As age 50 looms, is it time for a smichah or a Porsche

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CHICAGO — A rare flash of insight jolted me the other morning, as my mind bobbed up from sleep to consciousness like a cork held underwater, then suddenly let free.

"Just two short years, buddy, and you'll be 50," my right brain was taunting his comrade on the left. "Isn't it about time you grew up?"

"Your vessel is aging, your spirit is growing weary. It's your last chance to get real and make your mark," my yin was hectoring my yang.

"Time to buy a red sports car. Time to go Bungee-jumping, or take up some other middle-aged male pursuit," my yetzer ha'ra (evil inclination) intoned.

"No way," my yetzer ha'tov (good inclination) retorted. "You have no time to fritter away in feckless frivolity. Get serious. Do something for a change to help your fellow human beings. Think about becoming…a rabbi."

"A what?" my ego stammered as I lay there on the bed, sweat now breaking across my brow.

"You heard him," my neshamah (soul) chimed in. "The guy wants to be a rabbi."

Visions of kvelling bubbes danced in my head. (For those who are Yiddishly challenged, a kvelling bubbe is a grandma who lavishes pride on her grandkids like shmearing shmaltz on a matzah.)

"A rabbi!" I could hear my own bubbe of blessed memory declare with awe.

"God should just bless him."

"Not so fast, Granny," my id interrupted. "There's a day trader in there somewhere, if I could just get him off this Jewish shtick."

Thank God I was waking up, and soon the whole cacophony would fade under the din of a grande no-foam skim latte-induced caffeine buzz.

I don't know if you'd call this a midlife crisis or a midlife opportunity.

Life's developmental phases are kind of like a hammer, which you can use either to drive home a nail or to smash your thumb, depending on your aim and concentration.

Those of you far past 50 may chuckle at such infantile musings. Those of you under 30 must be thinking, "Don't kid yourself. Prime time's over."

Those rockin' with me in the same middle-aged boat catch my drift.

Aware of our mortality more than ever, we graying boomers are cautious enough to buckle up, diligent enough to buckle down, but way too self-absorbed to buckle under to the accelerating ebb of time without chasing at least one new dream.

But to crave a smichah (ordination) instead of a Porsche? Oy.

Blame it on the job.

When I started this gig seven years ago, I was just a normal guy with a background in writing and editing and a warm spot for Israel and the Jewish people. Since then I've had amazing experiences exploring everybody's Jewish identity — that's part of the job of a Jewish journalist — as well as my own. Participating in the Wexner Heritage Foundation's two-year Jewish studies program (which ends in August with a 10-day seminar in Israel) is the capstone of this journey that's taken me around the Jewish world, down Jewish history's memory lane and into our religion's spiritual heart.

Two years shy of 50, I know I won't live forever, but I imagine (and pray) that there are many more miles left on the odometer. What better way to spend them than to attach all that I've learned and experienced to the framework of my understanding about Judaism, and then find a way to transmit all that to those who are seeking, and to inspire those who feel a yawning void, to seek?

I want to convey my love of the Jewish people and of Judaism to those who have not experienced such love. I want to spend quality time discerning the purpose of Judaism and the mission of the Jewish people at the dawn of this new era, the era when the world struggles to become one. Isn't that what rabbis do, even more than Jewish journalists?

Call me crazy, but that's what's causing all the commotion when my mind bobs toward consciousness. Will I do it? Can I? I don't know. (To become a rabbi at my age we're talking nearly half a million bucks in opportunity cost alone.) What I do know is that joining the clamor of my internal voices is that of Rabbi Hillel, whose words surely haunt every middle-aged dreamer:

"If not now, when?" asked the sage. "If now, when?''