[This week's Haveil Havalim is here!]
This is one of those posts that will make some of my friends say, "Torczyner, why are you embarrassing yourself in front of millions?" To which I will reply, "Because someone else may need this lesson, too."
A midrash to Parshat Lech Lecha highlights one of the difficulties Avraham and Sarah faced when they left their homeland to enter a new place: They lost their identity as ideologues, as philanthropists, as leaders.
Similarly, a gemara (Rosh HaShanah 16b) enumerates ways to earn atonement, and one of them is שינוי מקום, to change one’s location, to experience exile, so that one enters a new place and fully sheds his old identity (per the Rambam's explanation in Hilchot Teshuvah 2:4 - שגורמת לו להיכנע ולהיות עניו ושפל רוח).
I never really understood what that meant; I never comprehended what it meant to enter a new location and be a complete unknown. I now have some understanding of the exile experience, and of the humbling that comes with it. [Of course, I'm not in exile; I chose this option, and I am grateful for the opportunity. I use the term "exile" here as the Rambam did, to connote re-location to a place where one has none of his old associations.]
During the 2+ weeks since our beit midrash began operation in Toronto, I’ve had several occasions on which someone came into the beit midrash and mistook me for an avrech (one of the younger rabbinical students who participate in our program). One Shabbos someone asked if I might be interested in an assistant rabbi position in a shul. One Sunday morning, someone in shul turned to me and asked, “And who is this boychik?”
I shouldn't be surprised. Because of the nature of my position in the beit midrash – my chief responsibilities are to mentor avrechim and to give shiurim in the broader community – most of my shiurim so far have taken place away from the eyes of the local community. Also, thank Gd, I still look a little young (very little, but I guess it's there).
I shouldn't take offense, either; I’ve never introduced myself by title, and I never particularly cared whether people knew about me.
And yet, to my considerable surprise, these underestimations did bother me in the beginning, the first few times these conversations happened. To my great surprise, I discovered that I was a little too proud of the things I’ve done. I guess I did start to take myself a little too seriously. To have someone assume I should be an assistant was jarring, and, yes, a little insulting.
Looks like I really did need some humbling, an ice-water reality check.
Well, mission accomplished; it took a few days, but I’m cured. I just had to go through the experience a couple of times before I could absorb the lesson. At this point, it’s just amusing to realize that I was once annoyed by it.
Now, whenever I start to take myself too seriously, I’ll have those conversations to remember, to put me back in my place.