Torah Reading for Week of May 29-June 4, 2011
“WHAT’S IN A (FORE)NAME?”
By Rabbi Ira Rosenfeld ‘08
It is with a combination of humility and pride that I write this D’var Torah as this is the week after the AJRCA ordination. This reminds me of the special place where I received my ordination, and reinforces for me, the vows I made in the process of becoming a clergyperson.
Speaking of vows (How’s that for a segue?), this weeks portion, Naso, includes the passage about the vow of the Nazirite (6:1-21). The question I can’t help but ask is: Why would someone take on such a vow? If someone seeks spirituality, why does this person feel compelled to take on a title that goes with the pursuit?
In the case of clergy, there is the tachlis issue of getting a job, which may motivate one to pursue a title. While I admit that that is part of my motivation, as I do have a family to support, I can’t imagine that many, if any, pursue clergy work just to earn a living.
I came across a great moshol (parable) by the Maggid of Dubna (R. Jacob ben Wolf Krantz 1741-1804) that addresses clergy and Nazirite. He tells the story of a poor man who gives his daughter a sizable gift for her marriage. A thief asks how such a poor man could afford such a grand dowry. The poor man responds: “I have a locked box that I occasionally open to put money in.” The thief can’t understand this, and asks: “What’s the point of the locked box that can be opened?”
The same is true of virtue. One who wishes to guard him/herself from the profane doesn’t really need special vows or supernatural means to protect oneself. On the other hand, for one who does not wish to guard oneself from profanity and sacrilege, no amount of rituals and practices will protect him/her from succumbing.
As Jews, we have many physical reminders of our connection to the Divine, like the mezuzah, kippah, and tsitsit; and, as clergy we have a symbolic “locked box” where we hold on to what we see as valuable. It doesn’t really matter what we are called. My father use to say: “Call me anything but late for dinner.” Also, Buddha said that one who wears the robes of a monk is not necessarily a monk. In essence, it is who we are and what we do that defines us, not our titles or our vows. The true measure of a righteous person and a leader in the community is the motivation and action that behooves the title of Cantor, Chaplain, Rabbi, or Nazirite.
The very next passage in this Torah portion is the three-fold Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing). Nechama Leibowitz (1905-1997) elucidates that the first is a material blessing, the second is spiritual, and the third combines and unites both. R. Joseph Hertz (1872-1946) maintains that Birkat Kohanim is asking G-d to guard us from sin and shield us from the destructive influences of earthly prosperity. So, may we all be blessed with the strength to uphold the values of our individual and collective journeys, and may we all be guarded from the influences that can lead us astray.
Yasher Ko’ach to all associated with AJRCA; especially the newly ordained. You may be referred to by many titles and/or designations, and I refer to you, and your work, as “a blessing.”