The Torah teaches us that if someone we care about does something that we are not happy with, we are obligated to rebuke him or her, openly and honestly sharing our concerns. We are not to do so if we are convinced that s/he will not listen and take our concerns to heart. In addition, we are forbidden to express our concerns in a manner that will cause him/her any shame or embarrassment. I share this because as I reflect back on the past 13 years of my rabbinate, some of the most influential people have been those who have had concerns about things that I have said or done, but went out of their way to respectfully share their concerns with me. In doing so, these people allowed me to grow and, in turn, strengthened our personal connection.
Two of these people, a married couple, came to me many years ago after I told them I was unable to officiate at the wedding of one of their daughters because she was marrying someone who was not Jewish. At that point, I was not performing interfaith marriages. While they were upset with my decision, they sat with me in my office and privately opened their hearts, sharing their hurt, frustration and sadness. They did so with great passion and with great respect. In doing so, they beautifully expressed the other side of the interfaith marriage argument. They got me thinking about my own position and were the impetus behind my becoming a rabbi who officiates at interfaith weddings. Because of their honesty and their respect, I have now been fortunate enough to celebrate the marriages of many interfaith couples and they have made me a better rabbi. In addition, the couple that shared their concerns remains actively involved at Ramat Shalom. They are both very special to me and my family.
Another married couple that comes to mind also came to be me many years ago to talk about a sermon I had given. Just like the couple who came to me about their daughter’s wedding, this couple also shared their feelings with me with great passion and respect in the privacy of my office. Their words deeply affected me. When it comes to certain issues, rabbis in general struggle with how much of our hearts and souls to share on the bimah. Sometimes, we share too much or share thoughts in a way that ruffle feathers. Yes, we want to get people thinking. We want to challenge our congregation and inspire good, healthy debate. However, by coming to me and trusting that I would hear their concerns, this couple reminded me of the power of my words. Yes, as a rabbi I am obligated to get people thinking. But, when I speak from the bimah, my words are being shared in a spiritual place. Sometimes, the everyday issues and topics of life that we read about in the papers or online simply clash with our spiritual lives. And this is okay. Sometimes, there are things that are best left outside the synagogue, or at least off the bimah. There is a difference between what we discuss in an adult education class and what I share in the sanctuary. This couple that came to me to share their concerns, a special couple that also remain actively involved at Ramat Shalom, both of them being some of my best students, helped me to really appreciate this difference. They also reminded me that while we rabbis need to get our congregations wrestling with difficult issues, more importantly, we must use our words to nurture souls and make Jewish values meaningful and relevant.
So, as I get ready for to celebrate my 13th year at Ramat Shalom, I want to thank some of my greatest teachers in the congregation – those who have come to me to share their concerns about things I have said or done and give me the chance to listen, learn and grow. You have helped me become the rabbi I am today and I am so very grateful.
I am not a member of your congregation but I read all of your blogs. Today, I was especially moved to think about how much we all can learn from hearing thoughtful criticism of our words and acts. It has also been hard for me to remember that I too have an obligation to be kind and gentle to others when I criticize them. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.