Immerse Yourself in the Journey


Words from Rabbi Lynne Kern recent Ziegler Graduate 

There are times when we doubt our capability, our intelligence, our inner strength. We focus on the task, the davar: taking it apart, putting it back together, dreaming of success, fearing failure. So often, we get caught up in the task, especially if it is one that gives us great discomfort. What I have learned, really learned, through the process of these last months preparing for ordination and the cumulative Talmud exam (which one must pass before ordination), is that there is no relevance to the destination unless one immerses oneself in the journey. During the years of rabbinical school, so many voices made me doubt my ability to pass the exam. The words, those d’varim, hovered over me like a dark cloud and a raging fire. I became paralyzed. I was entirely focused on the davar. But during the summer before the exam, I spent months studying Masechet Kiddushin, the sugya “Ha Isha Nikneit,” about how a woman is acquired, and how she acquires herself.

The revelations that came from those words changed my life. For the first time in many years, I remembered “how to acquire myself.” More importantly, the process of studying and the power of the words seemed to reveal themselves as a metaphor for the meaning of these years in rabbinical school, and the direction of my rabbinate. Like so many others, I focused on my presumed weakness, my aching brokenness, allowing the derech to be overshadowed and overwhelmed by the davar.

To that end, the words of this poem which I wrote and with which I began my exam, remind me of the truth that like any other destination, for those that seek ordination, there is no relevance to the destination unless you immerse yourself in the journey. And, the journey is meaningless without the ultimate goal of arriving:

Derekh and Davar: The Power of the Journey

Davar: the thing

Concretized, finite, without
Fluid or motion.
A word that hangs mid-air,
No breeze to blow into it life
  or change.

Moving pathway, winding, unsure
With no beginning, middle or end.
Untouchable, intangible,
Slowly seeping into our
The power of the journey.
Crouching inside each davar,
a waiting derekh.

Often satiated with nouns
  that dot our days,
Unsure of verbs, too unsteady.
We embrace closure, and
Unable to wander the foggy,
unending path.
The commingling of Derekh
  and Davar:
Zericha, both are necessary,
  for ideas cannot rest and rise
  on sand alone.

To me,
Talmud was davar, only davar.
Words, like monoliths, loomed large
On pages peppered with people
I did not know,
Nor cared to know.
The static strangled me, and
  bloodied my fingers,
Trying to overcome.

Somewhere in time, a bat kol
  whispered inside my soul:
“The prophet with a dream tells
  a dream;
but the one with My word, speaks
  my word of Truth.”

The lines of monster words blurred,
The rhythm of rabbis arguing
Torah and Talmud tantalized me.

Yearly, the Leviathan davar peeked
  its ugly head above water,
Using its weight, daring me to sink
  along side it.
The salt water choked me.
Each time I sank, winged derekh
  rose beneath me
To meet my leaded feet, willing me
  again to rise.

Words, thoughts images collided

  on the page,
Inside my head, my heart, daring

  me to pick up the unfinished
Tapestry, to weave together what
  was, with what is.
Dancing and spinning, the rabbis, the
  laundryman, matrona, ha’hu gever
Leapt out and taught me to see
  the world
In a million shades of gray.
Daily, the derekh continued.
Rashi, Tosafot, big bold devarim,
  soft, squiggly devarim, taunting
Me to continue trapsing through territory unknown.
Suddenly, Talmud was a mirror.
The mundane melted, giving way
  to passion.
Each argument, each sugya, a prayer.
The rabbis shapeshifted into
  spiritual mentors.
Davar alchemized into derekh.

The Tradition is not a davar
  to be mastered.
This was my fatal flaw.
Instead, it is a conversation
Into which we are invited to enter.
A carpet ride through tyrany, torture,
  hope, enduring faith.

Five years ago, I thought I would
  never learn enough to become a rav.
I was ashamed that inauthenticity
  would forever hang around
  my neck,
Ignorance, the albatross that would
  brand me.

Now, I know that I will never
  learn enough,
But I will become a rav,
Riding on the gift of derekh,
No longer ashamed, but inspired
  not only to teach about the journey,
But to learn about the pathway
  of the past,
Making it possible to glide into
  our future.

The prophet with a dream,
  tells a dream.
I am no longer she.
The one with my word speaks
My word of Truth.
God’s devarim are my derekh.

Davar and Derekh:
the body that caresses soul
Exile and Redemption
Heaven reaching down in
  partnership with Earth:
Derekh and Davar:
God’s blessing to us all.

As you move forward towards your own ordination, ask yourself: Will becoming a rabbi be for you the davar, or the derekh?