I don’t think I make it through any given day without some kind of support from others. From reaching out to tech help lines with computer problems to calling a Butterball Hotline to learn how to cook a turkey, much of our support today comes from anonymous persons in short order.
But what about when we need support to sustain spiritual life? All too often, we wait for a crisis to suddenly look for meaning or spiritual support. But in this case, the call to a spiritual “tech” help line is not likely to yield particularly satisfying results.
As I read through Parshat Va’eira this week, I’ve been thinking about the nature of supportive relationships. Moses is instructed by God to address Pharaoh in order to demand the release of the oppressed Israelites. Moses responds to God that he is concerned that his speech impediment will get in the way of being an effective advocate for the people.
God advises that Moses’s older brother Aaron can stand by his side and convey his messages, assuring him that “Aaron, your brother shall be your spokesman” (Shemot 7: 1). As the action unfolds in Egypt, Aaron’s ongoing supportive presence makes it possible for Moses to be an effective leader.
Later on, Aaron will take on the role of priest. Aaron, as a spiritual leader, is very warm and attentive to the people. Even though at times he makes flawed choices, the Israelites still love Aaron and seek his guidance.
When we are unsure of our ability to download an app or cook a turkey we can contact a support line and get quick advice. But what about when we are unsure of how to address our spiritual needs? How can we “download” the transcendent or access what is soulful? What kind of support system do we have in place to make sense of challenges or to move deftly through the arcs of life?
For many centuries in Jewish history, rabbis traditionally served as the spiritual help line for a community, assisting individuals in navigating their life’s journey. But as the role of religion and its leaders has devolved rapidly in past decades, many Jews have found themselves disconnected from a meaningful spiritual support system.
A new rabbinate is emerging to meet the on-demand needs of a greatly curtailed modern spiritual life. For the majority of Jews who are unaffiliated, their spiritual connection has been reduced to hiring a rabbi to officiate a life cycle event or provide quick emotional support in times of crisis.
I believe that such limited contact with spiritual leadership is neither fully satisfying nor effective. Individuals need ongoing meaningful conversation, sustained learning, and regular rituals to help address life’s ups and downs.
Just as Aaron stood by Moses’s side, empowering him with both his availability and his assurance, so too do each of us need an ongoing relationship that provides genuine support. When it comes to spiritual guidance, an ongoing relationship with a fully present, compassionate and empowering religious leader can have more of a positive impact than a brief meeting.
I chose the role of rabbi so that I could support my community, providing guidance to individuals as they navigate the intricacies of their life journey. My invitation is for you to call on me not merely as a “help desk,” but to create a relationship that provides ongoing spiritual growth.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame