Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud


Clergy as Wounded Symbol

posted by mkress

I agree wholeheartedly with Rabbi Waxman that clergy, of any faith, must be careful to see themselves, and allow themselves to be seen, as real human beings with human weaknesses and flaws. As Henri Nouwen so eloquently writes in his book, “The Wounded Healer,” this ability to identify others’ suffering with the suffering in our own hearts, rather than maintain a role of aloofness, is a prerequisite for true ministering to the needy.

Judaism has always treated its clergy in this way to a degree, in the sense that a rabbi is supposed to marry and have children, be responsible to his or her parents, and is expected to be human enough to struggle with the same temptations that other people face. The difference, I would caution, is that as rabbis (or any clergy) we have a special obligation to strive for and surmount temptation and thereby model correct ethical behavior even in our most intimate and familial relations.

When we fail to follow even a basic modicum of morality, as did Ted Haggard, we should be held accountable for falling from a higher standard, as he has been. He does a disservice not only to those he personally hurt, but to the trust all people place in their clergy.

There is a debate in Judaism’s Conservative movement about whether rabbis should be just like everyone else or whether we should strive to be symbolic exemplars, according to Rabbi Jack Bloom, author of “The Rabbi as Symbolic Exemplar.” While I embrace Nouwen’s approach, I also embrace Bloom’s. For example, I can meet a congregant in the gym and share the challenges of sticking to our exercise routines, and then find that the next encounter with that congregant places me in a pastoral role, conferring on a problem.

For years, I tried to go incognito, particularly while on vacation. Invariably, we would meet someone high up on a trail in a national park, when I certainly did not look very rabbinic, who recognized me and wanted to talk. I realized that being a rabbi has less to do with what we are wearing and where we are standing and everything to do with having an open heart while living in the presence of God.

This is the burden and the blessing of the rabbinate. We are always rabbis, just like doctors are always doctors. It is a part of who we are, and to deny, or hide, or try to escape it does no one any good.

What we and our congregants need is our ability to synthesize everything we are as part of our rabbinic identity. That my rabbinate includes my ability to share my own wounds and challenges empowers my congregants and opens my own heart to them. I also share my efforts to strive to constantly walk in God’s ways and do God’s will, as our tradition understands it.

I agree with Rabbi Waxman: I hope my congregants know enough not to place me on a pedestal, but I also hope my actions in God’s service engender their respect not of me in particular but of Judaism as a way of life worthy of their allegiance.

–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman



Advertisement
Comments read comments(6)
post a comment
Rachel

posted November 22, 2006 at 11:06 pm


Thanks for this post. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these very questions, so your musings here are especially useful to me. There’s a real tension, I find, between on the one hand wanting to be an exemplar to others, and on the other hand knowing that I am right in the thick of the same types of emotional and spiritual struggles that everyone else has too. I have come to see that tension as itself useful. I think of the parable about the two slips of paper to carry in our pockets: one which says “for my sake was the world created,” the other of which says “I am dust.” The path of righteousness lies in the shifting place of balance between the two. Happy Thanksgiving!



report abuse
 

R

posted November 28, 2006 at 5:33 pm


Dear Rabbi: thank you for that wonderful essay. I have been thinking about becoming a rabbi, and have hesitated because I have many faults. Your posting gives me hope. Thanks!



report abuse
 

Deborah

posted December 3, 2006 at 2:42 am


Dear Susan, I have been taught from N.T. and O.T, and my understanding on the subject you speak of is this: Those in leadership of the church, or synagogue, or temple, as you may call it, even in politics, and schools, are to be of certain moral character and temperament, both husband and wife, including their raising of their children. They are real people, but are chosen especially for their roles by God and the people, but especially God. I agree with you about Ted Haggard, and he did the right thing so far, in stepping down, and confessing his sin. God will forgive him, but he will have to pay the consequences of his actions as a teacher. God holds teachers more responsible and is stricter with them, than others, but he forgives them, too. When God calls, there is no mistake, just have faith, and be real, but responsible to the Lord, then everything will fall into place. Being disciplined, and discerning and even prudent works to anyone’s advantage according to the Lord. And to lighten your load, or anyone’s in teaching, or authority, or office, we are all commanded to obey the Lord and do the very best we can according to His laws, that we are not burdens to one another, that we may all share in joyous, and unburdened, equally-yoked times together, all over the face of this earth. If we all act responsibly, obeying the laws of the land, if nothing else, and then those of us that love the Lord, obey His commands, the burdens even out. God said he wouldn’t put more burdens on us than we could handle. Thank God for that! But you have to have personal friends yourself, that are thoroughly understanding of your position and just you as a person. Forgive me for saying this Ms. Grossman, but I don’t believe women should be preachers or such. It’s too hard to keep connected to your own female feelings, and just too hard on any woman. The wrong kind of burden for women, or responsiblity. Responsiblities of preaching and teaching in the church other than Sunday school for other women and children, are not best for us, even though we may have the capability to all intents and purposes. God is a He, Yeshua,Jesus, is a he, and the Holy Spirit is a he, God’s own spirit. Women need to be loved and cherished and pampered even when they are strong or capable in many areas, but men need to be the men, to connect with God, and to feel their natural strength in loving and protecting us. We should just encourage them and let them shine, and we will in turn shine because of that, without placing hardships on ourselves that God does not want us to have to bear. I am not judging you or any other woman who ‘preaches’ or teaches men, but we’re not supposed to and the fulfillment is never full in the end. Please forgive me if I have offended you or distressed you in any way. I love the writings I read of yours. May Blessed Peace and Assurance in the Lord be yours. I hope, your Friend.



report abuse
 

Deborah

posted December 3, 2006 at 2:42 am


Dear Susan, I have been taught from N.T. and O.T, and my understanding on the subject you speak of is this: Those in leadership of the church, or synagogue, or temple, as you may call it, even in politics, and schools, are to be of certain moral character and temperament, both husband and wife, including their raising of their children. They are real people, but are chosen especially for their roles by God and the people, but especially God. I agree with you about Ted Haggard, and he did the right thing so far, in stepping down, and confessing his sin. God will forgive him, but he will have to pay the consequences of his actions as a teacher. God holds teachers more responsible and is stricter with them, than others, but he forgives them, too. When God calls, there is no mistake, just have faith, and be real, but responsible to the Lord, then everything will fall into place. Being disciplined, and discerning and even prudent works to anyone’s advantage according to the Lord. And to lighten your load, or anyone’s in teaching, or authority, or office, we are all commanded to obey the Lord and do the very best we can according to His laws, that we are not burdens to one another, that we may all share in joyous, and unburdened, equally-yoked times together, all over the face of this earth. If we all act responsibly, obeying the laws of the land, if nothing else, and then those of us that love the Lord, obey His commands, the burdens even out. God said he wouldn’t put more burdens on us than we could handle. Thank God for that! But you have to have personal friends yourself, that are thoroughly understanding of your position and just you as a person. Forgive me for saying this Ms. Grossman, but I don’t believe women should be preachers or such. It’s too hard to keep connected to your own female feelings, and just too hard on any woman. The wrong kind of burden for women, or responsiblity. Responsiblities of preaching and teaching in the church other than Sunday school for other women and children, are not best for us, even though we may have the capability to all intents and purposes. God is a He, Yeshua,Jesus, is a he, and the Holy Spirit is a he, God’s own spirit. Women need to be loved and cherished and pampered even when they are strong or capable in many areas, but men need to be the men, to connect with God, and to feel their natural strength in loving and protecting us. We should just encourage them and let them shine, and we will in turn shine because of that, without placing hardships on ourselves that God does not want us to have to bear. I am not judging you or any other woman who ‘preaches’ or teaches men, but we’re not supposed to and the fulfillment is never full in the end. Please forgive me if I have offended you or distressed you in any way. I love the writings I read of yours. May Blessed Peace and Assurance in the Lord be yours. I hope, your Friend.



report abuse
 

Wanda

posted December 9, 2006 at 5:13 pm


Deborah, how do you know what God IS? Torah tells us He made man(kind) in His image–not just males–so, if you don’t like the image take it up with the manufacturer. The sages say women are NOT REQUIRED to pray 3 times a day because they are naturally wired to spiritual matters, but men have to work at it. Your perception/opinion is from what other MEN have taught you instead of searching out Torah. Our Patriarchs esteemed their wives as equal partners, asked and valued their opinions in all matters and decisions. It’s obvious that you come from a Christian background AND Christian men are, by far, the most ridiculous regarding their nonpareil rights in spiritual matters. Even in translation choices and interpretations, Christians always defer to elevate male status: weaker vessel simply means weaker physical container (body)–not a substandard creation. I do not mean to offend you, but your ideas are merely your own and are not Torah based.



report abuse
 

Wanda

posted December 9, 2006 at 5:13 pm


Deborah, how do you know what God IS? Torah tells us He made man(kind) in His image–not just males–so, if you don’t like the image take it up with the manufacturer. The sages say women are NOT REQUIRED to pray 3 times a day because they are naturally wired to spiritual matters, but men have to work at it. Your perception/opinion is from what other MEN have taught you instead of searching out Torah. Our Patriarchs esteemed their wives as equal partners, asked and valued their opinions in all matters and decisions. It’s obvious that you come from a Christian background AND Christian men are, by far, the most ridiculous regarding their nonpareil rights in spiritual matters. Even in translation choices and interpretations, Christians always defer to elevate male status: weaker vessel simply means weaker physical container (body)–not a substandard creation. I do not mean to offend you, but your ideas are merely your own and are not Torah based.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

The Task Is Never Finished
It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman's post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in postings over a time frame of days (rather than moments

posted 12:31:46pm Apr. 03, 2008 | read full post »

Some Parting Reflections
Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe it’s that blogging doesn’t lend itself so well to t

posted 1:00:29pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

Obama's Lesson and The Jewish Community
There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s advisors. She was right. I never should have cited those web

posted 12:09:08pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

The Future of Race Relations
As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the black and Jewish communities look to this period either

posted 4:04:41pm Mar. 25, 2008 | read full post »

Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews
Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced in visits to other (largely white) seminaries. We were

posted 12:50:11pm Mar. 24, 2008 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.