When can I run and play with the real rabbits?
This is the question of the Velveteen Rabbit, from the children’s story of the same name. It’s such a heartbreaking story, I can’t read it without crying, and I know that’s true for many of us.
The story of loss, pain and longing, from the point of view of the child and the toy, is so sad. But it also, in the sadness, teaches about the realness of the soul, and love which is stronger than death.
This is a story which we tell in different ways, over and over, because all of us are at one time or another, are behind a window, filled with an aching longing to be “real,” authentic, for the deepest truth of ourselves to be manifest in the world without shame or fear.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, a wonderful rabbi from the Renewal movement, titled her blog “Velveteen Rabbi,” when she first began it during Rabbinical school. She wondered when she would ever feel “real,” like a “real Rabbi.” And even after she received her s’michah, ordination, she left the title as it was, to reflect that ongoing, deep desire for authenticity that is endemic to all of us.
We say in our Ahavah Raba prayer in the Shacharit service:
Light up our eyes with your Torah, and let our hearts cling to your Mitzvot, and unite our hearts to love and revere your name, that we shall never depart from it. We shall not be ashamed, and we shall not be embarrassed.
These words remind us that we all feel our inadequacies, over and over, and that this most certainly extends to our experience of Jewish worship and learning. We never ever know as much as we need. We don’t read Hebrew or we aren’t familiar with the prayer book or we don’t know the melody.
We are all learning, all the time. We are all growing, constantly drawing near to our truest, most holy selves. We are all on the journey. When we realize this, we can start to forgive ourselves for not meeting an impossible standard, and to stop “gatekeeping” ourselves about access to Jewish life and prayer. We are all walking in the wilderness, b’midbar, together. Rabbis and students, young and old, post grad and kindergarten. Together. You come too.
May the Holy One of Blessing be the shelter we all share, may we lift each other up in all the ways we need, and may we never be ashamed of where and who we are.