Reflecting in Real Time
My social media feeds this week have been awash with pictures of the world’s mostly freshly minted Rabbis. Memories have popped up internally of my own ordination, along with those facebook reminders of all the pictures, messages, and job announcements that went along with it. Taking stock of all that this week, I have been flooded with emotions thinking about what my experience as a Rabbi has been over the last 6 years. In honor of that, I want to offer 6 gleanings from my life as a Rabbi.
The Rabbi is rarely right
A mentor of mine once shared this with me as we grappled with a dispute between me and another staff member. While I was fairly certain I was in the right, which he corroborated, he shared that being a Rabbi meant often taking the higher(?) road of allowing others to feel right. I remember bucking strongly against this at the time. In hindsight, his 30+ years of experience won out. He was right. I struggle with this daily.
Always teach Torah
I have been vested with an authority that is channeled through an ancient tradition. The work that I do always has to come from a point in that pool of wisdom. The obvious ways this manifests are in sermons and classes. But it also is quite important in the less expected areas: the conversations at the grocery store or on the nursery school carpet. There is a deep well upon which to draw and my power comes from that. The best Rabbis are the ones who are drawing from the tradition. If it’s not grounded in Torah, then it’s missing something.
Find a hobby and get a therapist
I was miserable in my first 18-24 months in the rabbinate. I couldn’t separate my work from my personal life and I paid for it as I suffered and my work suffered. Once I was able to find a good mental health professional and I began to start my Crossfit journey, my life vastly improved. This work is uniquely demanding. Having those physical and emotional outlets has been key. It’s not a magic solution but it does help. I imagine this to be the case in many professions.
Always learn and always have pocket Torah
In my interview for my rabbinical school internship, the Rabbi under whom I would be working had me share a short d’var torah. This was expected. He then told me I had to alter it to make it work for a shiva minyan. This was not expected. The lesson he imparted then and going forward was to always be ready with a nugget of wisdom. I have learned over the years that for me the best way to do this is to have a regular learning practice, sometimes on my own and sometimes with others. Wherever I go, I do so with some piece of Torah in my pocket.
Finding areas of nourishment in the work
I didn’t realize this one until deep into the work. It was once told to me if there’s no spiritual offering in your pulpit that nourishes, you better make it or else you’ll lose yourself. Carving out space to express my heart’s desire over the last year has made a world of difference. It may not have the draw of a traditional service but having an opportunity to let my soul speak is deeply cathartic for me. Unless you’re fed, you can’t feed others.
Have a crew
Separate of my wife (Hi, Lauren!) and my extended family who provide unconditional support, there’s no group more vital to my personal and professional success than my rabbinical school crew. Our group chat is always lively and they are always there with a supportive ear or texting finger. They even got me to play my first ever Dungeons and Dragons campaign early in the pandemic. They uniquely understand the inner workings of this job that are hard to explain to others.
They do something invaluable that we get a reminder of in this week’s portion (c’mon, I said above it’s always gotta have some Torah in it). In Leviticus 25:25, the Torah says the following
If one of your kin is in straits and has to sell part of a holding, the nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what that relative has sold.
While the simple reading here is about land, the chassidic master, the Noam Elimelech takes it in a different direction. The “sale” in the verse is a form of selling out and the redeemer is the person who can come take you out from that place. He describes that every person is born with a strong connection to the Divine. As we go along in life, that connection diminishes, we are drawn to earthly matters, and we become spiritually bereft. You have sold yourself/becomes sold out. When that happens, you have to find someone who can reconnect you to that earlier vitality. That is what my crew has done.
I hope this peek behind the curtains wasn’t too bold. I don’t often find that you get a lot of unalloyed truth from Rabbis. For better or for worse, I try to be a fairly open and authentic book. I don’t know where my career will end up. I do hope that I will always be in this journey with a desire to better myself and those around me. Maybe it’ll be as a Rabbi but maybe not. I do know that wherever I go, it’ll be with my tradition right by my side.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend