Blessing for our Grads on Parashat Shemini

Tonight’s Parsha is Shemini, which means eighth in Hebrew. In this text the eight refers to the eighth day of building and using the Mishkan, the mobile tabernacle that the Jews built while they wandered in the desert. For seven days Moses built the tabernacle and at the end of each day, he folded it up and put it away, but the eighth day was the first day that mishkan stayed built, the first day that Aaron, the High Priest, took over the priestly duties, and the first day that fire from the heavens came down to consume the burnt offerings Aaron prepared.

The rabbis interpret the importance of the 8th day as the day of the miracle [(Talmud, Erchin 13b) that “the lyre of Moshiach has eight strings.”]. For seven days Gd made nature and order of the world, for seven days Moses built the mishkan, but on the seventh day something different happened. And that different thing, that interruption of what had gone on before was the entry of the divine into the affairs of mortal men, women and children.

And similarly, you have spent 3, 4 or 5 years of college, or 16 years if you count grades 1-12, or 19 years if you go all the way back to preschool and daycare. This all represents the first 7 days of our parsha, the expected, the slow and steady work of preparing yourself, your mind, your being for the miraculous. Preparing yourselves for the possibility of something completely different, surprising, perhaps even disruptive.

At FSU you have chosen your classes with care. You paid special attention to which clubs, sororities or fraternities you would give your time. Which social justice projects resonated with you. Which extracurricular learning opportunities leapt out at you. Some of these you took advantage of, and some you let go by, saving that particular opportunity or learning for the future, for another time.

You have chosen your friends with care, your spring breaks, you took some opportunities to go home and some you passed up on. And of course, your experience was radically changed by a deadly and terrifying virus that grips the whole world in a panic we have yet to escape from.

These, my friends, were the first seven days, the time of setting the groundwork, preparing for the completely unknown, the unexpected, the “what’s next.” Coincidentally, there are now precisely 8 days until the first FSU graduation ceremony, and– like the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, that Jews traditionally devote to reflecting on the past year and committing themselves to growth in the next year– I invite you all to treat the next 7 days as a moment of Havdalah. A time to draw a distinction between what has happened in your life so far, and to create a space, an opening for the next phase of your life to pour in, like a blessing. Each havdalah, each distinction and separation we make in our lives, allows us to become something new, we are no longer tied to who we were and what we wanted for the last 22 years. That was preparation. When we walk across the stage and accept our diploma, we will do so as new people, for whom the only limit is our openness to change.

Over the next week, find a few minutes to ask yourself not “what job do I want to have next month” but what person do I want to be when I look back five or ten years from now? What and who will I have allowed into my life. What causes will I stand up for, what friends, what strangers? Who will I care about and who will I allow to care for me? We are not limited to who we were in the past but we are informed by that person, so how will we improve the world in ways that younger version of ourselves never got to enjoy? How will we give back to our parents, friends, our communities? How do we make sure that paths we walked on are still clear and stable and sustaining for those who come after us?

You are our leaders now. We are your friends. We are your community, colleagues, well-wishers, cheerleaders, family. We will only be happy if you succeed and grow in ways we never did and reach heights we barely glimpsed. As you needed us in the past, we need you in the future. Do the work, prepare the path, but don’t forget to leave space for the divine interruption.

Mazal tov! We are so proud and can’t wait to see what you do next.