Thursday, August 11, 2011

Three lessons of the rabbinate

I wrote this on the plane en route to Calgary, my first-in-my-adult-life long-distance trip just to see what's beyond the horizon. The feeling as the plane took off was unbelievable; more on that another time, perhaps.

[Now, if only I had planned the trip with sufficient time to get rid of my Three Weeks beard before the flight… Got some funny looks, certainly.]

With two years complete in the kollel, and marking two years since I left the shul rabbinate, I've been thinking about "Role of the Rabbi" lessons I learned in shul life, which carry over to many other areas:

1. The relationship shouldn't be assumed
In a shul, the Rabbi has a certain communal standing, but that doesn't guarantee any sort of standing vis-à-vis the individual. Of course, some congregants naturally feel close to the Rabbi, but for most people the Rabbi must establish himself as a resource. You start with a blank slate (assuming an absence of baggage…), and there is no presumption of closeness or sympathy. Hopefully, over time and the course of many interactions, you gain legitimacy as both friend and leader.

2. It's the investment, not the result
I am, by nature, geared toward solutions. I like to find the answers to questions, and to me the gauge of success is the quality of your conclusion and the speed with which you brought it to fruition. But that's not the way it works in a shul; the point is not whether the Rabbi is an out-of-this-world genius who can solve problems (although that is important, let's not kid anyone), but whether he wants to sit with you, however long, sympathetically discussing the problem. It really can be better to schmooze for an hour and a half before coming around to the right answer, even if you had a feeling that was the right approach from the start.

3. Communities don't occur naturally
Just because people live in the same area doesn't mean they are a community; shuls, regardless of their size, consist of multiple mini-communities, including communities of just one person. The challenge is to find the common denominators, the threads which weave people together, and use them to draw individuals into collectives.

There's more, of course... for another time, Gd-willing.


  1. #3 is key. The success of some cities (Kansas City and Boca come to mind for different reasons) is the fact that they have a community feel.

    Sadly, when communities pull together these days, its' a result of a tragedy or crisis.

  2. I suggest that rabbis that are not sitting and learning most of the day are a source of darkness in Klal Israel.
    I base this these on the fact that
    I knew a few great people.
    One was Reb Shmuel Berenbaum. Another Rav Shick in Breslov. And there are a few other great people in Jerusalem like Rav Silverman and Rav Buso in Netivot.
    I don't know what made or makes these people different from the general orthodox rabbi. i assume first of all that it might be that any person in a position of authority that receives great respect and power as rabbis do in Israel are in danger of the dark side. So why these people were different I don't know. One thing i think you can see is they all have a common denominator of learning Torah with great devotion and perhaps even fanaticism. They are not particularly smart except Reb Shmuel (nor profess great moral values).
    It would be logical to conclude that what Klal Israel needs is not rabbis but people that sincerely learn Talmud--even if it is the context of a Kollel. And in fact there is some evidence of this because almost every horror that I have seen or heard about orthodox rabbis is almost universally not rabbis that are actually sitting and learning Torah all day. It is usually people that were very good in yeshiva and then got Semicha and then received a shetele (position). At that point it seems the Sitra Achra gets a hold of them just like it says in Mesechet Shabat.