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When I Enter and When I Leave

07/09/2020 10:10:15 AM


Rabbi Sam Trief

One of the blessings for me during this strange time in world history is the opportunity to participate virtually in diverse, learning opportunities.

During the past two weeks, I was a student in an “Educators Boot Camp,” live from The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

I jumped at the opportunity because I know the passionate teaching that takes place at Pardes. I spent a summer of college there, and have often dreamed of going back there to study. Pardes is an open, inclusive, diverse and intellectually-rigorous Jewish learning community. It reflects the traditional world of yeshiva study, and yet its location atop a Mazda dealership, surrounded by fresh falafel stands, makes it feel firmly modern. As I write these words now, I feel pangs of nostalgia for the place and the experience.

On the final day of the Bootcamp last week, taking place entirely on Zoom, we studied a Talmudic text that has stuck with me since:

Rabbi Nehunia ben Hakaneh used to pray as he entered the Bet Hamidrash (lets translate that to the PNK Learning Center, for our own purposes) and as he left he would say a short prayer.

The rabbis said to him: what is the reason for this prayer?

He replied: When I enter, I pray that no mishap should occur through me. And when I leave, I express thanks for my portion.

These words remind me of the words I would say each and every day as I would drive up Dupree Drive over the past 4 years: When I enter, I pray that no mishap should occur through me. And when I leave, I express thanks for my portion.

It boggles my mind that I find myself starting my 5th year at Temple Sinai. Sinai has become my home, a place in which I continually grow professionally, emotionally and spiritually. Despite all that has changed for me personally over the past 4 years, my daily prayer and internal monologue has stayed the same each day as I enter the doors of our sacred synagogue.

And yet, since I have not stepped foot physically in Temple Sinai for some time now, that prayer has grown further from my mind and heart. Thankfully, as I studied the above Talmudic text, it brought me back to that normal headspace I inhabit; praying that I do not stumble in my rabbinic duties (too badly,) and cultivating a sense of gratitude for our inspiring community.

As this pandemic continues to run its course, we may not have the same rituals and routines that defined our past lives, but what are the words we can say, and the things that we can do to help ground and connect us to that past life? (May it return soon!) What prayer can we offer to guide us in realizing all the good and the blessings that still surround us at all times?

As for me, I thank God every day that I have landed where I am, and that Temple Sinai is my community. Through the ups and the downs, the good days and the bad ones, I know I am surrounded by a virtuous, thoughtful, and hardworking community, one that strives for excellence, compassion, and justice.

As the Talmudic text continues, the Gemara asks the Rabbi:

We get the gist of your prayer, but would you mind sharing with us the exact words you recite to yourself each day when you enter the Beit Midrash?

Rabbi Nehunia ben Hakaneh says “sure, I will tell you exactly what I pray:” "May it be Thy will, my God, that no offence occur through me; that I stumble not in the matter of Halakah; that my colleagues have occasion to rejoice in me; that I pronounce not anything clean that is unclean, or unclean that is clean; that my colleagues stumble not through me in the matter of Halakah; and that I may have occasion to rejoice in them."

And so, this is my prayer for us all this Shabbat, a personal translation of Rabbi Nehunia ben Hakaneh’s above words: As we go about our day, may we not hurt anyone. May we know our own personal truths. May those with whom we work, live, and pray trust us and take pride in us. May we not misrepresent the truth nor distort the facts. May we be confident in our teachings, and may we take pride in those who help shape our lives and infuse them with meaning.

Shabbat Shalom

Mon, August 3 2020 13 Av 5780