My name is אילן דוד בן הרב משה יעקב ודריישע פרומה ז"ל.
Today, by the grace of God and the ALEPH Va’ad, I become a Rabbi. I’m humbled and honored to reach this most auspicious moment, and I’ve given a lot of thought about what it is I’m signing up to do. What does it mean to BE a Rabbi in today’s world?
Our world is experiencing tremendous upheaval, and the Jewish world is not immune from today’s realities. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 20% of Americans no longer identify with any religious tradition. The American Jewish world is shrinking – in 1990, we were 1.8% of the US population, today only 1.2%. The Jewish world is aging and many of our youth are walking away from synagogues in favor of ashrams, yoga centers and “Unity churches.” The largest self-identification of Jewish religious practice among today’s young Jews is not Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, or Renewal, but rather those who consider themselves “spiritual, not religious.” Synagogues are merging or closing all over the world, and some would even argue that the future looks bleak for world Jewry.
And yet, there is an extraordinary opportunity for today’s Jewish world to renew itself, and in many places, it’s happening, thanks in no small part to the work of Reb Zalman and everyone here today. There IS a tremendous hunger in today’s world for meaning and inspiration. Today we answer the call to step forward as leaders in the journey for renewing Jewish life. How do we do it? Here are two texts that I use for guidance:
First, the Ohalei Ya’akov, Rabbi Ya’akov Friedman, a 20th Century leader of the Husiatyn Hasidic Dynasty asks the following:
מהו תפקידו של רבי?"
What is the job of a Rebbe? His answer:
לטהר את לבותיהם של המסתופפים בצלו ולהאיר את נשמותיהם באור הקדושה.
To purify the hearts of those who gather in his presence, and to illuminate their souls with the light of holiness. (repeat)
Friedman’s ideas are also reflected in Torah. Immediately after Aaron and his sons give the first Priestly Blessing to the Israelites, God says:
ושמו את שמי על בני ישראל ואני אברכם
And they shall place my name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them."
From these two texts, I learn that I don’t do this work alone. I work in tandem with God, a holy partnership. Sometimes my job is just to place God’s name in the palm of the people, or to serve as a doorway for God’s presence to shine through.
But either way, it starts with me.
My job as a Rabbi is to lead by example, to open my heart to the light of holiness. Being a Rabbi is a transformative experience – we have the power to impact people’s lives on the deepest levels, and we are also transformed in the process. This is what we can cultivate and pass on, a soul-nourishing, transformational, holy, vibrant Judaism. YES.
May we know this holy vibrant Judaism, davka in OUR hearts and in OUR minds. May we draw on this wellspring of love and blessing and light, to inspire hearts and minds in our communities.
And then - may we know how to be the proper holy channel for carrying God’s blessing to the people - inside and outside of our communities too - now and for the rest of our lives.
And when our work in this world is done, may our students, and the students of our students, carry this holy path of Renewal ever forward.