First, today’s lesson in Canadian culture:
Sports reporter on 680 AM, talking about last night’s unusual confluence of late-game wins by both the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays – “I’ve been broadcasting sports since the Diefenderfer administration, and I’ve never seen this.” Okay, maybe it wasn’t Diefenderfer, but it was something like that. Add this to the list of Canadian politicians I’ve never, ever heard of. They say a startling number of Oklahoma students don't know George Washington was our first president, but I'd wager Diefenderfer ranks even lower than John Tyler.
(WikiUpdate: John Diefenbaker was prime minister in the early 1960’s. Apparently he was also known as The Leader, which reminds me of this comic book villain, and The Dief, which reminds me of, well, nothing.)
But to the more serious point at hand: I mentioned in my previous post that my Rosh haShanah davening had one serious ‘glitch.’ I’ve been mulling that problem for the past few days, and talking to a few shul rabbi friends about it.
When I was a shul rabbi, despite all of the difficulties of concentrating on Rosh haShanah/Yom Kippur davening while being responsible for the shul, and despite the challenge of contemplating, and davening for, so many people’s needs, I always felt - mostly subconsciously - that I had an ace in the hole. I had a claim I could make that would win the day, despite my sins and flaws.
It’s arrogant, and I know that, but I felt that I could stand before Gd and say, “I give all of my time and energy to chesed. I get up in the middle of the night to go to the hospital, I stay up late preparing classes, I go way out of my comfort zone to reach people and help them. I know I am far from perfect, I know I am far from where I should be, but at least I have this merit, and in that merit please help these people, please help me, please forgive me... and besides, I am needed for all of these people...” It was subconscious, but now I see clearly that it underlay my entire approach to Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur.
And now, I’ve lost that.
Certainly, I am spending all of my time on עבודת ה', serving Gd by learning and writing and teaching, but it feels more self-centered and less necessary for society:
• Some of that is because of society’s value system, which recognizes service of others over personal growth.
• Some of it is a “Who moved my cheese” phenomenon, where my success and sense of worth for the past dozen years was defined by how many people I helped, not by how much personal learning I did. I imagine people who retire, or change professions, or have their kids graduate/marry/move endure similar challenges.
• Some of it is that many of my classes here are more technical, like Minchat Chinuch, and are taught to people who are advanced enough to do their own learning. There isn’t that same feeling of תורת חסד.
• And some of it is the fact that I know that there are many great teachers in Toronto, even if I have some unique element in what I do. It’s not like Allentown, where the rabbi is the source for so much, where that which the rabbi does not do will simply not be done.
I shouldn’t overstate; I know that what I am doing here is good, is helping people, and is even important. I enjoy what I am doing; it’s a wonderful challenge and it is a worthwhile enterprise. And Gd knows I’m not slacking off.
But I’m adjusting to a different system of work, a different benchmark for success, a different scale for valuing my impact. I suppose that the self-evaluation process of Elul and Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur will just be part of that adjustment.
Therapydoc, if you're reading, I'd love to hear your take.