Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld Speaking Torah: Our deepest service in this world flows from the awareness of, and attention to, what we lack and how we love
“Every individual is a small world unto himself… No person has ever been identical to another person since the creation of the world, and therefore each and every person has a special shlichut, a distinctive purpose for which he was sent… The beginning of all avodah, all service, is discovering for what particular purpose one was sent to this world.” — Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky, Netivot Shalom
The longing to live a life that matters is universal, but it is not generic. It is deeply personal and particular. In many Hasidic teachings, this idea is powerfully conveyed through the language of “shlichut” — the idea that every person is “sent” to this world to fulfill a unique and particular purpose.
Needless to say, the task of discerning our particular purpose is not simple, and our responsibility to the world does not remain static. According to the Netivot Shalom, it requires that we pay close attention — in every hour and season of our lives — both to our greatest struggles and our greatest strengths. We each have places within ourselves that are in need of deep repair — limitations we will wrestle with throughout our lives. And we each have our own distinct talents, our particular ways of serving God.
Our avodah — our deepest service in this world — flows from the awareness of, and attention to, what we lack and how we love. It is possible only if we open ourselves to difficulty as well as to delight. If we see our difficulties as failures, we lose our capacity to grow. If we dismiss our delights as distractions, we lose our capacity to give.
The role of the contemporary rabbi is expanding and being redefined in all kinds of ways. Amidst the ever-growing demands on our time and energy, we would do well to return to the understanding of avodat haShem offered by the Netivot Shalom and ask: Are we drawing on our deepest struggles and strengths to be of service to our world? And are we inviting those we serve to do the same?
At the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, we support our students and alumni in asking these questions as they seek to discern and define their distinctive visions for the rabbinate. This week, I am pleased to share two pieces — Rabbi Art Green’s moving piece “My Rabbinate,” which he shared with our newest rabbis at last Sunday’s Rabbinical School ordination ceremony and a video with three Hebrew College Rabbinical alumni who have found deep meaning in their work as second-career rabbis.
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld is Dean of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College.