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.