We are on the verge—of change, of infinite possibilities—not knowing what this year will bring. Face to face for Pardes-Hannah may be online via Zoom, in person in Ann Arbor, or some combination. Only time will tell.
I chose to join Pardes-Hannah for the first time last year because the services were being held via Zoom, where my participation would matter, rather than on YouTube, where no one would know whether I was there.
Apparently, I was looking for connection—connection that was meaningful, purposeful, and sacred. As a Mussar practitioner for many years, I knew that each moment provided an opportunity to choose what to do, where to go, and who to be. What would be for the highest good? Basically, what am I called to do or be?
How do we hear the call? It requires deep listening and the ability to hear what is not said. What is needed here? How might I step up and help? Am I willing to take on the responsibility to be of service here? What might this service look like? These are all Mussar soul traits (middot).
One call came just before the pandemic began to support a dear friend facing terminal cancer. It was a very holy time, filled with kedusha. He passed a few months into the pandemic: may his memory be for a blessing.
Thereafter, I was drawn to be in meaningful connection with others. I began to reach out to check in with friends and other spiritual seekers, primarily via Zoom. The encounters were extremely rewarding and meaningful; some were even sacred. They went beyond just “checking in.” People were eager to connect on what mattered to them, what they were working on.
When a connection had been made and a resonance was felt between us, we often continued to meet periodically. In some cases, the sharing was mutual; in others, it was more of a mentoring relationship, with many deeply blossoming over time.
At this time of year, as we revisit the past year and make amends, we engage in “constructive criticism” of ourselves. We might do this as well with others, and as long as the feedback is provided from a place of love, the other will be able to hear it and appreciate how to benefit from it. I believe it is this process that makes interactions meaningful, going far beyond everyday chit-chat. It is what brings holiness to our encounters. When we feel that another is speaking to us from a place of love, we trust what they have to offer us, and are grateful knowing that someone understands us.
I still listen for the call—and then Reb Elliot invited me to give a vort. It’s not really my thing to give talks, but I searched my Mussar toolbox, overcame my reluctance, stepped up my enthusiasm, and am joyfully here with all of you.
The question facing Pardes-Hannah (and many of us) is whether to continue on Zoom or return to Ann Arbor in person. The fact is, it doesn’t matter. People will join whatever is offered and speaks to them. Then each encounter will become sacred when those participating are doing so from a place of establishing a meaningful and purposeful connection with love.
So I ask: Are you listening deeply for the call? Where you are needed? Who you are being asked to be? How you can best be of service with others? Not in the sense of doing, as a separate self, but in the sense of being—being the flower you are, blossoming, attracting others on the path, to find spiritual companions, much like the chevrah in days of old. From a place of joy and love. This deep listening and sensitivity to the unspoken needs of others will help guide the Pardes-Hannah community. Thank you, Reb Elliot, for this opportunity to connect. Shana tova to all my fellow travelers.