BETHANY, W.Va. – During Bethany College’s annual baccalaureate service, the rabbi of Temple Shalom in Wheeling, W.Va., encouraged graduates to be active participants in their own lives.

Rabbi Joshua LiefIn his video address released Friday, Rabbi Joshua Lief borrowed the words of Rabbi Yose ben Yochanan, a sage from 2200 BCE who is credited with saying, “Let the poor be members of your household.”

Bethany, which means “house of the poor” in Hebrew, is Yose ben Yochanan’s words come to life and has served as a sanctuary for its students during their time of study, Lief said.

“Years ago, you came to college bereft of the knowledge you have now achieved,” Lief said. “You were poor, but now you are rich. What will you do with your newfound riches? Will you hoard them for yourself and keep them locked away in your own sanctuary like a vault for the rest of your life? I hope not. I hope Rabbi Yose ben Yochanan’s words will speak to you. Let your doors be open wide, not only to welcome in those in need of sanctuary but to let yourself out.”

For some, graduation, coupled with the end of a COVID-19 quarantine, will come too soon, Lief said.

With that in mind, the rabbi used the images on his “favorite bow tie” as a metaphor for life. The tie shows a rabbit with blue stars circling its head and a golf ball and golf hole nearby. The rabbit, Lief explained sought sanctuary in the golf hole.

“Sometimes we feel like the bunny rabbit,” Lief said. “We were looking for a place to hide, we were looking for a place to feel safe, and BANG, everything from the world comes and hits us over the head – injustice, unfairness, challenges beyond our capacity. Life is hard. Like the bunny rabbit, our heads are spinning with little blue stars, because everyone is bumping into us.”

But there is more to the metaphor, Lief explained. There is also the golf ball, which unintentionally struck the rabbit – much like people who injure one another through carelessness, thoughtlessness, and selfishness.

“That’s not really the truth, either,” Leif said. “We’re not the bunny rabbit and we’re not the golf ball; we’re the unseen golfer. … We’re the person with the golf club in our hands, acting on the world, sending the golf ball that is our words and actions out there into the void, hoping that they make it into the hole successfully, hoping that they avoid bumping into and hurting anyone else. We are not passive recipients of what the world brings our way. We are active participants in affecting our world for better or for worse.”

As the graduates prepare to leave the sanctuary that Bethany has provided, it is important for them to keep in mind that their actions will make a difference, one way or another, Leif said.

“You will need to go out into a world that is often harsh and unkind, a world that is more often broken than healed, and you will have a golf club in your hands and a ball in your pocket,” Lief said. “Tee it up and let it fly, but don’t do so carelessly. Don’t do so thoughtlessly. Do so with purpose. Do so with intentionality. Do so with planning and do so with meaning. You are the main driver of your own life. Therefore, choose your path and drive it well.”

Lief’s video release Friday continued Bethany College’s tradition of a baccalaureate even as COVID-19 and resulting social distancing measures forced the college to look for alternative means of doing so.

“Thank you all for your flexibility as we work to celebrate the class of 2020 with a virtual graduation ceremony,” Rodenberg said in her opening remarks. “Our time together today is a remarkable testament to the desire of everyone in the Bethany community and outside of if it to honor our graduates during a time of unprecedented challenge that has required extraordinary compassion, strength, and perseverance.”

Dr. Brooke Deal, T.W. Philips Chair of Religious Studies and associate professor, gave the invocation and Dr. Holly Hillgardner, Perry and Aleece Gresham Chair of Humanities and associate professor of religious studies, gave the benediction.


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.