Today was the day of The Last Derashah, my last Shabbat as rabbi here in Allentown.
I opted not to post that derashah on the blog, for two reasons:
1) It didn’t have that strong a dvar torah component, and
2) It was really more of a love letter to my shul and community, an intimacy meant for the people I’ve been with for the past eight years. This blog is great, and I feel an attachment to my readers, but that’s nothing like the intensity of rabbi/congregant, rabbi/colleague, rabbi/friend.
Now, in retrospect, I can add a third reason for not publishing today’s speech: It was entirely too self-referential.
I talked about friendships and relationships, about minyannaires and daf yomi, about accomplishments and projects left incomplete, about committees and advisors and presidents, and about my children (and, of course, my inestimable Rebbitzen). And a lot of the sentences, way too many of the sentences, began with the personal pronoun.
I. I. Me. I. I. Me. And so on.
It didn’t sound that bad when I prepared the derashah, but standing there delivering it – largely because I ad-libbed large sections on things that occurred to me as I was speaking, a practice I avoid like the proverbial plague in a normal derashah – it was just entirely too much about me, my experiences, my views, my disappointments, my friends, my my my my my. So that’s another reason to leave it off of this blog.
I wasn’t really trying to make a lot out of myself; the speech wasn’t about trying to grab the spotlight. But I worry that others might have seen it that way. It reminded me of the older yeshiva guy who took me aside during Simchat Torah hakafot twenty years ago and told me, “You don’t always need to be in the middle.” I wasn’t trying to be in the middle, I was just having fun – but it stung then, and it has stayed with me. Don’t let yourself appear to be hogging the spotlight.
This is one of the funny things about the rabbinate, though; a rabbi must be humble and cannot seek to appease his ego, but you can’t be an effective rabbi if you are afraid of the appearance of spotlight-hogging. I do believe that the best rabbi-ing is done behind the scenes, but you lead the community charge on certain issues, you teach classes, you are, like it or not, a דוגמא אישית (role model), and you get up and speak to a captive audience every week.
So perhaps people already thought I was egocentric, and today’s speech just burnished that reputation. Don’t know; it’s time to focus on the big move. And along those lines, here’s a paraphrase of a hope-oriented midrash I cited in closing, from Bereishit Rabbah 30:
Rabbi Shemuel [bar Nachmeni?] taught a lesson about five people from Tanach-
• Regarding Noach… we learn that even millstones were eroded in the water of the flood, but then it says, ‘These are the children of Noach who left the ark.’ How did they make it? ראה עולם חדש, they saw the possibility of a new world.
• Regarding Yosef it first said, ‘They tortured his foot in chains,’ but then it says, ‘And Yosef became the viceroy.’ How did he make it? ראה עולם חדש, he saw the possibility of a new world.
• Regarding Moshe, first he fled from before Paroh and then he drowned Paroh in the sea! How did he make it? ראה עולם חדש, he saw the possibility of a new world.
• Iyyov first said, ‘I spill my bile earthward,’ and then it says, ‘And Gd added double for Iyyov.’ How did he make it? ראה עולם חדש, he saw the possibility of a new world.
• Regarding Mordechai , at first he was destined for hanging, and then he hung those who would have hung him. How did he make it? ראה עולם חדש, he saw the possibility of a new world.
ראה עולם חדש, they saw the possibility of a new world. If I can envision a new world, I can make it through to the other side of anything.
(The new Haveil Havalim is here!)