It seems to me that rabbis are like sports coaches – they rarely leave at the right time, but instead go on and on until someone comes with a crowbar and forces them out of their chairs on the mizrach vant.
This isn’t true of all rabbis, of course. Some rabbis die in the pulpit. Some rabbis retire, due to burnout or age. Some rabbis break the communal heart by leaving on their own.
But a remarkably high percentage of rabbis, disproportionate when compared to other fields, leave by "mutual agreement" – not mutual meaning agreeing with him, but rather that the board and the congregation mutually agree that it’s time to run him out of town.
The topic is no longer as humorous to me as it once was, thanks to the experience of actually retiring and of seeing friends change pulpits themselves. But the analogy to a sports coach is, I think, apt.
It’s hard for a coach to leave when he’s on top - when the quality of the team, the bond between the coach and the players, and the coach’s love for the game convince him that next season could be as wonderful as, or more wonderful than, the past season. And the same is true for a rabbi: When you’re on top, it’s hard to leave.
But if a coach or rabbi can retire while still in love with his team/community, then as painful as it is to separate – and I know this from experience - it’s far better than the alternative.
I thought of that comparison this past week, when Bobby Cox coached his last regular season games in Atlanta. I’m not much of a baseball fan – the game is
Nicely done, Mr. Cox. כמוך ירבו בישראל.
Oh, and one more reason I love Coach Cox: His penchant for being tossed out of games. He holds the league record, having been ejected 158 times.
A few years back, Bobby Cox and one of his players were thrown out of a game, and the player asked him what to do. Coach Cox’s reply: ‘Go have a couple cold beers and get in the cold tub or something and relax. And then you’ll probably have to write a $500 check. Or you can do what I do, write a $10,000 one and tell them when it runs out, let me know.'
Gotta love it.