Monday 9 June 2014

013) The Rabbi Who Got Fired

The town of Parisov was presided over by a rabbi who was the son of the Yid HaKadosh.* Some of the people in the town, however, believed he was unfit to be their rabbi as they claimed he had insufficient knowledge. They convened a tribunal of three respected rabbis led by R Aryeh Leib Morgenstern the head of the Beit Din of Linshitz, and author of a Talmudic commentary. The esteemed tribunal evaluated the rabbi and declared him unfit to practice. 

After his dismissal, a resident of Parisov happened to spend the festival of Shavuot in the town of Kotzk. When the Kotzker Rebbe saw him, he inquired about the well being of his rabbi, and was told that the rabbi had been removed from office by the tribunal. This infuriated the Kotzker, who wanted to know exactly who took part in that tribunal. As it transpired, all three rabbis were spending the Yom Tov in Kotzk as well. The Kotzker demanded that they immediately appear before him. Timidly they stood before the Kotzker who started firing questions at them:  “Do you know how to learn?” he asked. They did not respond. “Do you know all a rabbi is supposed to know?” he continued. Again, no response. Then the Kotzker started to rattle off the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, including interpretations from the early and latter-day commentators. When he finally finished (Shavuot is a two day festival), he once again asked; “Do you know all this?” Since no answers were forthcoming, the Kotzker went on to explain: 
“In every community there is a different energy. When someone asks the rabbi a question, he brings with him a certain ‘chemistry’. When the rabbi responds, he too brings a particular ‘chemistry’. If both energies combine favorably, they evoke an appropriate heavenly response, and the rabbi’s answer is somehow authenticated. On the other hand, if the ‘chemistries’ do not match, then there is no such heavenly response and the rabbi has to rely solely on his knowledge. In such a case, for the answer to be authenticated, the rabbi must have an unimaginable amount of knowledge to draw from.”
(Emet ve Emunah p124, par 4.)

I have often wondered how it is that the various satellite Jewish communities all over the world, in all cultures and on all levels, manage to function and survive. Some of these communities appear to have leadership that leaves much to be desired. We may wonder as to the capability and authenticity of that leadership. Sometimes a rabbi may be young and inexperienced. Sometimes he may be old and disinterested. Other times the leader may simply appear to make mistakes. How can intelligent people look up to and confer with such heads of communities?

I think the Kotzker hit the nail on the head: Not every rabbi or leader needs to be a Rambam or an Einstein. Not every rabbi needs to know Shas or Talmud by heart. But if the rabbi forges an indisputable connection to, and creates a bond and ‘chemistry’ with the community he serves, somehow that seems to override whatever may be lacking. That bond, if real, seems to validate and authenticate that community as a genuine part of the Jewish People.

If that bond exists it should never be tampered with.

If that bond does not exist, the leader better have something absolutely outstanding and unique to bring to the party. Could this have been the message the Kotzker was trying to convey to the tribunal?

I was once asked to officiate at a funeral outside a small country town where there had never been a rabbi. A charming old stalwart representing that community insisted that the service be conducted in a certain manner. I politely suggested that I believed it was an incorrect procedure. He became annoyed at my arrogance and told me he had been doing it that way for the last sixty years. I then, not so politely, suggested that he had been doing it wrong for sixty years. A crowd was beginning to gather and only because I had numbers (and the grieving family) on my side, did I get my way. I knew I was right anyway.

Later though, I started feeling bad. Yes, I had won the argument…but I had also interfered in the way a community had acted for more years than I had been on this planet. I did not have the same ‘chemistry’ that the dear old man had had with his community. And I don’t know Talmud by heart. Maybe he acted on some ancient custom I was unfamiliar with and have yet to discover. Perhaps I should have just kept quiet.
The Yid HaKadosh [1766 – 1814] was a student of the Chozeh of Lublin [1740 -1815] and both coincidentally bore exactly the same name, Yakov Yitzchak. It has been suggested that in order to differentiate between the teacher and his student, the student assumed the title of Yid HaKadosh, or ‘holy Jew’. Both the Chozeh and the Yid were early teachers of the Kotzker Rebbe. The Chozeh and his teacher, The Rebbe R Meilech of Lezansk [d 1787] were responsible for bringing the Chassidic movement from the Ukraine (where it originated), to Poland, which was to become the dominant center Chassidism in the early part of the nineteenth century.            

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