Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Rabbi's Toolbox: Head or Heart?

I know in advance that the answer is טוב אשר תאחוז בזה וגם מזה אל תנח את ידיך (Kohelet 7:18 – "It would be good for you to hold to this, but not to drop the other as well"), but I still find it useful to think about this question: Which is more important for a shul rabbi, the head or the heart?

The head is needed for so many aspects of the rabbi's job, including:
Teaching Torah;
Composing derashos;
Answering halachic questions;
Resolving disputes;
Serving administratively;
Working with committees;
Managing communal needs and guiding institutions.

But the heart is needed for so much of what the rabbi does, too:
Reaching out to people proactively;
Sympathy and empathy for people in need;
Understanding the people who ask halachic questions, or come to shiurim;
Communicating Judaism passionately;
Treating his job as far more than a job, so that he will live it.

I said that I find it "useful" to think about this. Like anyone in any career, a rabbi has his tools, and the one who makes sure to maintain his tools will do his job well. The rabbi ought to check on himself regularly, ensuring that all of the tools of the trade are in good condition, updated as needed, and so on. Thus it's useful for the rabbi to ask himself what his tools are, how he uses them, and whether he is keeping them in a useful state.

But to go back to the question: Which is more important?

As I said at the outset, it would be realistic to say both of these are necessary. Still, I would note that I have seen shul rabbis succeed despite not being of a very intellectual bent. I don't think I have ever seen a shul rabbi succeed without having the heart for it. So I’d have to vote for heart.

What do you think?


  1. Well this strikes at a major issue.
    Nowadays no one likes to go to a local Rav for a psak. They want to go to the "Godol". And then when the Godol, who has no idea who they are and gives them an answer based on strict halacha alone, tells them what to do it becomes the rule for all of us.
    Halacha is, many times, local. You have to know the person you're dealing with and which psak is best for them. That's why the Gemara isn't a list of rules and why so many people were against books like the Mishneh Torah and Shulchan Aruch specifically because they reduced the dynamism and flexibility of halacha to a list of rules.
    So heart. Yes, heart. Miles and miles of heart. (Al pi the beer commercial)

  2. Garnel-
    Agreed; at the risk of being self-referential once again, you might take a look at my comments here on my decision not to pasken questions here in Toronto.

  3. for Mighty Garnel Ironheart: Beer commercial? Humph. It's al pi the musical D@mn Yankees, book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The other big hit from that show is "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets," but those for whom kol isha is an issue probably aren't familiar with that one. :-)