This week marks one year since my move to Tucson from New York City. Entering my first full-time job after 24 straight years of being a student, I was apprehensive about this transition. Although I previously had held student pulpits and rabbinic internships, I wondered what life would be like fully integrated into the work force as a newly ordained rabbi.
Thinking of this, I find a commonality between my year in Tucson and the section of Torah that we are reading. The Book of Numbers focuses on the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land, detailing all the places they visit. This journey is not without pitfalls, whether it is the Edomites diverting our ancestors, the King of Arad taking our people captive, or this week’s Torah portion, Shelach Lecha, about the spies delivering a negative report after scouting the land. The spy situation is particularly challenging to understand, because how could a people recently freed from Egyptian slavery suddenly want to go back to Egypt? However, with the dedication and faith of leaders such as Caleb, who stated, “Let us surely go up and we will gain possession of it” (Numbers 30:13), our ancestors were eventually able to reach the place for which they were destined. Without taking the first step forward, and the risks that it entailed, the Children of Israel would have never reached the Promised Land.
What can we learn from this? Perhaps the Torah means to help us when we are faced with difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible events in our lives. Then, like Caleb, we can choose to look for the positive possibilities if we have enough faith in G-d and the courage to move forward. Incredible things can happen when one believes in an optimistic future and gathers strength to proceed. Obstacles that seem impossible can be overcome with the caring of others and the community’s awareness and assistance.
Looking back on this year, I know I am extremely fortunate to have arrived in Tucson and at Congregation Anshei Israel. I have been welcomed into Anshei Israel with open arms and consider it my second home. I have never before been part of a synagogue family that has so many programs, with events on a nightly basis. I have loved working with Rabbi Eisen and the staff, as well as the religious school and B’nai Mitzvah students and their families. I feel warmly received by the entire Jewish community, finding a wonderful social outlet in Young Jewish Tucson and greatly enjoying the programming at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.
As I continue my journey as a rabbi in Tucson, I feel blessed for the opportunity to continue to contribute what I can to the Jewish community. The Tucson Jewish community is vital and full of bright people, and I feel privileged to be part of it. Working together as a close-knit community, what cannot be achieved!
Rabbi Ben Herman is director of congregational learning at Congregation Anshei Israel.