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We humans live with one foot firmly in the physical world, and yet we have an inexplicable urge to dip a toe in the spiritual world. However strong or tentative that impulse may be, we all have our moments when we long to transcend our physical being and soar. Where to? That’s the mystery.

Today I shared a moment with a woman whom I had only just met. It was time for her to take the last step in her conversion to Judaism, and I had the privilege of walking into the Gulf of Mexico with her while she prepared to submerge three times.

The Gulf is a beautiful place to use as a mikvah. It is living waters, mayim chayyim, as required of a mikvah, but instead of being surrounded by the walls of a building we were surrounded by sand and sky, white clouds and soft breezes.  The waves were almost nonexistent, and the water clear.

She slipped out of her bathing suit and handed it to me, and ducked under the water three times, making sure to remain fully surrounded by water for a few seconds each time. After the third dunk she put her suit back on, but before we turned back to shore I put my hands on her shoulders and chanted the Priestly blessing.

And that’s when we soared. She closed her eyes; I closed mine; and for a moment we weren’t in the water, we weren’t anywhere except in the sounds of the prayer, lifting us, surrounding us, cradling us, just as the mayim chayyim had done for her moments ago.

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, is about separation and isolation. It teaches that the priests were deliberately separated from everyone else. They couldn’t go to family funerals. Couldn’t marry whomever they wanted. They had to be perfect, just like the animals they sacrificed. Their job was to remain separate from the people they served.

The goal was to maintain their holiness. And holiness involves separation. True, yet to remain separate at all times isn’t healthy for anyone. We learned that all too well this past year.

Today, Jewish clergy live within the community, share the ups and downs of life along with the people we serve. We aren’t perfect and – thank goodness – aren’t expected to be. We are simply expected to be present and to listen; to teach and to learn; to lead and to stand beside those whom we lead.

The result? Certainly not the veneration bestowed on the priests, or an air of holiness. Instead, something much better. We have the chance to share our lives with other Jews and, every once in a while if we are very, very lucky, to soar to places unknown.

Lido Key Beach