A Farewell to Arms: A Tribute to Our Friend

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, April 14, 2023 / 23 Nisan 5783

Summary: This week, I say goodbye to our good friend, Robert Steele

Reading Time: Four minutes

Today is Robert Steele’s last day as our security guard, which has led me to meditate on the attention he has given us while watching over our security. He deserves our thanks and praise for how fully and sincerely he was engaged in his mission here. There are people who view their work as a job, leaving it behind them when they go home, but there are others who find a deep sense of purpose in their work. Robert was the latter type; we were so fortunate because of that commitment.

I want to recognize him and honor his contributions by doing what we Jews do, learning a bit in his honor about three words: the English word “attention,” its Hebrew equivalent, “sim lev (or less commonly noten da’at),” and the Hebrew word “shomer,” one who guards.

Attention and guarding stand out for the complex meanings they carry. If you are interested in etymology, “attention” is fascinating. Coming from the Latin, the “a” means toward, while the “ten” finds it most ancient source in a Proto-Indo-European root meaning to stretch. When we give someone or something our attention, we are stretching toward them. At the same time, the root “ten” is also the heart of the word tension. It takes effort to give others our attention, so it can literally draw us down.

The Hebrew equivalent presents this teaching more robustly. Sim lev or notein da’at means to give your heart, or even place your heart, or give over your mind. In this understanding, we need to bring our heart and mind to the table to give attention to another person or topic. It requires a type of engagement that is sacrificial in some manner.

Finally, shomer has an instructive breadth of meaning. Yes, it means to guard someone or something, but there is a secondary meaning, which is to tend to, watch over, or care for. One of Judaism’s earliest and best-known environmental midrashim imagines God and Adam Harishon, the first human, engaged in conversation after the Torah has spoken about how it will be Adam’s responsibility to guard the world. God took Adam around the Garden of Eden, pointing out its beauty, and said, “תן דעתך שלא תקלקל ותחריב את עולמי, שאם קלקלת אין מי שיתקן אחריך. Pay attention that you do not corrupt and destroy My world: if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you.”

So often, when we think about guarding, we consider what or who needs to be kept out. This is the strong arm of security. Yet the midrash reminds us that guarding also means tending, caring, and protecting what is inside the gates. Not only must we prevent damage from occurring, but we must also actively engage in strengthening and caring—proactive concern.

Robert has so deeply loved our community that he managed to exemplify all these different types of attention and guarding. Yes, he ensured that bad actors would never make it through our gates, but he understood that this was only the first part of his mission. He was proactive, reaching out for additional information about a program or event whenever he thought it would better help him perform his role. What mattered no less was the inward form of concern he showed to each of us.

Robert learned our names and our stories. He was always ready with a quick smile and genuine interest. He gave of his heart, mind, soul, and body to keep us safe and to ensure we felt known. All of that is true, and as we say during Pesach, dayenu, any of that would have been sufficient. Yet in addition to all of these forms of service, Robert loved us and our children; he found his community here. He had a Jewish mother, so reconnecting to his heritage here has been immensely important to him. I view him as a full member of our kehilla or congregation.

Although this next chapter of his life won’t find him at Neveh Shalom on a daily basis, I know he will periodically return to visit us. Given that, it doesn’t seem appropriate to say goodbye to him, for that feels far too final. Rather, let’s turn to one more word, l’hitraot. Robert, until we see you again!

Until we see you again, please know how much you have meant to all of us, and how we all wish you the best as you embark on a new phase in your life. It is said that when a righteous person leaves a place, oseh roshem, it leaves an impression; you have done that. Thank you for your attention.

With love,

Rav D and the CNS Kehillah

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. What are some unusual examples of people, objects, or animals that you have had to watch over, protect, or guard? How did that responsibility change you?
  2. Who were some important people who watched over you at different phases in your life? A mentor, a teacher, a family member, a friend? Share some stories about those different individuals.

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