June 2012 is kind of a special month. No, not for Father’s Day or Graduations; but for a special anniversary.
It seems that forty years ago (June 2 to be exact) I was ordained at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. And yes, I am a little taken by the fact that it has been forty years.
You kind of are forced to take a step and look back. Many of us are at an age when we are caught up in life cycle events or major anniversaries. Time does fly, especially as we get a little older. Too often we focus to much time on the “what if” of life. The “if only had chosen this”, or “I should have” done that. Life is, to paraphrase several people, lived forward but understood backwards. It is like an old country music lyric that reminds us that “what could have been, but never was, was never meant to be.”
In the Mishnah section called Pirke Avot, there is a reading that details the stages of life and what one is to expect. Forty, is seems , is mentioned as the age of council. I take that to mean that after forty years of doing what I have been doing, I am eligible to provide council to others. I also take it to mean that, after forty years of being a rabbi, I can look at things with a different eye. The emotional urgency of youth can be viewed with a little more latitude. Things do have a way of working out. There have been many lessons learned. There have been many challenges, many sad moments and many blessings. And, it does no good to live in the past.
I remember Ordination day quite clearly. It was a beautiful, warm day in Cincinnati. We were part of the historic class of HUC that ordained the first female rabbi. My friend Leslie and I shared an ordination luncheon at a deli. Our families traded the school sponsored lunch of rubber chicken for a more in keeping gathering of corned beef and Dr. Browns. Who knew that within a decade I would be doing Leslie’s funeral. We had our careers planned. And then life intervened. Who knew that old Yiddish expression: “man plans and God laughs” was so true.
Forty years is a long time. I am part of a generation of rabbis that is now retiring. We came of rabbinic age as Viet Nam fell and feminism emerged. We were introduced within a year to the 1973 Israel-Arab war and two Intifadas.
Our span has included the birth of the technological and longevity revolutions; both of whom are combining to re-vision our own community. So many changes. Yet, one lesson still is true. You cannot live in the past. All of us can never go back and re-program our lives. That cliche that we only get one change is very true. The older we get, the more true that becomes.
Judaism reminds us to live in the moment, with an eye on tomorrow. What could have been? We cannot change that. What will be? This we can help shape.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min