Kol Shofar Annual Meeting Drash – Rabbi Chai Levy 5/31/2018

In preparing for this time of change and transition, I’ve revisited the work of William Bridges, a well-known consultant on Organizational change, who was based right here in Marin. Bridges explains the difference between change and transition. Change is an event, such as the departure of a rabbi or the hiring of a new rabbi, say for example, While Transition is the psychological process that accompanies that change. Bridges describes 3 stages that take place with every organizational change:

  1. Endings 3. Beginnings 2. The Neutral Zone

Interestingly for us, he compares the Neutral Zone to the Israelites’ 40 years in the midbar, the desert or wilderness.

And here we are, right in the book of Numbers, BaMidbar, studying the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness, through the neutral zone between the ending (leaving Egypt) and the beginning (entering the promised land)

What can the Torah and William Bridges teach us about this time of transition that we find ourselves in?

First, I think it’s important just to name and recognize that we are in a time of transition. We humans have a tendency to want things to be stable and not change, but when they do change, it’s important to be patient and compassionate with ourselves and to recognize that every change brings with it some time in the neutral zone of the midbar, and that the midbar can feel like a frightening place. Look at all of the mishegas that our ancestors got into during their 40 years in that scary wilderness, but when we recognize, ok – so we’re in the midbar for a bit, we can find some patience and compassion for ourselves by simply recognizing that we are in a time of transition and that it can be hard.

Secondly, seeing the neutral zone as the midbar helps us identify some of the pitfalls of times of transition. Bridges names a few of these that come straight out of this week’s Torah portion, Beha’alotcha.

When things change, we long for the past. A return to Egypt. The pull of nostalgia is very strong. In our parasha, the Israelites remember fondly their time of slavery: “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to have in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the garlic! Now we have nothing but this manna!” The Torah teaches us that when we are in the desert, we look to the past as the good old days. It’s hard for us to appreciate even the manna from heaven, when we are facing the stress of the transitional time in the midbar. Bridges teaches that one of the things that helps us not fall into this pitfall is to have a “boundary event,” like crossing the Sea of Reeds. Such events help us mark the ending and recognize we are entering the neutral zone. It’s a boundary that keeps us from going backwards. I am grateful for the many beautiful events that have been planned to mark the ending of my 16 years here- the farewell Shabbat, the conclusion of my time leading lunch and learn, and the farewell party next week. These events mean so much to me personally and I’m grateful for all those involved in planning them. And they are helping all of us mark the boundary between the 1st 2 of the 3 phases- the ending and the neutral zone.

Sometimes people start acting Weird. (Bridges’s words) We built the golden calf when Moses was gone for too long on Mt. Sinai. Symbolically you might say that they were vulnerable to strange new symbols fashioned from the remnants of their old values.

An impulse to Fast Forward. People want to move quickly through the Neutral zone because it’s an uncomfortable place to be, but as we learn from the Torah: it takes time to transition. It took us 40 years. 11 days distance! But we needed time to transition.

On the positive side of the midbar, Bridges teaches that the neutral zone is a time of creativity and revitalization. After all, it’s where we received the Torah. It’s a time of new revelations, brainstorming, creative problem-solving, new energy. We can get stuck in our habits when there is stability; but transition times allow for new possibilities to emerge.

Kol Shofar is in a really good place for such new energy and new possibilities. We’ve got an amazing senior rabbi, a fantastic executive director, a very strong new president who is going to rock in this role, a great staff and board and tons of hard-working and caring volunteers (see the screen!) and with Rabbi Paul Steinberg in his new role, you will be in good hands. Rabbi Paul is away tonight on a previously scheduled vacation, but Kol Shofar is lucky to have him, and it will be exciting to see what new possibilities emerge from both rabbis in this time of transition and change with the rabbinic staffing.

I myself am definitely in a time of endings and truthfully – grieving this ending. I know it’s a time of letting go of not only the stability of the known of the past 16 years and entering a time of transition in the midbar, but

It’s a letting go of a place and a community and people  that I have loved and cared about deeply.

William Bridges’ metaphor doesn’t quite work for me because I don’t feel that I’m leaving Egypt to enter the Promised Land, rather it feels more like I’m leaving the Promised Land!

I just want to bless us
That we see this time of transition
As it was for our ancestors in the midbar –
That by naming it and recognizing the possible pitfalls of the wilderness,
We can go through the neutral zone with compassion for each other, and with patience for ourselves
And, as our ancestors received Torah in the midbar, may
this time of change open up new blessings, creative, fresh beginnings,
and inspiring divine revelations.


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