There has been a lot of conversation lately about burnout. Many of us are feeling the effects of being overstressed from more than two years of living with a
pandemic. There is a “great resignation” of workers, especially in health care and education. Melanie Field and I were both drawn to the same story we heard on KUOW radio about a pastor in Seattle who “really felt like I was at my rope’s end” but found strength in showing weakness. Have no fear, I’m not thinking about leaving Beth Or, but the article did make me think about how we are experiencing burnout and fatigue as a synagogue community.
Pastor Peter Chin was lucky enough to be able to take a sabbatical, time away from the structure of his church community, to reflect and revive himself. The radio reporter concluded their interview with Pastor Chin with these words that resonated with me: “Peter is still considering his relationship to work and his role in a community. But he’s taking it day by day.”
During the months of June and July, our Torah readings take us through the Book of Bamidbar (Numbers). It is a time of uncertainty and transition for the Israelite people. They have been freed from the harsh structures of slavery but now find themselves trying to navigate a life of wandering bamidbar, in the wilderness. It is not until the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) when Moses and the Israelite people begin to look forward to the structures of life in the Promised Land. If we find ourselves exhausted navigating two years of a pandemic, how did the community of Israel navigate forty years in the wilderness?
Nachmonides, the 13th century Spanish Jewish leader, did his best to offer leadership to his community during the Inquisition. He was forced to publicly dispute the Catholic Church in 1263 and after winning the trial was forced to flee Spain. He writes in his introduction to the Book of Numbers that the wisdom of the book is being present and living in the moment.
Now this whole book deals only with those commandments which were meant only for a particular time, being the period when the Israelites stayed in the desert, and [it deals also] with the miracles which were done for them, in order to tell all the wondrous deeds of the Eternal wrought for them.
How did God support the Israelites through forty years in the wilderness? God focused on the immediate needs of the community and helped bring their attention to the miracles and wonders around them in the moment. To paraphrase Nachmonides, God helped the people take things “day by day.”
I’m proud and amazed that despite these trying times our Beth Or community is still able to plan for our future. At the same time, I know we are feeling fatigued as a community and want to heed the advice of the Book of Bamidbar. I hope that June and July allow you time to simply take things day to day and appreciate the miracle that is summer in the Pacific Northwest.
Rabbi Rachel Kort (she/her)