The best part of my Shabbat morning experience is when my friend delivers his 30 second dvar Torah just before we leave our beautiful shul, which is located not more than a stone's throw from the Mediterranean Sea. But to appreciate what my friend's dvar Torah means to me, a little background is in order.
Until several years ago, our shul was an undeniably lovely place for Shabbat morning davening, given the tranquil view of the ocean and the completely relaxed atmosphere. At that time, we had no rabbis. The gabbai, a generous, loving, and sincere soul, would lead the prayers, and everyone felt very much at home.
But then, seemingly out of the clear blue sky, our humble Shabbat morning experience was expropriated by a couple of fake rabbis. Today, neither one will let you escape your Shabbat morning experience without hearing from him in the form of a soporific monologue where interruptions -- questions or challenges -- are highly discouraged.
Now don’t get me wrong. Both of these individuals are highly knowledgeable human beings, with a number of books to their credit, but neither is a real rabbi. A real rabbi, simply stated, must possess two qualities. First, love for every Jew that is expressed in a down-to-earth and approachable manner and second, love of Torah that is greater than love of self. Neither of these rabbis is comfortably approachable since, yes, you can start a dialogue with either one but you know that every word that leaves your lips is being judged according to that rabbi’s narrow agenda. And when you are reluctant to approach them, why would you even think to share words of Torah, which cannot be heard from a cold and distant heart? When I knew them less well, I would occasionally direct a few words of Torah towards them and, if they registered approval, it was with a nod from on high that quickly put a chill into the idea of sharing Torah thoughts with them again.
The best rabbis are those who do not try to be rabbis. They are just approachable human beings, humble, sensitive mensches, truly in love with every Jew. And when you say you have a dvar Torah to share, they perk up their ears with genuine interest.
This is why I love my friend’s dvar Torah. After the kiddush repast has been consumed and the second rabbi’s monologue is over, my friend stands and delivers a 30 second dvar Torah. He is far from being a Torah scholar but clearly feels that week’s Torah portion deeply and urgently, so much so that he just has to share a few words of inspiration that he gleaned from studying it during the past week. The authenticity of his sincerely felt words punctures the bubble of convoluted pilpul that infused the monologues of the fake rabbis.
The gabbai, the one who makes our Shabbat morning experience possible, is outwardly respectful of the fake rabbis. Yet, when they speak, I notice a well-defined smirk on his face. I don’t think that he is aware of the smirk. I think it’s coming up from his subconscious, so he is unaware of it, yet it cannot be hidden. By the same token, the fake rabbis are so unaware of their surroundings that they don’t see the gabbai’s smirk or, for that matter, the general disinterest of the other congregants. It is as though, quite literally, they are talking to the wall or, perhaps, just to each other.
The above is meant to illustrate the dilemma of advancing in Torah. The more Torah you learn, the greater the battle that must be waged against the self . Our greatest rabbis, for the last two thousand years, have written and spoken about this dilemma. There can be little doubt but that they were confounded by this dilemma themselves.
My deepest wish is for my Shabbat rabbis to go from fake to real. Such a transition would have truly Messianic implications for they would then channel their unfathomable love of self into love for every Jew and, like a pebble dropped in a vast lake, the ripple effect would be tremendous, eventually reaching into every heart, no matter how near or how far away.