Thursday, June 20, 2019

Reflections on the Rabbinate

I have made an effort to engage in increased self-awareness. One of the several benefits of this exercise has been to pay attention to the position I occupy as the Rabbi at Etz Chaim Synagogue and be more conscious of the reason I chose this path in life as a career. The more I reflected I came to realize that it is a great privilege for me to be the Rabbi of such a wonderful shul and community. I also paid attention to some of the values that drive me in this position.
1. Leader of All People -When Moshe was informed that he would not be leading the people into the Promised Land, he prayed that G-d designate an appropriate successor. Interestingly, Moshe refers to G-d as the “G-d of all spirits.” Rashi famously writes, “that Moshe prayed for a leader who will be able to tolerate and understand all people according to their individual character.” The message here is that a leader should respect differences, as the conductor of an orchestra should work to integrate them, ensuring that many different instruments play their part in harmony with everyone. A leader does not seek to impose a top-down message of uniformity but rather respects diversity. This should not be confused as a weakness but rather a strength as the leader attempts to listen and understand every single individual for who they are and relate to them in this personal and individualized manner. I think this message is timeless and universal, but it especially resonates with me in this shul and community. We have a healthy diversity in our congregational body. There are so many individuals from varied backgrounds, ethnic groups, and levels of observance. My goal has always been that everyone should feel that Etz Chaim is their home and a vital resource in their spiritual journey in life. From the learned scholar to someone that can’t distinguish between an Aleph and Beis, there is nourishment provided for the Jewish soul that seeks a connection.
2. The Art of Listening- The Gaon of Vilna writes that there are three levels of listening: listening, understanding, and accepting. The third level means that the leader must accept the other opinion as to their correct position even if it is something that you ultimately disagree. In the public and congregational arena, many people have various thoughts and ideas. It is a goal of mine that everyone feels that their voice is heard in the marketplace of ideas and validated. Obviously, this does not mean that all opinions are to be implemented or adopted as policy, but rather, the courtesy of listening allows a person to feel valued.
3. Lead by Example - It is essential for the leader to be modeling good and appropriate behavior. There is far more value in a leader walking the walk than just delivering empty rhetoric. It makes quite an impact for people to view the leader as someone who respectful and kind of others than to preach these values. In Orthodox Jewish life, there is a myriad of laws and traditions that need to be observed on a daily and weekly basis. It can be overwhelming for a Rabbi to remind people of their errors and mistakes regularly. Coupled with ongoing education, I have attempted to be leading by example.
4. Avoid Burnout- This is something that led me to request a mini-sabbatical from my rabbinic responsibilities. After nine years of investing all of my energy to help the shul and community, I feel that my emotional, spiritual, and physical tank is running on low. This investment in communal and rabbinic life has also come at the cost of not spending enough time with my family or for personal time for study. It is precisely these two areas that I intend to prioritize over the next two months in our homeland of Israel.
I look forward to returning in a short time with renewed vigor for the challenges that lie ahead. I thank the Board and entire membership for your understanding and continued support.

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