The blog of the Roaring Fork Valley (Reform) Jewish community
77 Meadowood Drive • Aspen, CO • 81611
Rabbi David Segal and Cantor Rollin Simmons

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Congrats to the Class of 2011!

This past Monday, I had the honor of participating in the Aspen High School Baccalaureate service, which took place here at the Aspen Chapel.  Several local clergy spoke, along with Mayor Mick Ireland; the a cappella choir performed "Amazing Grace" and Cantor Rollin, Nelly Weiser, and Obadiah Jones performed "One Voice."  Below are my remarks to the graduating seniors.

Congrats to you all, and have a great summer!

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Aspen High School Baccalaureate Service
Monday, May 23, 2011
Aspen Chapel
Remarks by Rabbi David Segal

I’m not sure I’ve been out of high school long enough to offer you any wisdom...  However, I want to share two pieces of ancient wisdom from my tradition, the Jewish tradition, that may be helpful to you as you step into the next stage of your life.

First, a proverb:
There are four types of those who sit before the sages:
a sponge, a funnel, a strainer, and a sieve.
The sponge absorbs everything.
The funnel lets in at one end and lets out at the other.
The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees [dregs].
The sieve lets out the powdery stuff and retains the good flour. 
                       (Pirkei Avot 5:15, quoted in Book of Legends 426:228)
In college, in your life, you will feel like all of these types at one time or another.  There will certainly be some early morning classes after late nights where you’re the funnel...  But the key is learning how to be the instrument called for in the moment.

Next, a story:
     Once upon a time, Rabbi Simeon ben Rabbi Eleazar was leaving the house of his teacher.  He was riding leisurely on his donkey, feeling great about himself because he had been so filled up with study and learning.
  In this mood, he ran into an exceedingly ugly man, who greeted him, “Shalom aleichem - peace be upon you!”
Rabbi Simeon, rather than return the greeting, said: “You worthless creature! How ugly you are! Are all the people of your city as ugly as you?”
The man replied: “I do not know, but go and say to the Craftsman who made me, ‘How ugly is the vessel You have made!’”
Rabbi Simeon immediately realized he had done wrong. He got down from his donkey, fell on his face before the man, and said: “I apologize to you; please forgive me!”
The man replied: “I will not forgive you until you go to the Craftsman who made me and say to Him, ‘How ugly is the vessel You have made!’”
Rabbi Simeon followed him to the man’s village. The people of the village came out to meet Rabbi Simeon, a renowned teacher, with the words, “Shalom aleichem, peace be upon you, our master, our teacher!”  At that moment the man asked them, “Whom are you addressing as ‘our master, our teacher’?”
The villagers replied, “The man walking behind you!”
Then the man said, “If he is master and teacher, may there be no more like him in [the world]!”
They asked him why, and he told them how Rabbi Simeon had misbehaved.  The villagers said, “Nevertheless, forgive him, for he is a great man, and very learned in Torah.”  The man said, “For your sakes, I will forgive him, but only on condition that he does not make a habit of such misbehavior.”
Right after this incident, Rabbi Simeon went to the house of study and preached:  “At all times, one should be flexible like a reed, not hard like a cedar tree.”
                   (B. Ta 20a, paraphrased from Book of Legends 259:275)
Several lessons are to be learned from this.

First, even great sages make mistakes.  As you step into this next chapter of your lives, may your mistakes be as valuable as your accomplishments, and even more fruitful for what you learn from them.

Second, never let study distract you from being a decent human being.  Rabbi Simeon was so inflated by his great learning that he became a total jerk. Though his intellect was deep, he judged others superficially.  Go and learn, and increase your knowledge, but not at the expense of wisdom, of common sense, of valuing people and relationships above all else.

Third, like the sieve, be open to all, even as you gravitate toward those friends and colleagues whose companionship bring richness to your lives.

Learn from Rabbi Simeon’s mistake, follow his words and not his example:
In all things, be flexible like a reed, not unbending like a cedar.
In the force of storm-winds, a cedar tree stands still until its strength gives, and it shatters. But a reed bends with the storm, and avoids breaking.

May you be blessed with the strength and wisdom of the reed, knowing when to bend, knowing how to weather life’s storms.

Finally, in ancient words, I offer this blessing:
Yevarech’cha Adonai v’yishm’recha.  May God bless you and keep you.
Yaer Adonai panav eleicha vichuneka.  May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
Yisa Adonai panav eleicha, v’yasem l’cha shalom.  May God’s face be lifted up to you, and may you find the greatest of blessings, peace.