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This week I traveled to Denver to attend a conference of rabbis and cantors, and to watch ten new rabbis and cantors receive ordination, called smicha in Hebrew. 

The word smicha means “to rely on.” When used in relation to Jewish ordination, it means leaning on the hands of those who taught you. During the ceremony the ordinees’ teachers and rabbis stood behind them, symbolically holding them up, as they did throughout the long years of teaching and studying together.

The ordinations took place days before Jewish communities around the world began to read the book of Exodus. In Hebrew, the book is called Shemot, Names. It is a remarkable introduction to people in the Torah who are worthy of studying and emulating.

In the Torah portion, we met several women who saw injustice and used their hands to save lives. First Shifrah and Puah, the midwives who refused to follow Pharaoh’s order to kill newborn boys. Then we met Miriam, who rescued her brother Moses by placing him in a basket on the river, and followed the flowing river until her brother landed at the feet of Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him.

Later in the Torah portion a grown Moses saw a bush that burned but was not consumed. He went to explore and had a spiritual experience, speaking with the Divine, learning God’s name and God’s plan for him.

This weekend we will honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a man who also was a see-er, whose words and actions held up an entire generation of Blacks, and whose example continues to be a shining light to us all.

Dr. King reminded us, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

On a much smaller scale, yet very significant to me, this weekend my congregation will honor me as I retire from serving as their rabbi. I hope that in my own small way I too have been a light, have seen their needs, and have touched the lives of those who turned to me for spiritual leadership, for consolation in times of grief and friendship in times of joy.

Like the women of the Exodus, like Moses and Dr. King, and like you and me, each person’s task is to see with open eyes and serve with open hands.

Our eyes. Our hands. That’s how we heal the world.