My Farewell Dinner Speech

Young Israel of St. Louis, Sunday May 21, 2006

Honored rabbanim and mechanchim, my cherished Young Israel family, my many dear St. Louis friends, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to thank you all for coming: your presence here means the world to me. I would like to acknowledge the presence of Rebbetzin Rivkin and ask that she please convey to her dear husband our prayers for his refuah sheleimah.

To say that I am overwhelmed does not even begin to express how I feel about this evening: the warm words, the very real sense of deep friendship, all the beautiful and touching expressions of tribute.

Mitch was my first president at YI. We were classmates and friends at YU and that friendship has only deepened and grown over the years. Thanks, Mitch, for your words and so much more.

I'd like to say a word about Rabbi Greenblatt's warm comments. I can recall the first time we meet. It was around my dinning room table; Yocheved and Tova were with us. We talked about the community, the challenges and opportunities, I knew then he would emerge as a rabbinic star and he has, and I knew we'd become good friends and that's exactly what happened. But everyone here ought to know, though, that the fellowship Rabbi Greenblatt and I enjoy is shared by all our very distinguished rabbinic colleagues in the Rabbinical Council, ably chaired by Rabbi Yosef Landa, and I want to recognize all of them in that friendship. It is a source of deep pride that our rabbinic group is the envy of rabbis in other communities. You see, we genuinely like each other; we share d'rashos; we counsel together; we just enjoy each others company, and we are all strengthened because of it. For that warm and caring chavrusah, I will be forever indebted to each of them. May I only be blessed with such rabbinic friends in Israel. You will all be sorely missed.

Of course, now that I've mentioned the rabbis, I cannot skip over a very special group of people. They are my fellow mechanchim, the Jewish educators in our formal and informal educational institutions. I remember the 15 wonderful years I taught at Epstein, and Yocheved and I are deeply grateful for the opportunity we've had to teach at Block (I think Yocheved has the longest teacher tenure there, some 27 years). The dedicated mechanchim at Epstein and Block, at NCSY, at our Torah Kollel Mitzion and the St. Louis Kollel and throughout our community have enriched our lives with their learning and their pledge to the highest standards of Torah study. I'd love to mention each of you by name; you deserve that acknowledgment. Many of you have become our close fiends, especially my rafting partners — you know who you are. And please be assured that that fellowship will never be forgotten.

I deeply appreciate Barry Rosenberg's comments. I remember being on the Search Committee that selected Barry as our Federation's chief executive. There was little doubt after the committee interviewed Barry that he would be the chosen one. His caring leadership and dedication to our entire community has certainly vindicated that choice. He, along with our own Heschel Raskas, the current Federation president, has done much to support the Jewish values and institutions that mean so much to us. In this context, may I add that aside from my involvement with our Federation, there were many additional Jewish institutions on whose Boards I sat and whose members I was fortunate to meet and know. I've admired their love of community and their clear sense of duty to toil on behalf of all Jews. It has been an honor to join and deliberate with them over these years.

The JCRC recognition was unexpected. Batya Abramson-Goldstein represents leadership at its best and finest. She is a trusted friend, and it truly was a privilege to work and counsel with her and the many fine people on the JCRC Board. Thank you.

The video was exceptional. I always knew Erich was talented, but this presentation makes Drazen Imaging first class. For the Bienenfeld's, this video is one that will continue to generate feelings of warm nostalgia for years and years to come. And to my good friend, Elliot Franklin, for taking the photos tonight, I know they will make this evening that much more memorable and special. Thank you both.

To thank the Shul for the gift needs to be part of a different expression of gratitude and that, in a few moments.

And, finally, my daughter, Dena, or "Deens" as we affectionately call her. For a parent, there is perhaps no greater joy than to be the object of a child's love, wonder, and admiration. Mommy and I are so very proud of you. Now, you all know why, at family simchas, Dena is always the one they ask to speak. Dena, I'm so glad you're here. I love you.

And so, a lot has been said this evening, and I am deeply appreciative. There are few feelings that can compare to simply knowing that you were needed, that you made a difference for people, that you mattered in the smaller and greater scheme of things. Of course, whether I am deserving of all this, is another matter, but it was truly heartwarming to hear it all.

As you can see, Yocheved is not with me. She had planned to return for the Dinner, but she needed to stay and find a place for us to live when we make aliyah. She was still looking when I spoke with her this morning. She did e-mail me a letter and asked that it be read this evening.

My Dear Young Israel Family:

It is not unusual, in the lives of rabbis' families that conflicts often arise between the needs of the community and the needs of the home. Well, guess what? This is one of those times. But this one is a biggie. As much as I hate being honored at dinners, this is not just any dinner, but more of a formal farewell and an opportunity to express enormous gratitude to the first religious community to which I've ever belonged. 

I'm in Israel, doing what a mother is supposed to do: helping a daughter learn that she really can and will be, with Gd's help, a wonderful mother. I'm also here, trying to make a step towards beginning our own future by finding a home. (It's not going so well). But my heart isn't in the "search" as fully as it should be because a large part of it is still in St. Louis, certainly on this evening. Being here for three weeks, away from my community and from any sense of community, has hit me very hard. 

In St. Louis, I was focusing on our future in Israel, and not thinking of the pain of separation. But, here, this disconnecting has taken me full force. One of the reasons it is so difficult to find a place to live is because I'm looking for a location where I can find and experience a sense of community, and it's just not easy. You see, you've spoiled me. I've taken it for granted that people in a community care about each other and are always there, willingly offering all types of help, even before you can ask for it. But, I've discovered that it is not a common thing at all — not in Israel or out of Israel. I've often heard people talk of this after visiting St. Louis or after living there for a period of time and then moving on. They repeatedly tell of how there just isn't that same sense of community and mutual concern in other places as there is in St. Louis and they miss it. I haven't given up on finding a place here in Israel that approximates that wonderful neighborly feeling, but I know it cannot be duplicated. In a sense, then, I've begun a kind of a "mourning" period, as it were, for the Shul. I guess the only solution is for you to all join us here so we can recreate that wonderful sense of kehilla here in Israel.

I can't really put into words how much I owe all of you for what you have done and contributed to my life over all these years. I appreciate the fact that no demands were made upon me as a Rebbetzin, and I wasn't treated as if I were part of a package deal when my husband was hired. You allowed me my space, my privacy and my choice of what to do and when to do it. In so doing, believe it or not, you got more out of me (and certainly more willingly) than had you "expected" it. I was then able to do things because it meant a lot to me to do it for you, and through those opportunities, I grew in my learning and in my abilities. I hope you treat your new Rebbbetzin with the same consideration — you will stand to benefit greatly from it. I thank you for entrusting your children to me to learn together on Shabbos afternoons and to teach them at Block. They have greatly enriched and changed my life.

I will leave it to my husband to thank you more appropriately, which I'm sure he will do. May G-d bless all of you generously. "Thanks for the memories" and then some. I will sorely miss you.

With much affection and warmth,

Yocheved

Well, I guess, now it's my turn.

When, in the beginning of March, I told you we would be making aliyah, I didn't realize how difficult it would be for me to disengage from 26 years of relationships with a Shul that helped shape and define me in ways I never would have imagined. And so, in the subsequent weeks, I continued to function as if nothing had been said. I simply allowed the day- to-day rabbinic demands to so preoccupy my attention that it was rather easy to ignore the prospect of our leaving.

It wasn't until Pesach though, when my daughters visited, that it finally hit me. You see, it was nearly impossible not to confront our planned departure when at every turn, my daughters, G-d bless them, would say, for example: "Dad, this is the last time you'll be doing this in St. Louis," as when they watched me preparing for a d'rasha, or the exuberant singing when, at the Seder, we shouted and sang, "L'shana haba'ah b'Yerushalayim." It simply didn't occur to me, as my children were quick to point out, that: "Dad, no more 2nd day Yom Tov." But when on the last day of Pesach, as we were leaving Shul, my grandson actually kissed the "cottage cheese" stucco exterior of the Shul and said goodbye, and when, on the way to the airport early Friday morning, the grandchildren said, "Zaida, can we drive by the house one last time," I felt the proverbial "lump in the throat" grow bigger with each nostalgic gesture.

My daughters and their families, Dena and Yaakov, want you all to know that a very special place will always be reserved in their hearts and memories for YI and St. Louis, along with the many, many friendships and experiences they shared together. Let me say just a sentence or two about my son, Yaakov Moshe and the YI community. As you know, we've been "guying it" while Yocheved has been in Israel. Yaakov is a refreshing breath of joy, a comfort, all day, everyday just because of whom he is, and this Shul means everything to him. There is a reason he feels so close to you. It's because of the sincere love and affection, the chesed, you've shown him over all these years. We will never forget Yaakov Mosheh's Bar Mitzvah and how the Shul — how you — embraced him and our entire family. It was a Shabbos event to be remembered. Indeed, this is how it has been with all my children; much of who they are is because of you.

Last night, at midnight, Hudi, my eldest, e-mailed me some touching thoughts. Here's what she had to say about you:

When I was in St. Louis as a child, some four years, my friends gave me so much strength during that time, as well as their parents who were always so good to me and opened their homes anytime, especially when you, Dad, lived out West, and I wanted to spend Shabbos in U. City. I personally owe the community a lot. I don't know how I would be if I hadn't had their support during those crucial years You're leaving, for me, is also me leaving my past in St. Louis. There won't be any more Pesachs to catch up on old times As I write this, tears are welling up in my eyes. It is still painful when I think how much I owe my friends and their parents. Your Dinner would have given me that opportunity

Well, Hudi, I gave you that opportunity.

Now, what I have to say this evening is about me and my tenure at YI. During my St. Louis rabbinate, my wife, Yocheved, probably by temperament alone, chose to stay in the background. Yes, she loved to teach, and has had and has many students. She prepared shiruim when asked, and, over the years, gave a series of classes on her favorite topics to the women of our Shul. She opened our home to strangers, guests and, of course, the many families in our Shul, and, she was a ba'alas tzedakah of enormous generosity and sensitivity. But, all said, my wife primarily chose a far more modest role than most rebbetzins. What she did do, out of the limelight and very privately, was to build a home of unconditional warmth, love and stability. And in that home, our children, especially our oldest three daughters whom she loved as her own, received a quality of upbringing steeped in religious teachings and rich in those virtues of modesty, honesty and integrity. All these precious values of goodness were imbedded in rearing practices which by dint of their consistency and dependability did the job right. My oldest three often would speak appreciatively and lovingly about the "Yocheved experience." Yocheved just had a way of helping her children aspire to greater things and all within the contours of their unique and different personalities.

And as for me, well, let me put it this way and without exaggeration: whatever good I've managed to accomplish in the clinical rabbinate, I attribute to the secure haven and love, to the wise counsel and patient listening, that my wife provided for me and with me every day, always. You need to know that my wife has been and is my peer in learning and my mentor and teacher in middos tovos. In Rabbi Akivah's immortal words: "Sheli v'shelcha, shelach. Mine and yours are because of her."

Let me then begin. I do have something to say of a personal nature, things that I've never shared with you, but, which upon reflection, I feel you might want to know. But first, I hope you will indulge me if I take a few moments to express my own list of "thank yous."

Now those expressions of hakaras ha'tov could be quite long. When I began to look through some personal pictures for the video, the recollections they evoked overwhelmed me. I would scroll down the membership list and my mind flooded with memories about these past 26 years. I began to reminisce about so many in our YI family who were no longer here. Such dear and precious souls! I thought about their families and how tragedy brought us close. The truth is when you've been around long enough to proudly see your students becomes your ba'alei battim; when you can — with warm nachas — look out and see multiple generations in a Shul and know that you've been there for the births, the b'risim, the bar/bat mitzvahs, the weddings, and yes, for the illnesses and deaths as well; when you realize you've grown older (not old!) together, well, you experience a deep sense of satisfaction, completion and fulfillment. I have good reason to thank each and every one of you multiple times, and if only time permitted, I could recount the many occasions, events, small and large moments that left a lasting glow in my heart. Please forgive me for being unable to do so tonight.

This evening, though, I must suffice with just a few "thank yous." Namely, to those who made this wonderful evening possible.

To our Shul president, Barry Needle and his eishes chayil, Hessie. Barry's dedication to our Shul has become legendary. He is in the Shul office practically every day, worrying about and managing so many of the Shul's affairs. For me, though, Barry has become a dear and trusted friend, one whose counsel and wisdom has been a treasured gift. It was Barry's gentle persistence and genuine sincerity that convinced me to accept this honor.

Both he and Hessie initiated and remained involved in this event, giving of their time and effort magnanimously and with much devotion. Thank you, Barry, for your warm words this evening and for everything else. And may I add, through my tribute to Barry, my deep appreciation for all the dedicated YI Shul presidents under whom I was privileged serve. There were 11 in all, and that each of them has remained a close friend speaks to the remarkable relationship we enjoyed then and still do.

To Eva Derby and Shelly Wolf. I remember when we sat around my dining room table to discuss the diner which, in late February, was meant to be a 25th year celebration. When I told them of our aliyah plans, there was that silent pause, followed by Shelly's deadpanning comment, "Well, I guess that changes things, doesn't it?" That evening, it became just too difficult to continue with business as usual. I guess that's what happens when close friends first hear of their imminent parting. I thank them both and their wonderful husbands, Al and Mitch, for all the endless meetings they called and the immense amount of time and work to make this event happen. But even more, I thank them for a friendship that began the moment we arrived in St. Louis in the summer of 1978. We will never forget your many, many kindnesses to us over the years.

I need to acknowledge the loyalty and dedication of our Shul secretary, Clare Conway. She has been a blessing for our Shul in so many ways. She is supremely dependable, honest and hard-working, and we are fortunate to have her. I think she likes us. She's even picked up our Jewish lingo and has the "ch" sound down pat. Thanks, Clare.

Finally, I want to thank all the many members of the Dinner and Journal committees for their dedication and long hours of work to make this Dinner such a memorable experience.

Yocheved and I haven't had the opportunity to read the Ad-Journal, but we already know how deeply we will be touched your comments and tributes. When the news of our leaving broke, we received a plethora of letters, e-mails and verbal compliments and well-wishes. We are truly grateful to everyone who took the time to write and speak with us; it meant more to us then we realized, and we plan to keep every note we received.

And now, to introduce what I have to say to my Young Israel family and many friends, a little story.

It's a cute bit of humor about a small child who becomes somewhat restless as the rabbi's High Holiday appeal sermon drags on and on. Finally, she leans over to her mother and whispers, "Mommy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?"

Well, could it be that some of you might be thinking, "Well, we given them the farewell dinner, even a nice gift; why won't he let us go?"

So, I hope you'll understand if I ask for your kind consideration and allow me the time to share with you some thoughts about my 26 year tenure at Young Israel. I began working on this speech last Sunday. Each day I returned to it, tinkered with it a bit more, and discovered there was invariably something else that I left out. Imagine how long I'd be holding you here if the dinner were next week. My good friend, Elliot Franklin, said not to worry. So, here it is now.

A little over a week ago, Merle Hartstein, another dear friend, interviewed me for the Dinner Journal. Among the questions she asked me was this: what was most meaningful about your rabbinate at YI? The truth is, I had already given that question some thought and so my answer was quick in coming. The moments I cherished most — and there were many — were when I was able to contribute something to the lives of the people I served: to create some religious, spiritual value; to teach something uplifting; to be there to help, to advise, to rejoice with, to console. I've often said that the rabbinate is that one noble profession where you get paid for doing chesed. I can remember the very first d'rasha I ever wrote: it was for Rabbi Joseph Lookstein's class in homiletics at YU. It was about the shamush of the Chanukah menorah and its theme was: The Shamush: To Light, To Serve.

In that rabbinic service, I met many people; I met you, and I grew in ways I never could have anticipated. On the very first pasuk in Vayikra, Rashi comments that HaShem told Moshe to tell the Children of Israel that HaShem's speaking to him was only in the merit of the People. Now, I am not going to tell you that G-d spoke to me because of you. But what I can tell you is this: who I am today is not by any stretch the same person I was when I arrived at YI some 26 years ago. And that growth in Torah knowledge, in understanding people, in coming closer to HaShem is because of you.

I would like to explain this debt of gratitude by framing it in terms of the relationship of rebbe and talmid, teacher and student. How appropriate it is that we will soon celebrate the festival of Shavuos. The bris, the covenant, of Mattan Torah defined, in lasting perpetuity, our relationship with HaShem. And what was that relationship? How is HaShem portrayed? We recite it every day: "Baruch ata HaShem, hamelamed Torah l'amo Yisroel." HaShem is our Rebbe; we are His talmidim. Moshe, the great prophet and leader, is known to us by neither title. He has traditionally possessed only one appellation: Moshe Rabainu. Moshe, our rebbe, our teacher.

Yes, a rabbi has many roles, but his primary and central responsibility is and has always been to emulate the very first rav, Moshe Rabbeinu, who was simply following HaShem's lead: to teach, to educate; to sculpt beautiful yiddishe neshamos; or, put differently, to forge a rebbe-talmid relationship. Why? Because this relationship is the foundation of our great mesorah; it is the heart of our great tradition. Through this relationship, one generation merges with the next, and the great wisdom of the past is gently but securely transmitted to a new future. Eventually, we become our teachers, and thus bear the sacred responsibility of gathering a new generation of eager students to sit at our feet. Of the many lessons I've learned from my great teacher, HaRav Soloveitchik, zt"l, perhaps the most important and pivotal one was the centrality of this rebbe-talmid relationship to Yahadus.

How is that relationship forged? I'll tell you.

When a rabbi can interface with people through a drasha, a shiur, a lecture, a small chavrusah, or even a private conversation, he makes a friend, a fellow traveler on an adventurous journey into a sacred past and glorious future. The rebbe-talmid relationship is established with every such encounter. The fellowship of rebbe-talmid is often filled with deep affection and admiration. The talmid is buoyed by the rebbe's encouragement and seeks to grow and excel. True, from time to time that relationship is also laced with mussar, those religious admonishments that are never meant to embarrass but only to instruct. Why mussar? Because mussar also speaks to the love of a rebbe for his talmid. For if, as the Talmud tells us, rebuke is necessary and it is neglected, the rabbi will be held accountable for his silence and his flock will be the less for not having heard it. A true rebbe who genuinely cares would never knowingly allow his talmid to err when he can prevent the misdeed.

But the rebbe-talmid relationship, once launched, becomes much more than a joint learning experience. It becomes the religious engine of the rabbinate itself. When it runs well, the rabbi's rulings, his pastoral ministrations, his communal involvements are successful. When this relationship, though, is ignored, as it sometimes is, becomes stale, as it sometime does, the rabbi becomes a mere technician. Yes, he is obeyed, but not loved; respected but not revered. I guess if I've had one regret, it is that while I taught many, both young and old, I didn't teach all. Perhaps some simply resisted, others had no time, and I truly apologize if I was the cause of that no-show. I certainly hope they found a rebbe elsewhere. Thankfully, there were so many who did accord me the singular honor of allowing me, trusting me, to be their conduit into discovering the eternal riches of our Torah. And so, if you would ask me who are my close companions, my confidants and friends, my answer would be clear: my students, of course, the young and old, in every setting, shape and form.

All this has been a wonderful blessing for me, but this observation only begins to speak of my indebtedness to you.

For me, and I imagine for every rav, there was and is an additional reward. The Talmud in Taanis (7a) declares:

אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק: למה נמשלו דברי תורה כעץ, שנאמר: 'עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה', לומר לך: מה עץ קטן מדליק את הגדול - אף תלמידי חכמים, קטנים מחדדים את הגדולים. והיינו דאמר רבי חנינא: הרבה למדתי מרבותי ומחבירי יותר מרבותי, ומתלמידי יותר מכולן

"I have learned much from my teachers and from my colleagues more but from my disciples more than from them all." Indeed, as the passage begins: "just as a small log can kindle a larger one; the student likewise enables the teacher to enhance and sharpen his wisdom." You have all been my students, not only in the formal sense of the word — I know many of you have not always attended all my shiurim and lectures — but if we have spoken over any length of time, I can assure you that I've learned from you. It is simply amazing how much wisdom you can glean from other people. How, so often, in the very act of explaining and clarifying, you suddenly alight upon an insight, an answer, a solution that frankly would never have been possible had it not been for that teaching conversation. The many challenges and opportunities you placed before me not only enabled me to expand and deepen my knowledge of Torah but helped mature my thinking about so many subjects as well. That serendipitous magic might have occurred in the classroom, in my study, at home, on a quiet walk to Shul, in a phone conversation, in some animated discussion over coffee, at a Shabbos table. Indeed, so much of whom I am, what I've become, is a function of that blessed interaction.

But there is a third and final benefit that I enjoyed as a function of this rebbe-talmid relationship. Over these many years, I and my family have been the recipients of many wonderful acts of chesed from people, deeds too numerous to mention. From helping me to start my car in zero degree weather to sensitively bringing some kiddush refreshments to our son, Yaakov Mosheh, and all the favors and kindnesses in between. You all know who you are. I wish time would permit me to mention you all by name and the wonderful chassadim you gifted to our family. To enumerate them all would keep us here all night and then some. For you and what you have done, Yocheved and I cannot thank you enough.

I want to conclude with a confession of sorts, and it'll take a few more moments. You see, I never imagined my life would quite turn out this way. In my youth, I was probably the most unlikely person to enter the rabbinate, and I need to tell you why. I'm sure it probably explains a few things.

My Mom, G-d bless her, wanted me to be a doctor in the worst way. Every time the old medical drama, Ben Cassey, would be on TV, she insisted I stop my homework and watch. Imagine. And it worked. When I entered YU, I began as a pre-med major. But even then, it wasn't clinical medicine, but rather research that peaked my interest. I envisioned myself working quietly in some lab as a biochemist on some cure for cancer. And even when I changed my major in my sophomore year to Intellectual History and Sociology, I still viewed my eventual career in some private, quiet sector. I was simply too reserved to venture forth into the public arena.

Now, it's true, I loved Torah. I can't explain why. I had no rabbinic yichus in my family, or at least none that I knew of. My parents, may they live and be well, could not have provided for me better, but of Torah skills and knowledge, through no fault of their own, they could give me little. Proud Jewish traditions, yes, encouragement, absolutely, but the day-to-day help a youngster invariably needs in his studies, no. I even failed my entrance exam when I applied to YU's High School (M.T.A.) in 1956. (Of course, I eventually got in by studying all summer).

But, notwithstanding this apparent deficiency in my early Jewish education, at YU, I was blessed with wonderful rebbeim. And I believe that that talmid-rebbi relationship did it. Rabbis Macy Gordon, Louis Bernstein, and Manny Fulda, and later, Rav Moshe Tendler, Rav Aaron Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Paleyoff and finally the Rav, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. Taken together, they nurtured my neshama, and helped chisel the contours of my spiritual persona. And so — I'm not sure how or when — but at some point in my college career, I knew I wanted to serve. I wanted to offer something of what I learned to others. I didn't have much, but give me a classroom and some eager students; a simple junior congregation; a small youth group and I'd feel fulfilled. Apparently something about that rebbe-talmid relationship taught me the importance of giving, of serving. But in the rabbinate, not a chance.

I tell you this because I believe that my 39 years in the clinical rabbinate is as much a surprise to me as to those who knew me way back when. This shy fellow who rarely spoke even in private simply didn't fit the job description of the new American Orthodox rabbi of the 60's, or for that matter any rabbi. But, I was idealistic and na├»ve and took the plunge. I had learned that a recipe of hard work and dedication might accommodate a "square peg in a round whole." Looking back, though, I'm not sure how good the fit was, but, I will tell you this: if I've achieved any measure of success in the rabbinate, it is a consequence of one powerful truth: over the years, I increasingly came to believe — and now am absolutely convinced — that that success was attributable to G-d. Now, I do not say this lightly, nor do I feel the need to offer any sophisticated explanations. With age and wisdom, I came to realize, I simply became aware, that HaShem was my companion and friend, beside me and with me at every moment. And He made me — the rabbi — happen. Of course, all the many imperfections were mine alone.

And here's my proof.

People tell me I'm a fairly decent speaker, an animated teacher, a good communicator. But that wasn't always so. In Elementary School, Jr. High and into High School, I suffered from a terrible stammer. The stuttering was so severe that I was afraid to open my mouth. I was embarrassed to speak and sound — literally — like a broken record. The thought of standing and speaking in public — no matter the setting — was downright terrifying, petrifying. I'd sit in the back of a classroom trying to be as inconspicuous as possible so as not to call attention to myself and be called upon to read or answer a question. How I ever managed to outgrow that disability, I have no idea. I know my father played an important role, but otherwise, the eventual healing mystifies me still some 50 years later. I'm sure the ripple effect of that ordeal continues to shadows me. Even today, I still get quite anxious before every speech. The nervousness has not abated over time. With all my preparations, it still amazes me that it all comes together when I get up to speak That's why before every d'rasha, lecture, or simple d'var Torah, I pray to HaShem that I do it well. Heyei na matzliach darki, I say, and when I conclude, I thank Him, hopefully every time.

And so, in a word, the fact that someone like me could be a rabbi for 39 years and not do too badly is the best proof that there's a G-d in the world. I am living testimony to the belief that with HaShem anything is possible, especially a shy guy becoming a pulpit rabbi. And I take deep pride that in my speaking which, again, simply should never have been possible, I can be a humble vehicle, a manifestation of G-d's Providence, His goodness and chesed.

What else can I say? "Chasdei HaShem, ki lo samnu, ki lo chalu rachamav!" HaShem has certainly been good to me and my family; His mercies and kindnesses have never ceased. I was here because HaShem so willed it. I pray I've measured up to His divine expectations; I hope I've lived up to yours. I've struggled awfully hard to fulfill the mandate of "V'heyisem nekiyim m'HaShem oo'mi'Yisroel." I just hope I've acquitted myself well in the eyes of HaShem and in your eyes as well.

Thank you, thank you for these 26 extraordinary years. May we all merit being together b'ir hakodesh, Yerushalayim, be'vias hagoel bimhaira veyamainu. Amen.

Rabbi Jeffrey Bienenfeld