Saturday, August 26, 2006

"A teshuvah-wind was blowing" -- Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn

One: A break.
A meme I stole from Tikkun Ger (though not tagged, I felt the need ...):
    1. Grab the nearest book.
    2. Open the book to page 123.
    3. Find the fifth sentence.
    4. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
The text: "Israel is surrounded by enemies. Nations conspire and take counsel together to destroy her. Yet, He Who sits in the heavens laughs; ... " from The Prophets by Abraham J. Heschel, which I am reading with a friend (or will be reading, anyhow).

Tagging: Andrew, Christy, You know who you Are, Melanie, Beth

Two: Some Elul thoughts, or A month of the rabbis on Elul
From (probably my MOST favorite site):
"It is like a king who, before he enters the city, the people of the city go out to greet him in the field. There, everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him; he receives them all with a cheerful countenance and shows a smiling face to them all. And when he goes to the city, they follow him there. Later, however, after he enters his royal palace, none can enter into his presence except by appointment, and only special people and select individuals. So, too, by analogy, the month of Elul is when we meet G-d in the field..." (Likkutei Torah, Re'ei 32b; see also Likkutei Sichot, vol II p. 632 ff.)
Further: "In Elul, teshuvah is no longer a matter of cataclysmic “moments of truth” or something to be extracted from the depths of the prayerbook. It is as plentiful and accessible as air: we need only breath deeply to draw it into our lungs and send it coursing through our veins. And with Elul comes the realization that, like air, teshuvah is our most crucial resource, our very breath of spiritual life."

Three: Parsha Shoftim
Shabbat Shalom. This week, Moses instructs the appointment of those who will pursue and enforce justice. In every generation, according to Moses, there will be those entrusted with the task of interpreting and applying the laws of the Torah. This parsha has quite the place in modern Judaism, and an article I read last night in Tikkun really makes this hit home. The article discussed the modernization of Judaism, the evolvement from priests to rabbis to lay people. The latter, of course, being the modern application of those entrusted with leading services and minchas.

It wasn't rare at my shul back home to have a lay person lead services, delivering the sermon and bringing the Torah out. It was strange, to me, though it also was relaxing, as I could paint myself in that picture up on the bima. At the same time, I worry about the future of the rabbi in modern Judaism. Orthodox and Hasidism seem to have a pretty tight rein on the idea of the rabbi -- they are, as Moses foresaw, those entrusted with "interpreting and applying" laws of Torah. The article stressed the importance of an academic Jewry that could serve as lay leadership, interpreting and applying the laws. Analyzing them to bits for blogs and sermons on Saturday mornings. Is this the next step of the teacher evolution?

There's nothing wrong with lay-led services, but the rabbi's purpose is ever so important. Rabbis (those trained, anyhow) serve as encyclopedias of every cubit (har har) of Judaism, from Rashi to Maimonides to the Baal Shem Tov to Moses. Rabbis I've encountered may not know everything, but their passion for exploring and teaching and interpreting the laws of Torah are astounding. Lay leaders are often very involved in shul activities, serving on trustees boards and donating large sums to the local Yeshiva or Birthright foundations. They often have a deep-seeded need to participate in the community, Torah studies and shul choirs. But lay leaders also tend to be businessmen/women, journalists, artists, computer scientists, engineers, doctors, etc. Rabbis have the chance to home their skills and focus on one thing -- Torah, Judaism, halakah. Lay leaders already have so much on their plate without tossing responsibilities of rabbinic duties on top.

Maybe it is preemptive, but the article made me wonder. Is this the evolution of our sages, scholars and teachers in modern Judaism? Are rabbis an endangered species, not from a lack of interest but because lay leaders are taking the reins?

Who's to say. Anyhow, I'll think on the role "those entrusted" on this Shabbat, as I also reflect on Elul and my kavannah. Shabbat shalom, friends.