Monday, March 23, 2009

I won't miss the parsley

[The latest Kosher Cooking Carnival is here!]

I know I will miss many, many aspects of the shul rabbinate.

I’m having a hard time mentally separating from some of the responsibilities of my Rabbi life; I love what I do.

More, saying ‘Goodbye’ to so many good friends is hard. (Yes, we’ll keep in touch, but Facebook etc are not the same.)

Also, to be frank, much of my sense of self-worth is tied into the things I do, particularly the pastoral role. I expect I will continue to be involved in chesed, but it will not be with the intensity of a shul rabbi. So leaving the shul rabbinate is difficult.

Still, there are many roles, great and small, that I will not miss.

The ‘great’ items include Yamim Noraim, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. I have never had the experience of davening in a shul like any other mispallel (congregant) on those days – I went straight from yeshiva into the rabbinate. I wonder what it’s like to simply come to shul to daven, without worrying about leining, shofar, speaking and inspiring people, the pesichos, the gabboim, the air conditioning and the lights timers, etc.

Another of the ‘great’ items is the psak (legal authority) involved in running a community. Knowing that everyone’s kitchens, everyone’s Shabbat-carrying, everyone’s taharat hamishpachah (family purity) depends on my attention to halachic detail weighs heavily on my shoulders.

A third ‘great’ item is the derashah responsibility. I love feeling that I’ve completed a solid dvar torah that has a good message, that is well-written, that has a good chance of inspiring people - but I have a hard time with the pressure of doing that week-in, week-out. Thursday afternoons are very tough.

On the other hand, those great responsibilities come with great satisfaction and fulfillment, and I know I’ve grown from them.

But then there are the smaller matters, day-to-day things which I will be glad to leave to someone else’s neuroses. Examples:
• Making sure the lighting timers and A/C are set for Shabbat and Yom Tov
• Sending the landscapers a schedule of which days they shouldn’t come – and making sure they stick to it
• Notifying custodians of dead light bulbs, or changing them myself; ditto for clocks with dead batteries
• Bug-checking the kiddush parsley and strawberries
• Unlocking the Aron Kodesh for Shabbat, and rolling the Sifrei Torah to the right place
• Ensuring there’s a minyan twice each day
• Fielding complaints about seating for Yamim Noraim
• Making sure the shul is locked/alarmed each night
• Correcting chazanim and baalei keriah
• Making sure the custodian orders Shabbat toilet paper
• Setting up zmanim (times) for davening, etc.
• Dealing with supermarket bakery personnel who once violated the kashrut supervision rules and now won’t look me in the eye
And so on.

Not all shul rabbis need to do all of these things – shuls often assign house committees and gabbaim to manage some of these items – but all shul rabbis have some version of this list. (Go ahead, give your rabbi a hug and tell him you know what he handles every day.)

So the next time I question my decision, I’ll just look back at that list. I’ll miss a lot of the responsibilities, I’ll miss the people, but I won’t miss the parsley.


  1. Re: "pastoral role"
    I believe that if we have certain 'skills' that Hashem has given us, regardless of our occupation things work out in a way that those 'skills' come to the surface.

  2. Wow - you needed an executive director. Very few of those things should be handled by the rabbi; no wonder you felt burnt out.

    Mazal tov on the news! Is Toronto weather much worse than Allentown?

    Also - parsley?? Who the heck is bringing parsley to the kiddush? And isn't there some other way they could find to torment you? The only time a rabbi should have to check the parsley is Pesach!

    Also, don't be so sure about the paskening - some of your students will probably look to you first for some answers. If it's not your thing (and we know you're a glutton for punishment), you need to make those expectations clear at the beginning.

  3. Neil-
    Could be, certainly.

    Weather - Much, much colder.
    Psak - I am a big believer in referring people to their pulpit rabbis for psak. It would be most inappropriate for me to offer direct halachic guidance.

  4. I wonder what it’s like to simply come to shul to daven, without worrying about leining, shofar, speaking and inspiring people, the pesichos, the gabboim, the air conditioning and the lights timers, etc.

    At my yeshiva I was the first high school student to be gabai in at least 8 years. After paying attention to details for one year (and it was only for aliyos during the week, kel molei, and finding someone to lain, which I could have done myself but wanted to involve the boys in) I never had a free davening again. Even davening in "not my" shul, what happens on ROsh chodesh when the chazan for musaf starts saying tisgadel before musaf? Or adds vechaparas pasha when it's not a leap year and forgets birkas kohanim (all in the same day!) and I'm the only one who caught all those mistakes????

  5. Too bad you never posted this before. Here's my list (in case I r"l have to be with someone in the hospital or out of town suddenly, I began this list). Maybe we can form Rabbis Anonymous and get a comprehensive list together.


    Pesach - get out hagaddas from office for shiur & shabbos hagodol mincha
    Sefiras Haomer charts
    put out machzorim
    take out toilet paper & paper towels, put in office
    clean the tablecloths
    Yizkor- timers & screw in all the bulbs; envelopes for appeal
    envelopes for appeal - update as necessary

    Mishmor- change timers so lights will be on all night
    Yizkor- timers & screw in all the bulbs; envelopes for appeal
    envelopes for appeal - update as necessary

    Tisha B’Av
    get Kinnos & make sure we have enough copies of Holocaust Kinnot

    week before - make sure paroches & covers are clean or do they need cleaning
    Check with Lulav vendor for Esrog Prices
    NIGHT OF: change paroches, Torah mantels & Bima & Shtender covers

    have Janitor buff floors & clean windows & Dust
    Page turners
    replace burned out light bulbs
    Pesichas Ha’Aron lists
    put out Machzorim (little “Machzor signs on shelves)
    Fax schedule to Police Dept.
    Get Security Guards
    Get Babysitters
    envelopes for appeal - update as necessary

  6. I’ve completed a solid dvar torah that has a good message, that is well-written

    You write out the whole thing every week???????

    I know the main questions, answers, and points I want to make, but don't know how I'll deliver it exactly until I deliver it (add a little story, decide which angle to begin, etc.). A little card with the main points in case I forget is helpful, but not 100% crucial.

  7. Talmid-
    1. I have lists like that as well, but I tend to be more elaborate with them. I like checking things off the list. My Yamim Noraim/Succos list is two pages long.

    2. I write out the derashah completely, because it helps me to make sure that A leads to B leads to C, and it helps me avoid cliche and poor writing. I also like the comfort of having a text in front of me when I speak (although only for derashot, never for shiurim).

  8. R' MD Tendler said in his Azkara for the Rav that when he accepted his first shteller, the Rav told him three things: buy a midrash rabbah, never buy a sermon manual, and don't skip agadata.

    My guide to making a real drash was definitely the 5 addresses of the Rav, specifically the first drasha about Yosef & the brothers.

    Whether a hesped, an aufruf/sheva brachos or regular shabbos, I feel having everything written out detracts (but for a Bar Mitzvah, simplicity is key, in my opinion). In a sense, I'm not "bringing the Torah down" if I worked the entire speech out and am just reading off a paper.

  9. Talmid-
    I suppose that in this case, איש הישר בעיניו יעשה is an acceptable approach...