Rabbi Benjamin Shull
It’s bashert!... It’s meant to be… It’s God’s will. At one time or another, we’ve all had this feeling, and perhaps expressed this sentiment, usually regarding something good in our lives. I’ve had an “it’s bashert” experience myself over the past year.
Last October, I was looking through The Jewish News of Sarasota-Manatee (on-line edition) while living in Rockville Maryland. I was scanning the paper for possible work in the Jewish community. My wife and I were planning on moving to the Venice area sometime in the Spring and I thought there just might be an opening. Well, “as luck would have it”, I found an ad placed by the Jewish Congregation of Venice, announcing that the congregation was seeking a new rabbi.
Hmmm… I considered for a moment “my good fortune”. The Jewish Congregation of Venice was the reason that we were moving to Venice Florida. Exactly twenty years ago, I served as the High Holy Day rabbi for the Jewish Congregation of Venice. My wife and I had such a wonderful time with the congregation and in the area that we vowed that one day, we would return to Florida (we left Tampa in the spring of 2000) and settle in Venice. So, I applied for the job and, “fortunately”, was chosen to be the JCV’s next rabbi. I have “been on a roll” because we have been warmly welcomed and just love living this wonderful corner of the world.
As I have told this story to my congregants and others, many have said, “It must be bashert”. Admittedly, I have mulled this over in my head more than a few times. Was my becoming the rabbi of the Jewish Congregation of Venice part of my destiny? Perhaps, “luck” and “good fortune” and “roll of the dice” had nothing to do with it! Is being in Venice at the JCV part of “God’s vast eternal plan”, as Tevye put it in “If I Were a Rich Man!”.
Well, I’d like to think so but first let’s consider what the great rabbis of the past had to say about “bashert”, deciphering God’s will in regard to our personal lives. (Bashert, of course, is also used in regard to one’s soulmate).
This issue of God’s will in the life of every individual has a name in Hebrew, it’s call “hashgacha pratit” or God’s individual oversight. It should be no surprise that, in regards to this issue, there are at least two major schools of thought. The more rationalist sages believed that God set the world into motion with certain laws, i.e., cause and effect and, though God metes out reward and punishment for one’s deeds, the fate of every individual is mostly subject to their choices and, for Maimonides, the development of the mind. The more mystical sages believed that God is directly involved with the destiny of every living thing and, though a certain sense of order can be observed, it is ultimately an illusion.
Realistically, this rather heady topic of Jewish thought cannot be given due justice in a brief article. As our sages said, “Tzarich ee’yoon”/ this necessitates more in depth study. Certainly, though, it’s an important matter to consider during this time of High Holy Days, the Yamim Noraim.
“Who shall live and who shall die? …Who shall be taken down and who shall be lifted up…?, we ponder during our time in synagogue. And the wise response, “But repentance, prayer, and deeds of kindness can help us to transcend the severity of the decree.” I love this prayer, the Unetaneh Tokef, because it conveys a deeply felt sense of paradox. In one breath, the author cries out in anguish to God, the One who hold our fate, and with a second breath, the author confidently declares that we have the power to shape our destiny as well. Using a wonderful sailing metaphor, I believe the author is saying “We cannot control the winds, but we can adjust the sails.”
And so… the winds (God) have brought me the great blessing of coming to serve the Jewish Congregation of Venice. For that I am grateful. This is a wonderful community in beautiful part of the world. From this point on, I set my sails on the best course and hope for the best.
Rabbi Ben Shull
Rabbi Benjamin Shull