Last week, my father retired as a Rabbi after fifty years in the pulpit. This Shabbat will be the first week in a half a century that he will not give a sermon or acknowledge a birth, yahrzeit, or a wedding couple from a bima. He will be a Jew in the pew. Often, people approach Rabbis and say, “I’m coming to you because you have a more direct route to God.” In reality, each of us have the same access to the Divine.
So much of what I have learned in the Rabbinate has been from the blessing of sitting at the feet of my father as a child, witnessing him shepherding a congregation to moments of sacred relationship, deep in conversation at a kiddush table or stopping for a moment in the market or even in the airport to acknowledge the presence of another human being.
My favorite place on his desk was the messy top drawer, filled with hand written notes from adults whom he officiated their B’nai Mitzvah years prior, who lived across the country, sharing their stories and journeys and the impact the communities he led had on them.
This week, Jacob blesses his son Joseph. Hamalach Hagoel Oti Mikol Rah. Jacob explains that we should walk in the ways of our ancestors and pray that the angel which redeems us from harm should bless the children.
This blessing connects generations. Each of us has only a finite amount of control in our lives. Some of the good we earn, and some of the good comes to us unearned, and so we are obligated to recognize that we often live in the moment of mystery. That is the greatest teaching and blessing that my father gifted me.
As a pulpit Rabbi, he walked many through the valley of the shadow and brought people to the mountaintop of joy. And during each of those moments, the angel guided him through the mystery of faith.
My grandfather, of blessed memory, was a tire salesman from Poland. He would be smiling today, looking at his legacy: A father of a first generation American Rabbi and a grandfather of two Rabbis, one who is married to a Rabbi, serving congregations across the United States.
Tomorrow, we will conclude the book of Bereshit. We will rise and recite chazak, chazak, vnitchazek, be strong, be strong, and together we will be strengthened.
The blessing of the angel is meant for children in future generations. Yet, this Shabbat, I use those words to bless my father.
May that angel continue to guide each of us, girded with strength, wisdom, heart, soul, for a bright future ahead.