Friday night I had the wonderful honor of installing Rabbi Ari Margolis as the assistant rabbi of Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, N.C. Below is my installation d’var torah for Ari.
I am so honored to be here at Temple Beth Or this Shabbat. It is not often that I get to spend a Shabbat with friends. I want to thank Rabbi Dinner and Rabbi Margolis for inviting me to spend this weekend in Raleigh with you to celebrate the installation of Rabbi Margolis as your assistant rabbi.
Before I speak about Rabbi Margolis- a word about your senior Rabbi-Rabbi Dinner who I have had the extreme honor and privilege of knowing since we were 12 years old. I know that you know this already. But she is a most amazing woman. Talented, so very smart and kind. An amazing mother and wife. Loyal as the day is long. She is a consummate listener. She is an excellent teacher of both texts and life. I am so grateful to be here in her pulpit and to be among her friends. I hope you know you have a rabbi’s rabbi in Rabbi Dinner.
A plumber installs. A rabbi is affirmed and celebrated. So tonight we will affirm and celebrate this congregation’s smart decision to bring Ari and Rachel and Lailah to Raleigh! We will formally consecrate Rabbi Margolis to his position. But as you and I both know, he hit the ground running last summer and didn’t stop.
That is Rabbi Margolis’ way. He is a ball of energy all with a good smile, a kind wave and a sparkle in his eye. His inner light shines forth.
There is an old story told of a group of disciples who came to their rabbi with real fear in their eyes. “Rabbi,” they said, “we have tried sending one of our group down into the cellar for supplies, but it is dark and damp and we fear that spirits will take us.” The Rabbi replied, “You are correct to be afraid – the next time you enter the cellar, bring with you brooms and bats to protect yourself, and you will no longer be afraid.” A few days later they returned, saying, “Rabbi, it is no use. The brooms and bats cannot protect us, the spirits are too powerful.” And then the rabbi replied, “of course, these are no ordinary spirits. What you must do, is to chant curses and incantations during your time in the cellar, and then no harm will come to you.” But when they returned once again, upset that the chants and curses did not comfort them in the cellar, the rabbi explained, “I have another idea. This time, as you enter the cellar, why not see if one of you might light a candle?”
A simple explanation –but powerful none the less. Logical and straightforward. Much like Rabbi Margolis. His engineering background, his keen mind, sorts through any problem and finds a simple, eloquent solution. Whether he is teaching children with his Baaa-bee stories or a passage of Talmud to adults, whether he is offering a cheerful word to a grieving family member or pulling out the latest Lailah photo on his phone- Rabbi Margolis has a genuine attitude of caring and friendship. He is a light and brings light upon all who he sees. He brings light into dark places with his smile and his intellect.
Each of us has the power to be the one who lights the candle – to bring light into dark corners and help illuminate the lives of our families, our communities, and our world. To light the candle means to see the world full of opportunities for engagement and growth, to see potential in every person and every idea. To help every one of us to connect with our best selves and to truly become an “Or Lagoyim” – a shining light to every nation of the world. An opportunity to transform the world and ourselves. And every community needs leadership to shape and mold that chance to transform. You know that Rabbi Dinner is such a person. I want you to know that Rabbi Margolis is also such a person.
Your new assistant Rabbi Ari Margolis is a person who helps to light the way. How appropriate that he came to Temple Beth Or—The House of Light! He glows with all the potential and hope of our shining tradition. In Rabbi Margolis you have a talented thinker, a kind and caring pastor with a warm smile and a joyous spirit.
At times a rabbi might hold the candle to illuminate the dark, but most of the time we search for it together. Rabbi Margolis is the kind of man who will hold the candle and help you search together for light, and meaning, for learning and Torah. Rabbi Margolis will jump with you into the darkness be it a time of grief and sadness or a time of great joy and help bring light and love.
But our tradition teaches us something even more. The mystics teach us that each one of us is light. Inside of us is the light of the first moment of creation. Divine Sparks that are waiting to be released and redeemed in the world. These holy sparks are filled with knowledge and truth. These sparks are the key to helping us illumine the world and bring peace and conquer fear. Rabbi Margolis will join with your inner light, implanted by God at the moment of creation and help you let your light shine forth. He encourages, cajoles gently and with a smile and hugs and urges your sparks forth.
Rabbi Margolis helps Judaism inspire. Whether with a Bat Mitzvah student or a room full of committee members – Rabbi Margolis is the kind of Rabbi who inspires each of us to grow. He nurtures our light. And helps transform our fears into love.
In this week’s Torah portion Vayishlach our patriarch Jacob wrestles with an angel of God. It is the night before he is to meet up again with his brother, Esau. They hadn’t seen one another in many years and their last encounter with each other was one of anger, resentments and hurts. Jacob had usurped his older brother’s position in the family gaining the right of inheritance and the special blessings from their father Isaac. Esau raged when he found out, so wounded was he by his brother and father and mother.
And in our portion this week the two brothers will soon meet again. Jacob is naturally concerned and worried for his life and that of his family. His brother had threatened murder so long ago. And so on the night before, Jacob has restless sleep. He tosses and turns and dreams of a visitor who wrestles with him. And Jacob prevails. Even the angel of God is shocked. Jacob “you have striven with being divine and human and prevailed”! says the angel of God. It is at that moment that Jacob becomes Israel. His name is changed. And he is not just head of household but a father of a nation. And in that moment too Jacob/Israel can be ready to receive his brother without fear. It is at as dawn breaks that this angel of God blesses Jacob. The light of day is emerging. The light of Jacob is emerging.
His preparation and his struggle allows for his inner light to shine. The real Jacob. The Jacob who has been molded by years of life, by working for his uncle Laban, by wives and children. Jacob is not the same Jacob who circumvented the traditional process to gain the right to the inheritance and the family blessing. Jacob is not the same Jacob who always struggled and squabbled with his older brother. Jacob is transformed and his inner light shines forth. A new day had begun. God recognized this inner light. And now Jacob/Israel can be the light… the light for his family. A light for our people. Or la goyim. A light for the other nations.
And so he crosses the river Jabok in the morning and encounters his brother Esau in love and peace. His fears melt and his brother receives him with feasting and an embrace and a kiss. Jacob’s inner light transformed a dark moment and a potentially hurtful and hateful brother. The light of Jacob/Israel brings out the light of Esau.
According to the Kabbalists our patriarch Jacob is associated with the attribute of rachamim-compassion. Situated between his grandfather Abraham who according to the mystics is associated with the attribute of Chesed—lovingkindness and his father Isaac who is associated with Din, judgment, together these two balance one another out to create Rachamim, compassion. But to allow compassion to flow—one’s fear has to be set aside. And one’s inner light has to join with the other—recognizing another’s humanity.
This is exactly what Jacob learned to do through his struggle with the angel. His compassion flowed for himself and for his brother Esau. This allowed the two to be reunited in reconciliation and respect. This allowed for his inner light to shine.
Rabbi Margolis will help you allow your inner light to shine. To illumine a dark way and with compassion and caring create safe and sacred space for you and your congregation to grow. Of this I am confident. Rabbi Margolis will help Beth Or live its name—house of light and he will help be the light.
At ordination a rabbinic student is given the title – rabbi in Israel. But one doesn’t really become a rabbi until they are shaped and molded by the communities they serve. I know that this blessed place, each of you the members of this congregation, its leadership, its staff led by Rabbi Dinner are continuing to provide the grounding and shaping and experience that will give Rabbi Margolis even more incredible tools with which to grow and serve not only Temple Beth Or but the Jewish people.
Rabbi Margolis, Chatzak v’Amatz—be Strong and of good courage! I hope and pray for your continued growth here at Temple Beth Or. They have many gifts to give you as you have so many gifts to share with them. .Share your light with one another…. Be the light that illumines every darkness.
Ken yehi Ratzon So may it be God’s will.