Monday, July 30, 2012


In an effort to curry the Jewish vote in the United States, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney explained that Israel is a greater success story than Palestine because of Israel’s welcoming business climate, the Jews’ history of surviving difficult circumstances, and the “hand of providence.” If this is supposed to endear me to the Governor it failed miserably. Here’s why:

First, he seems to think that Palestinians and Israelis operate on a level playing field, which is absurd. I’m not saying that if Palestinians had had their own nation for 60 plus years backed by the most powerful economy and military in the world they would do as well as Israelis, but I am saying that until they do there is no comparing the two.

Second, European Jewish history for much the past 2000 years was one of poverty. While we survived Christian oppression we didn’t thrive under it. It was the end of theocracy that started the process of Jewish emancipation that allowed some Jews to prosper. If we Jews still lived under Popes and pogroms I doubt Mitt would be looking to us for donations.

And third, if the “hand of providence” makes Jews successful, why doesn’t it make all Jews successful? There are thousands and thousands of poor Jews around the world including Israel. Does God favor some Jews over others? And if it is true that the hand of providence rests on the Jews, why are Mormons so eager to convert us to Mormonism? Does God love Mormons more than Jews so that conversion is a step up the hand of providence ladder?

Then the governor went on to say that similar traits explain the difference between the American and Mexican economies as well. Really? Does God love Americans more than Mexicans? That would explain a lot, but is it true?

I suspect that Governor Romney is simply inarticulate rather than ignorant, and tone deaf rather than deliberately insensitive, yet the whole thing with Jews and economic success sounds like code for a very old slur often used against us, i.e. that “Jews are good with money.” Somebody on his staff should have warned him about this.

I fully expect Governor Romney to be the next President of the United States. This may be because I live in Tennessee “the reddest state in the Land of the Free,” after all when I lived in Massachusetts I thought Michael Dukakis was going to be President as well. But if he is our next president I hope he hires some very smart people to help the man with his finger on the button from continually putting his feet in his mouth.

*mittendrinen is Yiddish for “in the midst of it all”

Friday, July 27, 2012


“In a place where there are no heroes—be a hero!” This two thousand year old challenge by Hillel the Elder, whom many consider to have been Jesus’ rabbi, is a staple of Jewish learning. But how does one do this?
The recent horror at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, CO. called forth numerous heroes: individuals who put the safety of others above their own, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Some of these heroes, like former sailor Jon Blunk and firefighter Jennifer Seeger, had training upon which they could draw. But what about the rest? And, more importantly, what about you?
I keep asking myself what I would have done had I been in that theater during the massacre. While I can indulge in fantasies of heroism, there is nothing in my past to suggest I would have been a hero. The military training I had is decades old, and prepared me to serve my country but necessarily my neighbor in a cinema killing field. Would I have reached out to help the fallen, or merely to push them out of my way as I scrambled for the exit? I don’t know.
An acquaintance of mine who never goes anywhere without a gun said he would have drawn his pistol and fired toward the muzzle flashes until the murderer was down. In all the confusion of the moment, however, I suspect he would have only added to the body count. And besides, while taking down the killer is heroic, the actions of unarmed civilians protecting the lives of others is no less so.
The closest thing we have to a national civilian “hero training” program is The Heroic Imagination Project directed by Stanford University professor Dr. Phil Zimbardo. In 1971 Dr. Zimbardo showed us how to turn male college undergrads into sadistic prison guards in his Stanford Prison Experiment (; today he is showing us how to turn ourselves into heroes ( The key is breaking down the mechanism that prevents us from making the transition from knowing what’s right to doing what’s right. This is something would–be heroes must practice daily.
A few weeks ago I was teaching in Rome, Italy. One evening I witnessed a traffic accident. A young woman on a motor scooter tried to pass a city bus on the right as the bus was turning to the right. The bus clipped the scooter and the woman was thrown to the ground several yards in front of me.
It took a few moments for me to make sense of what had happened, and by the time I did a crowd had already formed around the fallen woman. While I thought about joining in and helping, it seemed that there was nothing I could do that wasn’t already being done, so I did nothing. Then I noticed two police officers directing traffic only sixty feet from the accident. They too did nothing. Several people were calling to the police to get their attention, but this wasn’t working. I don’t speak Italian, but it seemed a simple matter to walk over to the officers and get them to notice what was happening. As I set out to cross the street toward the officers they became aware of the situation, jumped into their car, and drove to the accident. True, it would have taken them less time to just walk across the street, but at least they were on their way. I stepped back to the curb.
Was my action in any way “heroic”? Not at all. But it was an action, and that alone is something. Based on Dr Zimbardo’s data passivity rather than fear and cowardice is the real enemy of heroism, and if we are to prepare ourselves for heroism we must practice overcoming this passivity constantly. Here is what I suggest for starters:
Pay attention as you go through your day and look for and take advantage of opportunities to be positively engaged in the life around you: help someone in need; thank a person who has helped you or who is doing something that helps the community: picking up trash, caring for the city’s greenways, trees, and plants; compliment someone on a job well done; and, yes, step in to protect someone who is being bullied or mistreated. The biggest impediment to being a hero is a lifetime of passivity. As Torah urges us: “Don’t stand idle while your neighbor bleeds,” (Leviticus 19:16). Practicing small acts of positive engagement will help prepare us for the great acts of heroism to which we may be called.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Aliens Among Us

This is part of a talk I gave at Chautauqua this past Wednesday. Given the new normal of climate change I thought I might share it with you here.

There are aliens among us, and you may be one of them. The Bible speaks of these aliens in Genesis 1: Having completed the creation of the natural world, God decided to create women and men in God’s image. Whereas everything else in the created world is fashioned within the cosmos, people are created in some liminal space and plopped on the earth to rule over her—alien invaders set on expansion and domination (Genesis 1:26–28).
Aliens believe they are in the world, but not of the world. They long for heaven, dream of rapture, and too often promote martyrdom and homicide as ways of hastening their entry into the extra–planetary paradise they believe is their due. Aliens are alienated from the earth, feel no obligation to nature, and exploit her remorselessly.
Aliens frighten me.
I prefer the company of earthlings, organic beings drawn up from the earth to serve creation rather than dominate it. The Bible speaks of these earthlings in Genesis 2: the earth was lifeless and bare for there was as yet no water to moisten the soil and no gardeners to till it. So God caused a mist to rise up from the ground, and took from the freshly made mud and formed an earthling. God breathed into this mixture of water and earth and it became aware (Genesis 2: 4–7). Aware of what? Aware of itself as mud, aware of its task as midwife to nature’s creativity, aware of itself as speaker for the sea and the land and all their inhabitants.
Earthlings give me hope.
But my hope is contingent upon their ability to continually till the soil, to break up the hard lifeless clumps of barrenness and allow the waters to moisten and the air to enliven and the creative to rise and birth and die and birth and die again and again and again. I fear that the earthlings are drying out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Higgs, Higgs, Hurray!

On July 4th scientists at CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva) confirmed the existence of the Higgs particle. A week later Newsweek’s Lawrence Krauss wrote that with the discovery of Higgs Boson science comes even “closer to dispensing with the need for any supernatural shenanigans…. The Higgs particle is now more relevant than God.”
Really? Doesn’t anyone remember when John Lennon said something similar about the Beatles? Next thing you know kids in Tennessee will be burning their copies of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia, and radio stations will stop playing ABBA. (Yes, I know they’re Swedish, but it’s the best I can do.)
Anyway Dr. Kraus is wrong on both counts. First, Higgs doesn’t make God less relevant for the millions of people for whom God is most relevant. They will either deny the existence of Higgs they way they deny evolution and human-made climate change, or they will say that Higgs is God’s way of providing the universe with mass.
Second, linking all Gods to “supernatural shenanigans” suggests a vast theological ignorance. The God of Spinoza and Einstein, for example, doesn’t even play dice let along indulge in shenanigans. And Saint Paul’s description of God as that “in which we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) embraces the Higgs boson, while the Tao that cannot be named might very well be named the Higgs Field if it could be named. There is a lot more depth and sophistication to some thinking about God than Dr. Krauss gives us credit for.
Many of us who have a love for God also have a deep respect for and at least some grounding in science. I, for one, wrote my rabbinical thesis on the influence of quantum mechanics on contemporary Jewish thought and liturgy. (It was a very short thesis.) We don’t set out to refute science but to be challenged by it. We don’t want to compete with science but to place it in a larger context, a grand meaning–filled story that suggests a direction to evolution that many (most?) scientists either fail to see or fear to name lest they suffer a loss of professional status.
I am very excited about the discovery of the Higgs boson, and have no fear it will make any God irrelevant. As for shenanigans, we don’t need God for these at all.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Out of Work. Again.

Out of Work. Again.

Wisdom House, the interfaith program I ran at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville has been closed, and once again I am without a job. I was raised to believe that you are what you earn, and when you aren’t earning you aren’t living. While I know this to be false, I also carry the echo of it in my head. So this is a harrowing time for me.

I only have two skills: writing and talking; and I have only three things I like to write and talk about: Judaism, the Bible, and spirituality. So my options for personally meaningful work are quite limited. I can, and will if I have to, apply for work at Wal-Mart, but I would rather not. I figure I can hold out for a couple of months before “Hi, welcome to Wal–Mart” becomes my new mantra. In the meantime I will try to figure out what’s next.

This means, I suspect, learning how to do more on the Internet. I can travel only so many days a month, and airport life is taking a terrible toll on me physically and emotionally. I’m writing this as I sit stranded in Philly waiting for USAir to figure out what’s wrong with the airplane that is supposed to fly me to Buffalo. Sitting here eating junk food and fantasizing about murdering screaming babies and smug airline employees is not good for the soul.

I’m thinking about creating my own Spiritual Direction training program. I did a Jewish version of this once before, and it is still going strong, though I have nothing to do with it. This new one will be spiritual but not religious. I’m also toying with the idea of creating an on-line Bible study course (Hebrew and Greek Bibles) that would focus on the wisdom of the Bible outside the confines of any institutional religious frame. And there is my One Foot Judaism effort to recast Judaism as a path of compassion. And there is Holy Rascals, my film effort, and the only one of these ideas that actually exists ( So there is no thought that I will be board, only the ceaseless worry that I will be broke.

I’ll let you know what I end up doing. In the meantime, if you know anyone in upper management at Wal-Mart let me know.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Letter to a New Rabbi

[I can't remember who asked me to write this, or if it was every published, but I wanted to get it out there. It is long, it is Jewish, and some of it might not make sense to those who aren't. But the general principles are universal. If you like it please share it.]

When it comes to talking about being a rabbi I lack nuance, but nuance isn’t necessarily of value here. A carefully considered, middle of the road, on the one hand/on the other hand look at the rabbinate today will get us nowhere. What we need and what I hope to provide is a contrarian critique that will get us talking about the future. I offer my remarks not to end a conversation, but to start one.

Two Kinds of Jews
There are two kinds of Jews in America today: the minority who are involved in institutional Jewish life, and the majority who are not. Those who are involved are by and large happy with their institutions. Those who are not involved are by and large unhappy with them.
Involved Jews are active, passionate, loyal, and essential to the Jewish community. They are never to be disparaged or disrespected. Uninvolved Jews are also active, passionate, and loyal, just not about institutional Jewish things. These Jews, too, are never to be disparaged or disrespected.
In all likelihood you will work for the happy minority, and what they will ask of you is this: make the happy happier, and make the unhappy happy. Unfortunately for you, you can’t do both.

Prophets and Clerks
During my first week at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem I sat with my classmates (class of ’81) and was told, “You have only one choice to make as a rabbi,” he said, “will you be a prophet or a clerk? Most of you will be clerks.” The Jewish establishment values clerks, and is willing to pay them well. The Jewish establishment hates prophets, and does what it can to ignore them.
Clerks comfort; prophets discomfit. Clerks legitimize; prophets challenge. Clerks maintain the decency of our lives; prophets reveal the brutality and emptiness at its core. Clerks say what others have said, and find meaning in being an echo rather than a voice; prophets speak what needs to be said that others can find their own voice. Clerks make nice; prophets make waves. Clerks warm hearts; prophets set them ablaze. All rabbis need to know how to be competent clerks. The great rabbis learn to be prophets as well.

Harsh Reality
Don’t imagine that happy Jews want clerks and unhappy Jews want prophets. The fact is nobody wants prophets, and everyone wants the status quo. The involved Jews want it because the status quo is comforting. The uninvolved Jews want it because the status quo provides them with excuses for not being involved. And because they both want the status quo they both want rabbis who support the status quo. They both want clerks.
Therefore it should be no surprise to you that you are being trained as a clerk. You are learning to teach what has already been taught; to repeat what has already been said, and to say what everyone expects to hear and therefore ignores. This wasn’t how it used to be.
The early rabbis were prophets rather than clerks. They based their authority on the conceit of the Two-fold Torah, Written and Oral, and insisted that the Oral trump the Written. They were literary anarchists wielding Gematria, Atbash, and other swords of the imagination to create new Torah by deliberately misreading the old one, and, as the story of Akiva interpreting the crowns of the Hebrew letters admits, they knew exactly what they were doing.
The intrinsic chaos and anarchy of the rabbinic promise should have led to an ever-renewing Judaism, but over time the rabbis came to fear their own creation the way Rabbi Loew came to fear the Golem. Their Torah was too strong, wild, and uncontrollable. So they did what Rabbi Loew did: they turned Emet into Met, Truth into Death, by erasing the Aleph—the creative chaos— at the head of the entire project.
As a result Judaism collapsed in on herself. The rabbinate, once the midwife of the new, became its mortal enemy. They turned what was a creative and redemptive wisdom into a fixed body of knowledge to be passed down rather that freed up. They took their Judaism of questions, doubt, and argument, and turned it into a system of answers, certainties, and rote. They stopped being prophets and started being clerks.

Two Strategies
Clerks have two basic strategies when working with Jews: demand more or demand less, neither one works very well.
The “more” of the demand more strategy is halacha. Using halacha as our standard we admit that Orthodoxy is the more authentic Judaism. The “demand more” strategy fails for three reasons: it always demands too much, there is always more to demand, and Reform Jews don’t want to be Orthodox Jews.
Take the so-called Cheeseburger Rebellion for example. In the late 1990’s the Reform leadership decided to promote traditional kashrut among the Reform laity. Not eco-kashrut, or some other invention linking diet to justice, but the very kashrut that Reform Jews rejected in 1885 with the Pittsburg Platform. What happened? The people rebelled. They refused to abandon their cheeseburgers, and they didn’t give a damn what God, Torah, and their rabbis had to say about it.
The same thing happened when the Reform leadership tried to promote the use of the mikveh among Jewish women. Rather than draw from tradition to invent an old/new spiritual practice based on the cycles of the moon, the body, and the alchemical potential for transformation that is what immersing oneself naked in a mikveh is all about, they just thought that liberal Jewish women would love an opportunity to cleanse themselves of the impurities of menstruation! This mindless imitation of the past only served to enrage liberal Jews in the present, and make it all the more difficult to create a new and vibrant Judaism for the future.
The alternative to “demand more” is “demand less.” I grew up in an Orthodox world where the length of services was determined by the speed of the davvenen. Shabbat and holy day services would go on for hours, far too long in my opinion. But today’s notion that Jews can’t gather for more than an hour without breaking for cake is demeaning. And the idea that rabbis shouldn’t talk for more than 10 minutes forces you to offer a message that isn’t just simple, but simplistic. No wonder most Jews avoid services! They aren’t given enough time to be moved, or enough wisdom to be enriched.
If demanding more always has you demanding too much, and if demanding less leaves you with nothing to offer, perhaps it is time to demand different.

Demand Different
There is only one reason for the Jewish people to survive: and that is to live Judaism. And there is only one reason for Judaism to survive and that is because it offers a path to life in a world obsessed with death. Resting on Shabbat matters because working 60 to 80 hours a week is killing us. Not shopping on Shabbat matters because consumerism is killing us. Pesach matters not because we were slaves to Egypt’s Pharaoh but because we are slaves to the Pharaohs of the military-industrial-financial-media complex.
Judaism matters only if it offers us a way to free ourselves from the killing machine of contemporary culture, and to build a new world based on justice and compassion rather than greed and consumption. And you matter because you are a rabbi, and rabbis matter because they are the only people who can free Judaism to be what it is meant to be: a vehicle for blessing all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3).
For example: my grandparents kept kosher because God demanded it. My parents kept kosher because Judaism demanded it. I keep kosher because life depends upon it.
For me kashrut is about ethical consumption. It is about living in a way that enhances life. For me kashrut is about caring for myself (shmirat haguf), for others (ahavta l’rayecha k’mocha), for animals (tz’ar ba’alei chayyim), and for nature (bal tashchit) by linking diet, desire, and consumption to the highest ethical and ecological standards I can muster.
Because I keep kosher I don’t eat meat, and someday will stop eating fish, eggs, and dairy as well. Because I keep kosher I don’t drive a gas-guzzling car, and someday will ride my bike to work. Because I keep kosher I do what I can to shrink my carbon footprint. Because I keep kosher I drink only fair trade coffee. Because I keep kosher I don’t buy products produced in sweatshops (unless of course Apple makes them).
Kashrut helps me live my life in service to life. And what is true of kashrut can be true of every other aspect of Judaism as well. In a world obsessed with work, can you make Shabbat a day of play? In a world obsessed with pornography, can you revive the erotic through Shir haShirim? In a world obsessed with sex, can you reinvent love through Tu b’Av? In a world that has forgotten how to grieve, can you show people a way to a liberating grief through Tisha b’Av? Just look at the world, and imagine it different. Then make your Judaism a means to embody that different world. This is what the rabbi-as-prophet is called to do. Unfortunately it isn’t what most rabbis are paid to do.

The Job
Here is the job description most rabbis are given: Judge, Educator, Counselor, Celebrant, Announcer, Jew, Fundraiser, CEO, and Team Leader. Some of these things you can do, most of them you shouldn’t do.
Judge. Traditionally a rabbi rules on cases of Jewish law, but I have yet to meet a liberal Jew who lived her life according to Jewish law, or a Reform Rabbi qualified to rule on Jewish law. If you want to be a Talmudic lawyer and judge go to an Orthodox yeshiva. If you run into someone who needs a Talmudist, send him to a Talmudist.
Educator. If rabbis are supposed to be Jewish educators why aren’t we taught pedagogy, curriculum development, learning styles, new learning technologies, working with special needs learners, etc.? If you want to be a top-notch Jewish educator get a top-notch degree in Jewish education. Otherwise insist that your community hire the best professional Jewish educators they can find, and pay them what they are worth. If they aren’t worth all that much to your community, find another community. And never hire people who know nothing about Judaism to teach Judaism. The message this sends is that Judaism has nothing to teach.
Counselor. If you were having marital problems would you go to a rabbi or a licensed marriage counselor? The best thing you can do for people who come to you for counseling is to meet with them once, listen to them carefully, and then refer them to the appropriate specialist. Don’t practice therapy without a license, and smicha isn’t that kind of license. If you want to practice therapy, become a therapist.
Celebrant. Officiating at life-cycle events can be fulfilling, but is this the reason you became a rabbi? After all if officiating at life-cycle events is what you want to do with your life, you could have become a professional celebrant in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost, and with a much larger client base. So enjoy this part of the job if you can, but don’t make it the centerpiece of your rabbinate.
Announcer. Somebody has to welcome the congregation, tell them what page to turn to, read out the names on the Yahrzeit list, give a bracha for birthdays and anniversaries, and spend 10 minutes commenting on Torah, or reviewing a book or movie, or explaining why we Jews who supported the efforts of African Americans to desegregate the buses in Montgomery must support the efforts of the Israeli government to segregate the buses in Jerusalem. But does this somebody have to be you? Did you spend five years of your life just to learn how to read responsively, or say, “We continue on page 1226” (is the siddur too long, or is it just me)? If you want to be Don Pardo, train as a voice actor.
Jew. Some synagogues hire a rabbi to be “the Jew” the way Colonial Williamsburg hires an actor to be “the butter churner”. Your job is to pretend that Judaism matters, and to support the illusion that hiring a Jew is the same as being one. This is the fastest path to rabbi burnout. If your congregation doesn’t want to be Jewish, leave before they cause you to feel the same way.
Fundraiser. Synagogues have real expenses, and no one should be embarrassed about asking for money. But are you really the best person to do this? If funds need to be raised get a professional with a solid track record of success to raise them. You might be asked to tag along to add gravitas, but leave the actual fundraising to the professionals.
CEO. Managing a small business takes real skills. I’ve taught these skills to senior executives of Fortune 500 companies, and I’ve ghost written a best selling book on the subject. I know what managers need to do, but I personally have no desire to do it. Nor was I taught this in rabbinical school. If you know how to manage, and want to be a manager: great, but you might be happier working for Wal-Mart. If you don’t want to be a manager, hire someone who does.
Team Leader. If you’re lucky you will work with cantors, educators, administrators, and other professionals who are at least as creative as you are, and hopefully more so. Here’s how best to work with them: be clear about your vision, enlist them to further it, and release them to manifest it. You want to work with people who understand your vision, and who can achieve it in ways you may not have imagined. Yes, things will happen that you don’t like. So what? Only clerks hire clones.

The Real Job
All of these things may be part of your job, just do your best to make them a small part. Otherwise you won’t have the time or the energy for the real job.
A rabbi’s real job is to use Jewish traditions, texts, and teachings to help people create, articulate, and live deeply meaningful and purpose-filled lives. Notice that Judaism is a means not an end. Only clerks make Judaism an end; prophets use it to achieve something greater than itself.
Here is what you need to do this job well: Torah, Midrash, and Mitzvot. By Torah I mean the entirety of Jewish literary creativity from TaNaKH and Talmud to Zohar and Tanya; from Rashi and Maimonides to the Besht and Buber; from Nachman of Breslav to Kafka of Prague; from Agnon to Jabes to Chabon and beyond. By Midrash I mean the capacity to boldly and deliberately misread this Torah to create new meanings. If all you can do is repeat what long dead rabbis have said, refer your congregation to Wikipedia and sleep in on Shabbos. And by Mitzvot I mean those traditional practices that can, when reworked in your hands, translate newly discovered meaning into purpose-filled living.
Are you learning how to be this kind of rabbi? Are you learning not only how to study Torah but also how to reveal Torah? Are you learning not only how to study midrash but also how to create it? Are you learning not only how to use mitzvot as they are, but how to shape them into what you need them to be? To borrow from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, are you being taught how to “make the old, new; and the new holy”? If so, fantastic! If not, what can you do about it? Ask your professors for help. Some of them are clerks whose only interest is in making you a clerk. But some of them are prophets dying for the opportunity to share what they know, and stymied because the establishment doesn’t value it. The best learning I did at HUC was after hours and under the table. Give your teachers the chance to teach and there is no limit to what you can learn.

You are not only a rabbi. You may also be a friend, spouse, partner, parent, sibling, and child. Don’t expect your congregants to honor your other roles. They like it when you praise family values, but they hate it when you live them. Set boundaries and stick to them.
First, make yourself unavailable. Schedule family time, personal time, and study time before you schedule time for anyone or anything else.
Second, refuse to attend meetings unless your opinion and presence are absolutely necessary. The community belongs to the people, not to you. Let them work matters out for themselves.
Third, don’t care about most things. Care only about those things that are fundamental: your vision and your values. These are the things you will quit over; the things you are willing to be fired over. If these are threatened, be their champion. If they are not, stay home and read a book or plot a revolution or play with your kids.
Fourth, avoid the part-time rabbinate. The term is code for full-time work for part-time pay. If your community wants to hire you part-time, charge them by the quarter–hour like a lawyer using lawyerly rates. They will complain, but chances are they are lawyers themselves, so stick to your guns.

Who Owns You?
You know you are owned if there is some one or some group in your congregation to whom you cannot say “no”. Rabbis who are owned come to hate their jobs, their communities, and themselves. They are slaves preaching a tradition of liberation. The irony poisons them. What can you do to stay free?
First, be clear about what you will and will not do, and don’t cave.
Second, live debt free as quickly as you can.
Third, live well below your means so that you can survive financially if you decide that getting paid is no longer worth the cost.
Fourth, cultivate a second career, something you do and might even like doing if being a rabbi is no longer feeding you and those for whom you work.
I was a congregational rabbi for twenty years, and worked as a business consultant for 15 of those years. I also wrote books and cultivated a national and eventually international speaking career. When I left congregational life I had other skills to fall back on and a resume to back them up. The early rabbis didn’t earn their living from Torah. Follow their example. Shammai was a general contractor. Go to night school and get an MA in Concrete Management.

Leave a Legacy
I had five congregational rabbis in my youth (all of whom were Orthodox), and not one touched me. I can’t even remember their names. They were interchangeable cogs in an institutional wheel that chewed them up and spit them out leaving no taste behind. They weren’t memorable. If people won’t miss you when you’re gone, they don’t notice you while you’re there.
I had five amazing rabbis in my adulthood: Mordecai Kaplan, Zalman Schachter–Shalomi, Eugene Mihaly, Ellis Rivkin, and Alvin Reines. Not all of these men were ordained, but they were rabbis nonetheless. I remember them because they touched and changed my life. I want to honor them by doing the same for others. So should you.
This might come about from something you said or something you did, or it might come about because you were wise enough to say and do nothing at the very moment when doing or saying anything would have blocked the transition the other was about to make. The skills of a transformational rabbi are three: deep listening, bold reframing, and knowing how to make meaning in a way that creates purpose. You won’t learn these at school. You learn them by being transformed by someone who has them, and then hanging around long enough to learn them yourself.

Be Bold
Spinoza is one of my heroes. He wore a ring on which he personally engraved a thorny rose and the Latin inscription, Caute, “cautiously”. His ring reminded him to be a thorn in the side of the establishment, but to prick cautiously. Thankfully, he didn’t take his own advice. Neither should you.
Know your vision and don’t let others blind you to it. Know what you stand for, and be willing to be knocked down on account of it, and ready to stand back up because of it. Know why you became a rabbi, and settle for nothing less. Know who you are, and don’t let others get you to be who you aren’t.  Be bold. Be a prophet. This may not be what Jews want, but it is what we need.
I have been a rabbi for over thirty years. I would not want to be anything else. I hope some day you will be able to say the same.