Since my installation weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a congregation with the name Etz Chaim, A Tree of Life.
How are all of the Jewish people, let alone our microcosm of a congregation, like a tree of life? Today, our world is full of all kinds of trees: not the least of which is the tree of the human family. As a society, it is becoming increasingly popular to focus on those branches, our differences, that diverge us out into different directions. Yet what makes the Jewish people unique is that for generations, we have managed not to draw strength from our branches, but our common roots. On nearly every Jerusalem cab ride I have ever taken (too many to count), the driver begins by calling me “Achi,” “my brother.” When I first arrived to spend a year studying in Israel, I found this custom a bit peculiar. What did I have in common with this complete stranger? Spend some time in Israel, and you will realize that the game of six degrees of separation quickly turns into one or two.
Over the past nine months, I’ve developed a similar kind of feeling here in our community, Etz Chaim. As I’ve gotten to know all of you, I look out from the bimah each week and see a diverse group of individuals. Yet the very fact that we continue to come together and celebrate our roots in common cause is a stubborn, countercultural act in the society in which we live. It is a beautiful mission that pulls us and unites all Jews in the world together.
This Shabbat, I was deeply moved by my installation. At times, as I sat there red in the face, I wondered who this wonderful person was that those present were talking about from the bimah.
Yet what moved me the most was the commitment of all of you who came throughout the weekend to our roots, and toward replanting our tree of life for our future. In a world with increasing focus on our branches, holding strong our roots has never been more important. That’s why I can’t think of a better name, or challenge, for our Jewish community, than for us to continue to be a “Tree of Life,” as we draw nourishment from our roots in Torah and one another.
I am sorry for those of you may feel that I waxed too many poetics in this e-blast. Needless to say, it’s been an emotionally filled, wonderful week. It’s been a great honor to have been installed as the Senior Rabbi at Etz Chaim, and for your support. With God’s help, the best is yet to come.