Monday, March 8, 2010

Yesterday's Chag haSemichah at YU

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here]

Thanks to the largesse of RIETS and the coordination of CJF, I was able to fly in for yesterday's Chag haSemikhah at YU.

I was able to witness more than 200 young men become rabbis; to participate in a gathering which hosted more inspirational talmidei chachamim than I can readily count; to celebrate with two members of our kollel, Netanel Javasky and Meir Lipschitz, as they became musmachim; to see the eager smiles on the faces of the men who will replace my many colleagues who have made aliyah; to meet many old friends with whom I've been in and out of contact over the past 13+ years, since receiving my own semichah.

A particular source of joy: Hearing that the majority of musmachim who will be 'practicing' will do so outside of the New York area.

It was exciting, watching these young rabbis embark on a life I began recently enough that I can still remember my frame of mind in those days. Not my chag hasemichah; I was fortunate to sit next to a friend yesterday who was able to remind me of what happened our chag, which is good, because I couldn't remember anything at all. But I remember what it felt like, being declared a rabbi, going to Pawtucket to serve a community, feeling entirely over my head in so many situations. To crib a line from R' Adir Posy's speech at the chag, I remember the first time they asked whether there was a Rabbi in the house, and the answer was “Yes, that's me.”

Part of me, as always, is an incorrigible curmudgeon, and wants to tell these young men that they have no clue what they're entering. The learning curve in those first few years is incredibly steep. I remember the great respect I felt for shul rabbis when I suddenly became one and realized just how much they do, and how little of it I had ever understood.

But they'll figure it out on their own, and when they do, they'll look back at their naïve younger selves much the way I look back at my own naïve younger self.

One of the speakers yesterday, I believe it was Rabbi Yona Reiss, cited the famous dictum, “הרבנות מקברת את בעליה,” “Authority buries its holders.” There is much, much truth in that line, which על פי פשוטו, in its straightforward sense, is a warning against taking positions of authority, the rabbinate included.

But as I listened to the speeches, I had another thought. All trades bury their holders, some sooner and some later; all livelihoods, all careers, take our life force as our investment. Stock trading buries its holders, middle management buries its holders, medicine buries its holders.

The question is not whether your career buries you, for all careers, in some sense, do. The question is what your career provides to take with you at that time. The rabbinate does not only take; it also gives. It does not only drain energy and strength; it also provides an opportunity to build a real, worthwhile life. It does not only demand; it also gives. Taking the line homiletically, הרבנות מקברת את בעליה, The rabbinate provides a proper burial for its holders.

And even taking the line literally: הרבנות מקברת את בעליה, but, in my opinion, what a way to go.


  1. I saw in the Chag HaSemicha publication the graph. It was quite interesting what areas of the rabbinate people were going into (as well as the large % of those outside the NY area).

    Not many going into kiruv.

  2. I didn't notice a graph; where was it? And don't we include the shul rabbinate and chinuch as kiruv?

  3. The publication had a pie chart on either page 2 or 3, upper right hand site of the page.

    Rabbanite and Chinuch were seperate categories.
    Personally, I agree with you depending on the shul and the shul. :)

  4. Neil-
    It's all kiruv to me, in every shul. But in terms of non-shul, non-school kiruv jobs, I think it's more about a lack of paying positions than a lack of interest.