Rabbi Kenter’s Weekly Dvar

This week’s Torah portion begins with Moses trying to learn what true rabbinic leadership is.  Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses, Our Rabbi), is showing off to his father-in-law that he does everything for the community that he serves.  Rather than being impressed, he shares that true leadership isn’t about doing everything, it is about doing the things that only you can do, and that is how you show your worth.  While Moses might not always know what new challenges might arise, being a leader, being a rabbi, is about being called to do what hardly anyone else can or would do.  Later in the portion, when the people are too scared to engage with God, it is Moses who is still expected to do so. He should do the thing that is hard, that’s why he’s our rabbi.

It is different looking back on the events of last Saturday as a rabbi, knowing that what happened to Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker could have happened to me.  Over the course of my rabbinic leadership, I have been alone in the building when a clearly troubled person has come to the door seeking help.  I have stood between my teen charges and an arriving bear at Yosemite National Park.  I have been called to check on the building when the alarm sounded at 1 in the morning, not knowing who I might encounter inside.  I have stood between a troubled person and the rest of the community, trying to serve as a shield and to avoid any further escalation.  I have been trained regarding what to do during a fire or live shooter situation and run drills for the congregation, knowing that I will be the last person out the door.  I have felt the pressure of needing to know the exact right thing to see to a person in need, when the impact of those words will be immense.  And this is not just what I have been through, but ask any imam, priest, minister, pastor, cantor, or other clergy person and they will tell you the same (but maybe not the bear part).

In the midst of the hostage crisis, Shawn Landres posted the following on Facebook:

We pray for a safe resolution to the crisis at Congregation Beth Israel.

No matter how this ends, every single clergyperson in America will go to sleep tonight wondering whether this will happen to them tomorrow. And the same question will occur to their parents, children, spouses & partners, and relatives.

So the next time we want to complain to our rabbis – or our cantors or pastors or imams or … – about the food or the room temperature or the chairs or that one melody or reading or sermon …let’s just not.

Instead, let’s tell them what we appreciate, how their work and their care sustain and transform us, what difference their dedication makes in all of our lives.

Because they literally put their lives on the line every day for the sake of our wellbeing and our world’s wellbeing. And the people who love them and depend on them want to know that when they go to work in the morning, they will come safely home again in the evening.

And right now there’s a family in Texas that for most of the day didn’t know the answer to that question.

We are all grateful that none of the hostages were harmed last Shabbat, but along with our fears regarding security, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Rabbi Cytron-Walker did both what no rabbi should ever have to do/be expected to do, but also what clergy people do every day.  We put ourselves physically/emotionally/psychologically on the line due to our immense love for all of God’s creations because that’s what rabbis do every single day.  Thank you to all the rabbis in my life for all that you have done, do, and will do.  May we never again encounter anything like this weekend and never cease being inspired by our ahavat yisrael and ahavat olam.