When I announced to friends, family and colleagues that I would be the new rabbi at Temple Israel, they all responded with the traditional Jewish exclamation: mazel tov! As someone who loves the Hebrew language and, in particular, the nuances of Hebrew, I could not imagine a more appropriate phrase being used. There is, of course, the traditional understanding of the phrase, mazel tov, a form of congratulations said when one accomplishes a goal, or in times of celebration such as birthdays or anniversaries. But there is another meaning to mazel tov, and one which I find particularly beautiful and, in this moment, most fitting.
When someone offers you mazel tov, they are literally telling you “good luck,” which shows that Jewish tradition not only celebrates the present but also provides hope for the future. In accepting a new rabbinic position, celebrating the moment and hoping good thoughts for the future is always a wonderful sentiment. But there is more. The word Mazel in Hebrew is spelled “mem,” “zayin,” lamed,” and within each letter is a special meaning. The mem of mazel stands for makom translated as “place;” the zayin stands for z’man, “time”; and the lamed stands for la’asot, “deed” or “action”. In other words, when one wishes you mazel tov, they are wishing that you be in the right place, at the right time, taking the right action. I have been reminded of this understanding quite a bit in my five days since moving to West Lafayette.
It’s become apparent that this area doesn’t see a lot of transplants from the Virgin Islands. In addition to seeing more than my fair share of motorists taking pictures of our Virgin Islands license plates, my family and I have also been met with wide eyes when we explain that we have just moved here from St. Thomas. “But why?” is almost always the response; or, on occasion, “You do know it snows here, right?” In these moments, it can be hard for my wife and I to explain just why we are so unbelievably excited to be here. Sure, we could talk about your grocery store prices (Barrie still comes back from the grocery store each day squealing with delight about milk only being $2.50-for organic-instead of $12) or the fact that you have garbage pick-up and mail delivery and Amazon prime, but in truth, it is so much more than that. It’s mazel.
For me (and for my family) West Lafayette, and Temple Israel more specifically, represent the right place at the right time for the right action. I knew this from the first moment when Alan Wood picked me up from a hotel in Indianapolis to begin the interview process, I knew it when I sat down with your board president, Mike Bauer, for breakfast at Christos, and I knew it when I had the incredible opportunity to meet so many of you, and teach you a version of barchu that is incredibly meaningful to me (and that I look forward to sharing with you again at Shabbat services this Friday). And I know it now, as I make this rabbi’s office not just mine, but ours. As I envision families meeting with me, and getting to know me, while your little ones play with toys in the kid’s corner. As I think about answering your questions about the origins of the different Hebrew art on my walls, or as I imagine discussing Torah, Talmud, or, because I know this will eventually happen, the Purdue football game I didn’t watch because I was busy leading services.
Indeed, the love I felt for the Temple Israel community from the very beginning, and that has only grown since arriving here full time, has meant that being offered a position as your rabbi was indeed a mazel tov moment, but it is now, as I sit in the rabbi’s office, that the real mazel tov moment begins. And this moment isn’t just my moment-it’s our moment. As a congregation, as a community, we find ourselves in a new place, in a new time, with innumerable actions before us. And, because mazel tov isn’t necessarily about a new time or place or action but rather the right time or place or action, and because I am a rabbi and I just can’t help myself, consider making one of your mazel moments Shabbat services this Friday night at 6:30, where we will bring in KabbalatShabbat with music and prayer as we as a community wish mazel tov to each other.