In 1948, a small Jewish synagogue in New Jersey took as its rabbi a young man who was still a student. Across religions this is not uncommon, and in the right situation a patient and mature congregation can help such a student find his or her ministerial legs. This synagogue provided exactly that, and the young rabbinical pupil they took in – Rabbi Albert Lewis – provided so much more.
Better known by his congregants as “The Reb,” Lewis would remain at that synagogue for the remainder of his enduring and superior career. And while he would become a world renown writer, educator, spiritual leader, and cohesive force of Conservative Judaism, at home he forever remained the warm, supportive, approachable shepherd of New Jersey’s Temple Beth Sholom.
I utterly love a story he told on a Shabbat almost fifty years ago. “A man seeks employment on a farm,” Lewis begins, “so he hands a letter of recommendation to his prospective employer. It reads simply, ‘He sleeps in the storm.’” The farmer is completely befuddled by such a recommendation.
But being desperate for help, and having few other prospects, he hires the man. The weeks pass, uneventfully, until late one night a terrible storm strikes the farm with driving rain, bolts of lightning, and fierce winds. The farmer leaps from his bed afraid that his farm will be shredded if not destroyed. He shouts to his newly hired worker, but the man is sound asleep in his bed, unbothered by the tempest outside.
So, the farmer throws on his raincoat and launches into the stormy night alone to secure his livestock and perishables. When he arrives at the barn, to his amazement, the animals are safe and sound behind locked gates with plenty of feed. All the wheat and hay has been tightly bound and wrapped in tarpaulins.
The doors to the silo are chained securely, so his grain is dry. The farmer races back home, cold and wet, but so very pleased. Before going back to bed, he pauses to look in on his hired hand, snoring steadily. Then he understood. “He sleeps in the storm.”
Rabbi Lewis’ story is spiritual direction across multiple fronts, for the time to take care of what must be taken care of – be it a marriage, our children, a career, or anything of real value – is not when the winds are already howling at the door and streaks of lightning are already bouncing above our heads. By then it is too late, and we are left only with fragments of what can be salvaged.
Storms are certain to come – sudden, destructive, terrifying storms – and there is nothing you or anyone else can do to stop them. But if we “tend to the things that are important in life, if we are right with those we love and behave in line with our faith,” as Lewis says, “we will never wallow in the agony of ‘I could have, I should have.’ We can sleep in the storm.”