Relating to Your Rav: 10 Rules for Ba'alei Batim
In my years in the clinical rabbinate, and more recently as a consequence of my teaching practical rabbinics to aspiring rabbanim here in Israel, I've been encouraged to write a manual of sorts for ba'alei batim. From the questions I've received, many ba'alei batim apparently want to know—from a rabbi's perspective—how they should properly relate to their rav as well as how they should behave as members of their shul. Of course, the two overlap.
What I have written below is a modest attempt to articulate some rules which, again, from a rabbi's perspective, are critical in establishing a lasting, positive and constructive relationship between a rav and his parishioners, a fellowship that can be mutually beneficial and whose importance is central to the religious advancement and success of any Jewish community.
1. The rav is there to serve; he wants to serve. It is chiefly for this reason he has chosen to enter this noble profession. Therefore, take advantage of what your rav has to offer:
a) attend his shurim, lectures and derashot
b) ask him your halachic questions
c) enlist his advice and help on personal and communal issues
Your rav often looks for opportunities to explain and teach what he sees as important and vital for the welfare of the shul and beyond. He encourages and appreciates your questions and inquiries. Learn from him; speak with him; and counsel together "l'hagdil Torah oo'leha'adira."
2. Respect your rav's time. He cannot do everything, nor should he be expected to do so. Be patient, and if an anticipated response is not immediately forthcoming, it is rarely intentional. Your rav will try his utmost to accommodate the many demands upon his time, but...in time.
3. Respect your rav's privacy. He's a husband and father and is entitled to devote time to his family's welfare as he sees fit. Do not call him too late or too early, except, of course, in emergencies. Remember also, to allow your rav the quiet time to prepare his shiurim and to simply learn lishma (for its own sake).
4. A rav is principally engaged as the shul's religious authority. This authority plays out on two levels: first, the rav determines, establishes, and implements the halachic standards of the shul; and second, the rav sets and formulates the broad hashkafic parameters of the shul's religious orientation, strengthening both its tenor and direction. Respect and abide by his decisions in both realms, especially when they do not accord with your views. Remember, in a shul, there can be only one religious authority. The implementation of that authority may be the subject of respectful inquiry, but it may never be challenged.
5. As with everyone, be sure to give your rav the benefit of the doubt, especially where it appears the rav may have erred. Before passing judgment, assume there are good reasons for the action he has taken. Certainly ask for clarification, but always do so respectfully and reverentially. As a public figure, oftentimes, a rav's actions may be misunderstood.
6. In disagreeing with your rav, be sure to respect and honor the legitimate boundaries that define and differentiate between rabbinic and lay roles. While on private and personal matters, one may look to one's personal rebbe for guidance, on shul and communal matters that touch upon halachic or hashkafic considerations, you must defer to your shul rav even if you disagree.
7. Be ever mindful of these nevers:
- Never compare your rav to another in his presence. It is patently unfair and insulting.
- Never come to your rav with ulterior motives and/or hidden agendas. These motives and agendas will ultimately become transparent and your credibility will be irreparably damaged.
- Never bully your rav with veiled threats and disparaging innuendos. Such tactics only breed resentment.
- Never use your money, authority, or even chesed to induce and influence your rav into supporting your point of view. Such crafty strategies and manipulations demean the relationship and will ultimately backfire.
- Never publicly challenge your rav on halachic and hashkafic issues. While there may be exceptions to this rule, they are rare. By all means discuss them with your rav, but do so privately and respectfully.
8. Remember, your rav will, by definition, be unable to please everyone or any one person all the time. All a rav can hope and pray for is the wisdom, strength and sensitivity to serve his flock to the best of his abilities. And, if, on balance, the positive religious value he creates outweighs the few deficiencies and mistakes along the way, he will have acquitted himself well. If, unfortunately, that proves not to be the case—and in saying this, I do not prejudge who's at fault, if anyone—it would then be time for the rav and shul to part.
9. Remember, your rav may be quite talented, but there is one skill he will never possess: he cannot read minds. Please, then, when a simcha is forthcoming, when someone is ill or any other important news (excepting lashon hara, of course), keep your rav informed and up to date.
10. Show your rav that you very much want to be involved in the shul. Lend your time, expertise and financial means to advance the goals of the rav and the shul's lay leadership. In so doing, you will become a trusted friend and committed ba'al habos.
A talmid chacham chooses to enter the clinical rabbinate to serve and lead. He knows he will invariably live in a "fish bowl." He knows he will be unable to please all. He also knows he will be forever on call and expected to always speak properly and act with dignity. He knows he will be challenged as he attempts to raise the halachic and religious level of his charges. He also knows it will be difficult to always inspire his flock to great spiritual heights. And he surely knows that, notwithstanding his most sincere and stalwart efforts, he will, from time to time, make mistakes and fail to accomplish all that he sets out to do.
But, even with all these nisyonot (trials and tests) present, a rav's dedication to his calling remains unconditional and resolute. It endures despite the pressures and tensions, the problems and misunderstandings. Indeed, every rav is shadowed and challenged by the well-known rabbinic adage, to wit: if a rabbi enjoys universal popularity, he is no rav, and if he stands to be dismissed, he is no mentch.
All a rav asks is to be appreciated as a proud member of a hallowed and noble profession, one which is rooted in our sacred tradition as embodying the noble services of the Priests and Levites, the Prophets and Sages of Knesset Yisroel.
Rabbi J. Bienenfeld June 2007