I grew up in Birmingham, Ala., a religious town. In my junior year of high school, something I had never expected started happening to my non-Jewish friends. They fell in love with their Christianity. They started reading the Bible. They would talk theology in the cafeteria. It was inspiring, and in a Jewish way, I began doing the same. I dusted off the Bible I had received as a bar mitzvah gift, and like my non-Jewish friends, read it cover to cover. The more engaged I became with my Judaism, the more I fell in love with it. By the time I was 17, I had set my sights on the rabbinate. In a way, my Southern Baptist friends turned me into a rabbi.
Truth be told, I already knew what being a rabbi meant. My father is a rabbi and recently celebrated his 20th year at our Birmingham congregation. My grandfather, of blessed memory, was a well-known rabbi as well. Though I rebelled against the rabbinate for many years, I absorbed how my father and grandfather loved what they did. I knew at an early age that the rabbinate was much more than leading services and delivering sermons. To be a rabbi meant lifelong learning, community organizing, teaching, social justice, outreach, counseling, lifecycle, hospital visits, and countless other things that bring sanctity and meaning to peoples’ lives. In the end, that is what their rabbinate, and mine, is about- helping to bring sanctity and meaning to peoples’ lives. To be in a career with this sacred mission at its center is one of greatest blessings of my life.
I believe that being rabbi is being a person of faith. I learned as a teenager in Alabama how faith is the core of our religious experience. I have learned from my Jewish tradition, however, that “faith,” is about much more than my faith in God. As a Jew and as a rabbi, faith means having faith in the people that God created. To me, faith means believing that each of us is created for a sacred purpose. Our Torah (the five Books of Moses) says it even better, “You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Faith, to me, is the belief that each of us leans toward holiness. My rabbinate, I hope, will be devoted to exploring what God’s sacred purpose for each of us might be.
I have come to learn that a blessed life is one dedicated to bringing blessing to others, and I can think of no life more blessed than this one that I have chosen. This past summer, I was ordained and installed as the newest rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation and had the joy of my father blessing me in the presence of my new community. I have been a rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation for nearly four months, and though I am still learning the ropes, I love what I do. Each day is as diverse and meaningful as the rabbinate I saw in my father and grandfather, and to begin my rabbinate in a warm and vibrant congregation like Washington Hebrew is an incredible gift.
Aaron Miller is an assistant rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation.
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