A Rabbi Says Thank You

In 2022, as a congregation and a community, we celebrated the 20 years that I have been blessed to be the Rabbi, teacher, spiritual leader, caregiver, and yes, sometimes cook, bottle washer and chair mover.  

When I arrived with Jill, and our eldest child Ren and Adina on the way, I could both tell you how I dreamed of how I would want my life with this congregation to unfold, and also never imagined all of the care, love and support we would receive.   In these twenty years, I have aged from the “kid who couldn’t be old enough to be a Rabbi” into this phase of life, with my own children heading off into the world and a heart and head (as well an office) full of incredible experiences to teach from and share. As we have grown (welcoming Nathaniel) and moving from house to house, you have included me in your lives and honored me by sharing so many sacred moments. I really cannot express how proud I am to be the Rabbi of your little Shul in the Woods.   While Temple Beth Shalom is not perfect, still facing challenges of our size and our world, the ways we gather, in simcha and tsuris, is remarkable and powerful.   While I still learn every day (if not every hour), I am always in awe as you repeat my teachings back to me, sharing that you have heard me and delight in returning my G!d given wisdom to teach me and help each other.  

I am awash in awe and thanksgiving.  I feel the impact of my efforts and my heart is full of appreciation for all of the people, in big moments and small ways, have stepped forward to give their ruach and koach, energy, wisdom and resources to me, my family and to our congregation.  I have witnessed Temple Beth Shalom truly be that House of Shalom: a place where we create something extraordinary, wholeness and harmony more than the sum of it’s parts. 

As we celebrate, I’m going to try to say thank you.  It’s really not enough.  I keep coming back to the words from the Shabbat morning service as we offer thanksgiving to G!d as the source of life: 

Ilu Finu malei shirah k’yam   malei shirah, shirah k’yam

ul’shonaynu rina kahom   kahom ga’lav…

Could song fill our mouth as water fills the sea, could our tongues sing endlessly like countless waves,

Could our lips utter praise as limitless as the sky, and could our eyes shine like the sun, and the moon…

Could our arms spread heavenward like eagles’ wings, and our feet run with gentle grace, like the swiftest deer, …we would still be unable to fully express the gratitude for one ten-thousandth of the lasting love or for even one of the myriad of moments of kindness, which is Your precious blessing, dearest G!d, granted to our ancestors and us.

Yet, while we might only offer the tiniest fraction of thanksgiving, we don’t refrain.  With full hearts and open hands, we appreciate the blessings of our lives and return that energy with the gifts of our body and spirit. 

As we celebrate this anniversary, this is precisely what I do. I continue to transform my appreciation into the next sequence of labor to care for our congregation and build a world of Shalom.  

Pirke Avot chapter 2, verse 16, “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”

The labor of lifting this living and vital community will never finish, but with twenty years of partnership and heart-felt care, I’m empowered, energized and inspired to keep bringing all my heart and soul, all my ruach and koach, filling my endeavor as Rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom with my passion and love.  Rabbi Michael Birnholz