Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Semikha Ceremony and Remarks

This last Sunday, June 6, we gave semikha to 9 new rabbis - the Class of 2010:
Steg Belsky (Limudei Kodesh Teacher in Akiva School, Detroit)
Yehuda Hausman (Teaching position in LA)
Davidi Jonas (Rabbi of KCI, Riverdale, and Limudei Kodesh teacher at SAR High School)
Andy Kastner (Rabbi at Washington University Hillel, St. Louis)
Daniel Levitt (Assistant Rabbi, Shearith Israel, Nashville and Campus Rabbi at Vanderbilt University)
Chai Posner (Assistant Rabbi, Congregation Beth Tfiloh Synagogue, Baltimore, MD)
Zach Truboff (Senior Rabbi, Cedar Road Synagogue, Cleveland, OH)

Akiva Weiss (JLIC couple, with wife Nataly, on campus)
Shmuly Yanklowitz (Hillel Senior Educator, UCLA Campus, Los Angeles, CA).
I am sure that all of you - and all of Klal Yisrael - will benefit from our musmachim in the years to come. If you don't yet have a YCT musmach in your community - speak to us and let's see what we can do to change that!

We had a major first at this year's semikha, in awarding Yadin Yadin to YCT musmach Rabbi Zev Farber. Rabbi Farber has spent the last four years, in addition to his community teaching, in the intensive study of the intricate laws of judges, witnesses, litigants and claims, and the laws of divorce - covered in Choshen Mishpat and Even Ha'Ezer, as well as receiving practical tutelage in the practices of batei din, Jewish courts and siddur gittin, writs of divorce. We are proud to have ordained him with Yadin Yadin, and we know that as a dayan, the impact that he will have on Klal Yisrael will be profound.

The ceremony itself was beautiful. It took place at Congregation Kehilat Jeshurun, NY, again this year with Rabbi Ben Greenberg (YCT '09) as the emcee. Rabbi Adam Mintz gave the invocation, board member Tova Bulow gave the dvar Torah, and Chai Posner and Andy Kastner spoke about the yeshiva experience and looking towards the rabbinate. Everyone spoke beautifully and movingly. I gave a charge to the musmachim before the conferral of semikha, Rabbi Marder presented the gift - the shofar - to the musmachim and Rabbi Weiss delivered final words. The ceremony concluded with beautiful dancing and a tremendous feeling of joy and nachas. A number of you were there, and I know that you share with me the powerful feeling of pride and inspiration that comes from being a part of our semikha ceremony.

A number of people mentioned to me that they found my remarks very inspirational, and asked me to share them more widely.

They appear below and can also be viewed here, on my blogsite.

I wish you all a wonderful summer.

All the best,
Rabbi Linzer
Semikha Remarks

Rabbi Dov Linzer
June 6, 2010

My Dear Students - Steg, Yehuda, Davidi, Andy, Daniel, Chai, Zach, Akiva, and Shmuly:

Today, as you become rabbis, you set out on your path as religious leaders for the Jewish people. What is the nature of this religious leadership?

Yesterday’s parasha, parshat Shelach, tells the story of poor leaders and of good leaders. The poor leaders – 10 of the 12 spies - saw the challenges that confronted them in the land of Canaan and ran from them - לֹא נוּכַל לַעֲלוֹת אֶל הָעָם כִּי חָזָק הוּא מִמֶּנּו. The good leaders – Yehoshua and Calev- saw these challenges and pushed forward - - עלה נעלה וירשנו אותה כי יכול נוכל לה. What accounts for this difference?

The answer is fear. Why did the spies sin, and why did בני ישראל sin? Did they not see the hand of God in Egypt, at Har Sinai, and in the Wilderness? Their reaction was the same as the people’s reaction at Yam Suf, for even with all the miracles, even with all the reasons to believe in God, fear dominates. When you are afraid all you can see is the object of your fear. Fear is irrational. Fear paralyzes.

Because of fear, the people prefer to go back and be slaves. Because of fear, the people prefer to stay in the Wilderness rather than to confront their fears.

The answer to fear is faith. Fear sees only obstacles. Faith sees opportunities- עלה נעלה וירשנו אותה כי יכול נוכל לה. This is what separates good leadership from bad. A leadership based on fear is no leadership at all. A leadership based on faith takes one into the Promised Land.
A leadership based on faith. Faith and trust. Faith in God, Faith in Torah, Faith in Others, Faith in one’s self.

In many ways, this is what distinguishes a modern, open Orthodoxy. We have, by and large, allowed Orthodoxy to become a religion of fear. Fear of the outside world, fear of asking hard questions, fear of deligitimization, fear of being honest with ourselves and our own shortcomings. Would we not be safer – we say to ourselves - to reject the outside world and to be safe in a cloistered environment? What will happen if we confront postmodernism, archeology, science, history, philosophy, academic Talmud, Biblical criticism, feminism, and homosexuality openly and honestly? לא נוכל לעלות כי חזק הוא ממנו. What will happen if we let individuals and communities, or even local rabbis think for themselves? No! Let’s rather insist that every communal issue has to be decided by a “Gadol” – הלא טוב לנו שוב מצרימה. What will happen if we honestly confront spousal abuse, rabbinic sexual abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse? Or the marginalization of single mothers, converts, the developmentally disabled, those suffering from depression, and children with special needs? Let go back to Egypt! We are safer there! נתנה ראש ונשובה מצרימה.

This type of a Judaism is destined to stay in the Wilderness. To never go into the Promised Land. It is a leadership that lacks faith. Lacks faith in the Torah, lacks faith in the people, and ultimately lacks faith in God.

My dear students:

You are different. You have chosen not to follow the herd. Each one of you, like Calev, has a ruach acheret, a different spirit in you. What brought you to Chovevei, and what now animates you as you go out to become rabbis, is this special spirit, this capacity for true religious leadership. You chose to be rabbis that embrace a true faith in God, a faith in God’s Torah and its ability to engage the world; you chose to be rabbis with faith in yourselves to lead and to confront the hard realities of leadership and of life.

Over these last four years you have grown just in this way - grown in your Torah, grown in your understanding of how to bring Torat Hashem into the world, and grown in your faith in yourself. Like Yehoshua, - ומשרתו יהושע בין נון נער לא ימיש מתוך האהל – you immersed yourself in Torah, in the ohel of Torah, and in being משרת – interning and working under seasoned rabbis, educators, and psychologists. You came with enormous potential, and we did our small part in helping to actualize it, in adding that small yud onto your names, to help you become who you are today. We had faith in you, and now, with that well-deserved faith that you have in yourself, and with faith in the Torah that you bear, now you will go out and lead our people.

Trust in the Torah. Trust in its ability to confront the real challenges of life. Trust that it can be taken out of its shell, that it can be brought to bear not just on pots and pans, but also on theological struggles, on the economy, and on injustice. Do not be defensive. Have enough faith in the Torah that you can honestly face up to the challenges of aggunah, of homosexuality, of universalism and particularism. Your trust in the Torah will be contagious, and your students and congregants will learn to trust in it as well. They will turn to it because you have shown them that it is relevant to their lives, that it respects them, and that it respects the world.

Trust not only in the Torah, but trust in the people individually and collectively. It is true that the trust must be warranted, but that is your responsibility. Educate them and empower them. Learn from Moshe’s trust in Yehoshua. Give people that extra yud, help them learn and grow, and then send them forward into the land of Canaan, and then they too will come back and report טובה הארץ מאד מאד.

Trust them when you give them halakhic rulings. Do not withhold information or misrepresent halakha because you don’t trust them to handle the truth. Value the expertise and the voices of every member of your community. Respect them as they respect you, and include their voices in your psak and your decision process as much as possible.

And, finally, give them faith in God and faith in themselves. When congregants or students confront tragedy – at times of loss, of illness and dying, when their marriages are faltering or their jobs are at risk – be there for them, hold them; support them. If they have religious struggles - don’t feed them platitudes. Respect their questioning and their challenging, and show faith in them and in their struggles. Your faith in them will ultimately strengthen their faith in themselves and strengthen their faith in God.

Shmuly, Akiva, Zach, Chai, Daniel, Andy, Davidi, Yehuda, and Steg,
This is what religious leadership is all about. All of you embody this leadership. You have this faith in God, faith in God’s Torah, this faith in yourselves and this faith in Klal Yisrael. You are now prepared to lead the Jewish People. Lead them into the Land of Canaan. Lead them into the Promised Land.

ה' עמנו – ה' עמכם – אל תיראום! God is with us – God is with you – you have nothing to fear.

עלה והצלח! מזל טוב!

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