Reluctantly taking leave

By Debbi K. Levy

“Once or twice in a lifetime,

a man or woman may choose 

a radical leaving, having heard

Lech I’cha — Go forth.

God disturbs us toward our destiny

By hard events

and by freedom’s now urgent voice 

Which explode and confirm who we are.

We don’t like leaving,

But God loves becoming.”

—Mishkan Tefilah

I’m in! I get it! Yes!

I, myself, have experienced “taking leave” in a body that harbored anxiety upon leaving home to find another, and seek a new career path. It was a good thing. I grew more than I ever could have imagined. So why haven’t I made the airline reservations for my Kohenet retreat with my cohort this coming April?

I humbly confess and admit, here, that I actually e-mailed Rav Kohenet Jill Hammer last week looking for a pass for this retreat, like a kid trying to squirm out of a required childhood immunization at her pediatrician’s office. I communicated reasons (excuses?) supporting my preferred virtual participation and highlighted the challenges and obstacles of a weeklong stay a bit outside of Manhattan for this sacred leave-taking retreat experience. Oh, how I want to want it!

Let’s see… I am a dedicated list-maker. What if I make a list of leave-takers as a practice in hopes that this visual tool will offer me the nudge I need to embrace enthusiasm for my April 2023 leave-taking opportunity?

1.) Abraham left when the Creator told him to “Go forth.”

2.) Noah built an ark as Divinely instructed with full trust and knowledge that the life he knew would be drastically altered.

3.) Lot, his wife and daughters, with hands held by the angels, were literally pulled as they took leave of everything they had built to leave radically for safety from the word from the Heavens. It did not go well for Lot’s wife, who, with her focus on the past, as she looked back clinging to it, became a pillar of salt.

4.) Ruth and Naomi, a leave-taking cemented in true friendship and trust, to find family in each other.

5.) Rebekah said yes when asked if she would travel with Eliezer to make her new home with Isaac. She mounted her camel and took her place in the caravan to Hebron, in the land of Canaan.

I just registered. That’s a crucial baby step. I bought a new glass water bottle to take with me to tend to my hydration. Another step. I have thought about the airport I will fly into, and the transportation I will need to make my way from the airport to the retreat center. In this planning process, I realize I am consenting to a significant amount of not knowing and it is pushing the edges of my comfort zone. There will not be one-person in attendance whom I have ever met in person. Gulp.

My mind just drifted to a “Goodnight, sweet dreams,” without my husband Barry. Ugh. This very reaction confirms, to me, my reticence of traveling without him. Perhaps this is all the more reason to seek this opportunity to foster productive independence and comfort with my own company at bedtime.

Noah surely had hesitations about constructing his ark and calling it his temporary home. Behind Rebekah’s determined facial expressions to leave her family home and journey to meet Isaac, she was surely masking trepidation. And although I feel deep in my bones that Abraham was the most certain of our ancestors as he lingered in the Almighty’s embrace of parental affection, the words, “Go forth,” still had to be surrounded with question marks that had to be processed.

I am somewhere between all my Biblical ancestors and their sacred situational conundrums. I am going, I am reaching for my Jewish clergy dreams and for what I imagine the Eternal asks of me. I will experience the discomfort and new understanding that must be a large ingredient in becoming. I am working on being open to what is before me, and practicing presence fully, moment by moment. I am working with the idea that growth is not necessarily a pleasant experience, but imperative to humanity.

It is my hope and prayer that my full weeklong Jewish–in-person–New York–learning–retreat, an integral puzzle piece for my journey to ordination, will embody some of the same magical and holy moments, shared by those who intentionally made the decision to take leave from whatever their norms were, in order to have fed their souls and to honor all that the Creator envisioned for them, and hopefully for me. Amen.

Debbi K. Levy is too busy packing as you read this issue of the Texas Jewish Post. She is too anxious to spend time listing off her bio highlights, but wonders if you think she should pack her own pillow for the retreat?

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