For the week ending 21 March 2015 / 1 Nisan 5775

Rabbi Relations

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Chaim

Dear Rabbi,

I have not had much interaction with rabbis, but recently I had an experience with one rabbi that was not as I expected – I found him to be somewhat aloof and perhaps disinterested. Is there any religious reason why a rabbi might be this way, for example maybe to maintain a certain decorum, or maybe it was just his specific personality or mood?

Dear Chaim,

I am sorry that your experience with this person, who as a rabbi represents people we look to for guidance and inspiration, left you somewhat disappointed.

Without my knowing you or the rabbi involved, I can’t say anything specific about this particular, personal experience. Of course, there is a possibility that the problem is more a matter of personality or circumstance, either on your part or the rabbi’s part, and less about “rabbinics”.

But in any case, this experience of yours should not be seen as indicative of rabbis in general, or as a reflection of the Torah.

On the contrary, Torah teachings indicate that true Torah scholars are not only immersed in study, but simultaneously live Torah by empathizing with and helping others.

The Midrash says that when Moshe came down from Sinai after forty days of isolation with G-d during which time he had no food or drink, and reached the most spiritually elevated state of any human, he not only gave the Torah to the adults, but he actually distributed treats among the children. Despite his very elevated status, he was able to empathize with even the mundane needs and interests of others.

In Jacob’s dream, the ladder is described as having its “head” in Heaven and its “feet” firmly connected to the earth while angels of G-d were moving up and down the ladder. According to one interpretation of this dream, the ladder represents a true Torah scholar, such as Jacob, who, despite having his head in Heaven, is still nevertheless firmly connected to this world, its people and their needs. In this way, he’s positioned to be a conduit through which blessing benevolently flows between both worlds.

An exemplary story is told about Rabbi Nachum of Horodna. In his town, the community prayed the morning prayers at sunrise, requiring one to rise at the crack of dawn. One wintery, snowy day, as the congregants traipsed through the early morning snow on their way to shul, they saw an elderly man grappling with a shovel in the newly-formed snow drifts. When they approached the figure, to their great surprise they saw it was Rabbi Nachum!

They asked in surprise, “What is the Rav doing up earlier than everyone else and shoveling snow for?” The Rav replied, “Soon mothers will need to get to the market to provide for their families and children will want to go to school in order to learn Torah. G-d forbid that anyone should be prevented from their venerable tasks, or slip and fall and get hurt. So I wanted to clear the way earlier enough to finish before others are out and about.”

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