah in less than a week on Shavu’ote – it seems a bit early for preparing for Rosh Hashana.

And yet, when I was studying for my smicha I cried, literally, for months over the gemara in masechet erchin. It truly tested our commitment to wanting to be rabbi’s… It is a tractate that touches upon the value of human life and gifts offered to God. It taught me, among other things, that we each live in multiple concentric cycles of time. Some we share with creation, as on Rosh Hashana, some we share with our nation as in the holidays and Shabbat, some we share with our families – such as anniversaries, and some, as tonight, the eight of you share with each other and no one else – tonight, you are being birthed into the world as rabbi’s. It is for this reason I find myself chanting again and again:

היום הרת עולם היום יעמיד במשפט כל יצורי עולמים, אם כבנים, אם כעבדים

Today is the birthing of the world, today all creation stands in judgment, IF as children or IF as servants.

For a moment I want to turn this room into a beit midrash and I want us to learn together just one more moment in the spirit of the learning we did together this past semester: when hearing these words, how is it that you see yourselves walking in the world as the Rav b’Yisrael that you are – will you walk in God’s world as God’s servant in awe or perhaps fear? Or will you walk with unconditional love, as God’s child? And the students and communities that you will serve, will you bring to them the yoke of God or the love of God?

When growing up in Israel of the 1970’s one of the issues that bound American and Israeli Jewry as one, was the redeeming Soviet Jewry that was locked behind the iron curtain. I would stand on line in the main post office in Rechovot and pay a significant amount of money just so that a Soviet official would have to sign a pink slip of paper that would be mailed back to Israel. I knew that Natan Sheransky never received any of the letters I sent him throughout my high school years, but the officials every few weeks would have to sign a pink slip of paper and mail it back to Israel. That was a start.

It is with these memories that I followed in trepidation when our Ziegler students started traveling to Siberia each summer for the last several years. I tried to explain to them that Jews don’t volunteer to go to Siberia... that I didn’t care that they were going as American citizens with a two way ticket... and that children born today don’t even know what the ‘iron curtain’ alludes to.

One year, one of our students, Shlomo, asked me what I thought he should teach while there. I told him that I did not know who the people he’d be meeting were and what torah they needed to learn. I also didn’t know who he would be at that moment and what torah he would need to share. The one thing, I told him, that I do know is: I would never leave Siberia without them knowing that they are God’s children and that God loves them! I would make sure that they know "אם כבנים", "if as children".

Indeed it is a choice, your choice, how you will walk in God’s world "אם כבנים אם כעבדים" – "if as children, if as servants".

But being that it is Monday night, we are still immediately bound to one more "IF" – the "IF" we opened the last torah portion of Sefer Vayikra with, and that we read this past Shabbat: "אם בחוקותי תלכו" – "IF you walk in my statues".

You know I can’t leave you without something from B’rachot and something from the Mei HaShiloach… When asking "What does God pray" in the Babylonian Talmud we are taught that the opening words of God’s prayer are: "יהי רצון מלפני שיכבשו רחמי את כעסי" – "May it be my will if front of myself that my compassion conquers my anger…" The God of Masechet Brachote is a God that struggles with anger and is concerned that S/He not lash out.

But the God of the Mei HaShiloach, the Isbitzer rebbe, is a God that seeks understanding and relationship. His God prays: "אם בחוקותי תלכו, הלוואי שתלכו בחוקותי ותכוונו לעומק רצוני" – "I pray that you walk in my statutes, I pray that you can connect yourself to the depths of my desire." God seeks to be heard, comprehended and engaged with. God too is vulnerable to loneliness. And were I to ask you, one last question: "what is that prayer that you, in the depth of your heart, believe that God prays?"

Dear ones, as you ascend the stairs in front of you, to be called to your rabbinate, I pray that with every step you come closer and closer to walking in God’s world as God’s beloved children. I pray that you come closer and closer to hearing that whisper of the Divine prayer, aspiring to be revealed in the world. I pray that you return to Ziegler with the prayers of love that your students and congregants believe you pray every day. Mazal tov!