A special thank you to all those who came out tonight--to my friends, and to my family. I also am deeply appreciative to all those who couldn't come, yet took the time to wish me congratulations, and even to call and write me.
I thank Rabbi Wanefsky for his warm words. Rabbi Wanefsky's trenchant mind and powerful memory helped my studies all throughout my days in highschool, college, and rabbinical school. Before every one of my shiurim and every devar torah, Rabbi Wanefsky is gracious enough to share his chiddushim with me. I will always appreciate his kind help to a young rabbi.
Prof. Feldman first introduced me into the passionate world of scholarship. I remember first walking into Prof. Feldman's office as a freshman in college. I wanted to study classical mythology, but I wasn't sure that I needed to study the Greek and Latin language. So Prof. Feldman patiently explained to me that reading a work in translation is like kissing someone through a veil. From that point on I was dazzled by the academic world. So I thank Prof. Feldman for introducing me to scholarship. But Prof. Feldman taught me something else that goes far beyond scholarship and academia. Prof. Feldman taught me how a being a great teacher is a 24 hour job. It means having your students call you at all hours of the night just to answer their questions. It means not only examining your students, but also laughing with your students. And as Prof. Feldman knows, it means not only to teach your students about the Toga, but to also to go to their toga parties.
So these two fundamental teachings of Dr. Feldman--love of scholarship and love of teaching--have greatly impacted upon my approach to the rabbanut. And for this I am especially grateful to you.
But more than anything else this night is about the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
More than eight years ago, one Sunday morning I interviewed with Rabbi Kanefsky about working here as a big brother. Working with Rabbi Kanefsky over the next four years was an inspiring experience. For the first time in my life I saw up close the good that a rabbi can accomplish for his community. I remember the long conversations I had with Rabbi Kanefsky about what it means to be a rabbi--and I remember standing on Rabbi Kanefsky's doorstep as he articulated what it means to be a commual rabbi. It means reaching out to the whole community--not waiting for the community to come into the four walls of your inner sanctuary, but going out into the world and finding people who are searching without even knowing that they are searching, wandering without even knowing that they are wandering.
Being around Rabbi Kanefsky inspired me to enter into the Semichah program and to consider a life as a rabbi--and I thank you eternally for that. But then Rabbi Kanefsky decided to move to LA, and I thought that was it. I thought no one could duplicate the brilliant success that Rabbi Kanefsky had attained in the JYEP. But then came along my friend Aaron, who I worked with closely for the next four years. I was wavering about the rabbinate before I began working with Aaron, but working so closely with Aaron showed me that the rabbinate is a place for noble people. Aaron has purity and honesty. He made me understand that to be a rabbi means to always, always live what you teach and learn. Aaron helped me realize that Torah is not intended for academic study, but as a blueprint for how to live one's life.
More than anything else, this to me is the vision of HIR, our bayit--being here means turning the principles of the Torah into reality, into living life. And when we talk about the vision of HIR, we of course just think about Rabbi Weiss. You know for the first few years that I worked here with Rabbi Kanefsky, I wasn't exactly sure who he was.
All I knew about him was from the pictures I saw of him being dragged by Policeman, and when he would come in to interrupt my class and talk baseball with the kids. It was only after Meorot started that I really got to know Rabbi Weiss, and knowing Rabbi Weiss truly changed my life. Being around Rabbi Weiss, I felt that I was in the presence of greatness. But even more so, and especially over the past 8 months Rabbi Weiss has taught me how to be a rabbi, and, more importantly, how to be a human being.
I hope I do justice to Rabbi Weiss by summarizing what I believe to be his vision, and my vision of what it means to be a good rabbi. There are 3 main attributes that a rabbi requires.
The first aspect, and without this you cannot begin, comes from the pasuk in zot ha-berakhah: yoru mishpatekhah le-yaakov, ve-toratekhah le-yisrael, the rabbi must be able to teach the laws and Torah to Israel. It is essential that the rabbi have a complete grasp of Torah and be able to teach its concepts effectively to a large amount of people. Along these lines, I constantly remind myself that I cannot afford to let my Torah studies slip away--in order to be a good rabbi, my study of Torah must never slack.
The second aspect of what it means to be a rabbi, I take from the words of God about Bezalel. God says about Bezalel, u-lehorot natan be-libo, and Bezalel was given in his heart the ability to teach. Now who was Bezalel? He was a builder, he built the mishkan. But he was only a builder; he wasn't a Torah scholar or master of dialectics or casuistry. But he was a master of the world--he was creative, he knew the world. He knew about gold, he knew about tapestry, he knew about furniture. And this is wht God gave him the ability to teach. So we see from here that the word horaah, teach, in the Torah is used not just for the simple text of the Torah, but also for the entire magnificent world around us. And this is also a part of what it means to be a rabbi--to realize that the entire world around us is Torah. And to understand that in order to effectively spread the message of the Torah one must understand the world. A rabbi…unfortunately, has to understand the world of Football…. A rabbi cannot live in a secluded world, but must live in the world that his community exists. This is the message of the teaching of Bezalel.
So far we have seen two aspects of what it means to be a rabbi--to know Torah and also to know the world around you. But there is a third aspect that far outweighs the other two. It says at the very beginning of Parshat Va-yera, that Abraham was sitting there recovering from his illness, when he looked up and he saw three men. And the pasuk states, sheloshe anashim netzavim alav, three men were standing over him. And our rabbis teach us that these 3 men were not real men, but angels. But lets take a close look at the word nitzavim. Where else does it appear? It appears in the Psalm of Tuseday where we state, Elokim Nitzav be-adat kel, God stands in the divine assembly.
The word Nitzavim appears twice to show us that if you really want to stand in the divine assembly, you must act like those angels who visited Abraham. You must visit the sick, and act with grace and kindness. This to me, is the most important aspect of the rabbanut. Helping people by being nitzav, by standing in the divine assembly.
What I have learned by woirking with Rabbi Weiss and in the Hebrew Institute community, that knowing is not even half as important as doing. That visiting the sick far outweighs studying about visiting the sick, and that true Judaism is not Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, but Active Judaism. This community understands that we cannot be passive in our relationship with God and with Judaism. That we must act to serve the world and to make it a holy place through our actions.
That's just one of the reasons why I think this is the best community a rabbi could possibly work in. The people here are fantastic, sensitive, and funny.
So I thank everyone for welcoming me into our community and allowing me to study Torah together with you. And I especially thank the executive board, the office staff, and my friend and teacher, Phil Schneider. No one made my transition into this job easier than my friend, Rabbi Barry Gelman who so unselfishly shared with me from his busy time and schedule.
Anything that I have been accomplish this year is very much due to the strong support that I have to help on every project. Thank you to Rabbi Dov Linzer our resident Rosh Yeshivah, who is always there for me, whether it be to consult on a shaylah or to give a shiur or to explain something to me. Thank you Daniel who runs the best youth department east of Mississippi, and thank you Sharona for all of your help in educational programming, and thanks to Karen Miller and Jeff Fox for always working hard and producing great classes and programs.
But most importantly I'd like to thank my family for always supporting and encouraging me. My parents provided the best example from day one of my life and since then everyone in my family, and now Rhanni's family--our family--has done nothing but encourage me in my journey in to the rabbinate.
And, of course, my greatest thanks goes to my wife, Rhanni, whose beauty,
wisdom, and kindness is only surpassed by her modesty and unflinching support.
Thank you very much.