I am just about to go off to Rabbi Camp again, as I do each year. It is an annual opportunity for me to learn and pray with a community of rabbis. As much as I enjoy my role as your rabbi, teacher and preacher, the chance to return to the company of like-minded scholars and leaders for almost a week is invaluable in restoring my energy – not to mention my soul.
I recently discovered that virtually alone among professionals and skilled workers, rabbis have no requirement of continuing education. Perhaps the presumption is that they will pursue learning on their own, but all of us will testify to the paucity of quality time to be immersed in Torah lishmah, learning for its own sake, a value we commend to you all the time.
(In fact, if I followed the advice of my various care-givers I would spend an hour a day studying, an hour a day in prayer, an hour a day exercising, half an hour a day stretching, eight hours a night sleeping, an hour a day reflecting and fifteen minutes between each appointment “recentering.” If I give up eating and writing bulletin articles, I’ll be able to see you for that appointment three weeks from Tuesday at 2:45 p.m.!)
The week of renewal is a stopgap measure for me. As I learned some years ago, the wear and tear of this position is a constant grinding on my well-being. Aside from the give-and-take of public issues and discussions in the congregation, I carry in my heart the private concerns you have honored me with sharing. Sometimes, I must step away entirely or the abrasions to my soul will not heal. I become less effective and you as congregants are short-changed.
For that reason, my contract with the congregation schedules a sabbatical period for me on a regular basis. Based on the recommendations of the Alban Institute, a think-tank that studies religious institutions and their leaders, I am scheduled for a three-month sabbatical every fourth year. The first of those sabbaticals begins May 3, a little more than four years since my previous six-month sabbatical began. I will return to my duties on August 3. In my absence, the congregation will be in the able hands of Hazzan Dienstfrey and some extraordinary lay leaders, with back-up rabbis on call.
If I could give you each a gift, it would be the gift of a sabbatical, whether for a week or longer. I encourage you to explore the possibility in your own situation. In the meantime, I can highly recommend a sabbatical world you can visit every week. It starts with sunset on Friday and lasts until dark the next day.