The Simcha of Smicha

by Rabbi Leora Abelson

Ordination weekend began at the mikveh.

This felt right for our class, which had marked the beginning of each year of rabbinical school with a ritual at Crystal Lake. We know that the mere presence of water can be grounding and heart-opening.

We gathered early Friday morning. Our group of eleven had struggled all year to find times when we could all be together; scheduling even an hour-long meeting proved impossible most of the time, so it felt like a small miracle that we were all dedicated to being present with each other for the entire morning.

We each shared a bit about what was on our hearts that morning. I told my classmates that being with them was comforting and familiar, and what I anticipated would be the last familiar part of the weekend. With family and friends coming from near and far, a huge Shabbat celebration, and the graduation and ordination ceremonies on Sunday, I didn’t know what to expect from the weekend. But being with my beloved classmates in the warm and peaceful atmosphere of Mayyim Hayyim, I felt present and ready. And over the next several hours, as we sang each other through our immersions, I was able to access a wide spectrum of emotions about becoming a rabbi and the imminent ordination ceremony.

Our class has always loved to sing together. The connection and cohesion we experience while singing has helped us through difficult conversations, frustration, and disappointment. Grappling with ancient texts in order to find our way as 21st century spiritual leaders surfaced tremendous differences between us, and singing together held us amidst that difference. As the sun poured in from above, we sat or stood or paced in that beautiful foyer at Mayyim Hayyim, the space between the two breichot (pools), and offered up our song.

When it was my turn to immerse, I asked my first friend in rabbinical school to witness me. We were together from the beginning: learning, challenging, holding and supporting, and most importantly, witnessing one another. And after six years of accumulating knowledge and experience, gathering our rabbinic toolkit, and building up our sense of rabbinic authority, we each had a moment to stand on the edge of the mikveh naked, cleansed, with everything sloughed off and stripped away – just our humble selves, anchored by the presence of a beloved friend.

Rabbinic tradition teaches that just as God fills the whole world, the soul fills the whole body. And just as God dwells in the innermost part of the universe, the soul dwells in the innermost part of the body (Berakhot 10a). As I prepared for the mikveh, I felt my soul in the whole of my body. And as I entered the water, vulnerable and whole, I felt it come into alignment with the divinity that fills the universe.

As my class closed our mikveh ritual by offering one another blessings, my gratitude and attention for each of my classmates flowed directly from the living waters of the mikveh. And the feeling of connection, depth, and alignment stayed with me all weekend. It helped me feel centered and strong. It allowed me both to give and receive. And it kept me open to the astounding flow of blessing and love.

I am so grateful that Mayyim Hayyim offered my class, with our beautiful array of practices, genders, experiences with tevilah (immersion), and comfort levels, the opportunity to receive the blessing of the mikveh together.

Rabbi Leora Abelson was ordained as a rabbi by Hebrew College Rabbinical School in June 2017. Leora serves as the rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Attleboro, MA. Leora is passionate about queer embodied theology and making the ancient wisdom of the Jewish tradition accessible to social movements and anyone building a just and peaceful world.

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