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Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

Summer Sabbatical

Seven is an important number in Judaism. Six days a week we work and on the seventh day we observe Shabbat and take a rest. The Torah speaks of working the ground for six years and allowing a rest on the seventh, what is called Shemita, to allow the earth to replenish itself. The cycle of the week is repeated in the cycle of the years.

The word “sabbatical” has the echo of the word “Sabbath” in it: the act of taking a break. My dictionary tells me it derives from the Greek word sabbatikos, of the Sabbath.  It is common for rabbis to be granted sabbaticals after seven years of service, and I am pleased to share that I will have a six-week sabbatical this summer. (My position is part-time and the length of my sabbatical reflects this.) I began at Mayim Rabim in 2012 and am grateful for this chance to pause. Sabbaticals are an important part of a rabbi’s professional development as they provide an opportunity for growth and spiritual reinvigoration.

This summer I will be attending The Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar, an intensive, pluralistic, ten-day seminar for rabbis at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.  This annual continuing education program is the premier gathering for North American rabbis. I have never attended “Hartman” and am told by former participants that doing so will benefit both Mayim Rabim and me.  I anticipate I will be able to bring back new thoughts and insights. Furthermore, I will be able to facilitate Hartman programs for Mayim Rabim upon my return. 

This is my first sabbatical in my entire 29-year career and I am appreciative to the congregation for making this possible. From July 3 – August 18, I will be taking a break: spending two weeks learning in Israel, a week in Paris with Davida, time in the Twin Cities continuing my Sholom Hospice position, and visiting family in the Pacific Northwest.

I am working with congregants now to ensure that all of my typical responsibilities are covered when I am away. I won’t be corresponding on e-mail --- a real break! In the event of rabbinic emergencies, I am grateful to our own congregant and co-president Rabbi Jeffrey Schein and my friend and colleague Rabbi Esther Adler at Mount Zion for covering any urgent needs during the six weeks I am gone. I am grateful to the Board for their support as I step back from my work to reflect and see things with new perspective.  

The V’shamru prayer describes the Divine stopping work on the seventh day with   the words “shavat vayinafash”  -- to stop in order to replenish. I appreciate this opportunity for me to shavat vayinafash, to take a break in order to recharge so I can serve Mayim Rabim even more fully upon my return.