July 1st is an important date in my professional world. It is often the start date for Rabbis and other clergy folks, as the new fiscal year kicks in. Every July beginning brings scores of “1st day of work” posts from my colleagues. Each year that I see them, and especially this year, I find myself wondering about the nature of my work and where exactly I fit into it.
For as long as I can remember, being a Rabbi was the natural path for me. I have a father who came from a background steeped in Jewish learning, education, and leadership. I have a sister that bucked many cultural trends where we came from and became a Rabbi. I was raised in a home that set its calendar and clock Jewishly.
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All the voices around me called to me to be a Rabbi. I was never particularly adept at math or science. My love of general history and language lent itself to my love of learning the Jewish people’s history and language. My earliest forms of employment, junior congregation leader and camp counselor were THE springboards to the rabbinic career.
And here I sat, on another July 1st, taking in all the excitement from my friends’ posts, all the hope of new beginnings and existentially asking myself, what am I? Since the spring of 2021, I have been asking myself this question. Posed to me in a lovingly reproachful way by a then-acquantaince-and-now-dear-friend, I have been grappling with this question.
The story I have always had in my head has always been one with Rabbi as the lede but now I am not so sure. And as my esteemed Uncle Gary taught me early on about sunk cost, just because I put all this time, energy, and money into something doesn’t mean you need to keep doing that. Is it serving me?
What’s especially hard is knowing (hopefully not in a self-aggrandizing way!) that I am good at many parts of it. When people keep telling you they love your _________ in your work and you’re questioning your legacy, it makes for quite the potent dose of cognitive dissonance.
So, I am 35 years old, 6 years into this rabbi thing and I am still not sure what I want to be. Most days that is frightening. On other days, I remind myself of this moving text from Rav Kook:
The I in exile, the inner and essential I, of the individual and the collective, reveals its inner self only in accordance with its holiness and purity, in accordance with its supernal might, permeated with the pure light of heavenly splendor, that burns within him. We sinned with our fathers, the sin of the first man, who became alienated from himself, turning to the serpent, and losing himself. He did not know how to give a clear answer to the question, "where are you," because he did not know his own soul, because he had lost his true self…
That notion of exile feels resonant to me. I feel that alienation but I also know that I don’t want to feel so lost. When I remember this, things feel ok because I know I am somewhere on this soul-journey finally asking the right question. I am not yet sure where it’ll lead. I do feel like I am learning more about who and what I am. Most importantly, I am finally paying attention to my soul. Thanks for the reminder, July 1st.
Wherever you are in life, I wish the same for you.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend
1st Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine-(Shemone Kevatzim 3, 24):
I like that you are asking questions of yourself. So much good change in the world starts from there. “What am I” ? I wonder if the question “who am I” and who do I want to be?” Will better inform the 1st question. Anywho thanks for sharing your heart !
It seems that you desire to know your future and whether being a rabbi fits in with your future soul. Why? What will YOU be like? You are 35. You WILL be a different person at 45. What that is, no person can anticipate. The key question - I think - is the one you asked early on: what am I? Meaning, I hope, what am I now? Are you happy NOW with what you are doing? Do you feel satisfaction being a spiritual leader for a community, helping real people deal with real problems, and teaching the lessons of Tanach to those of us not as well versed or engaged in it as you? Those are pretty good things, but maybe it's not for you. Then look into another path. Do you really wish you were batting cleanup for the Cardinals? If so, go back and train. Do you wish that you became a millionaire (I assume you are not)? Then get a new profession. But if you are satisfied with being a respected and impactful rabbi right now, then enjoy the ride, be the best you can be, and don't worry so much. And SMILE that you are satisfied (many people are not).