My rabbi comes from an island off the coast of Tunisia, in North Africa. The name of the island is Djerba. Jews have been living there for 2500 years. My rabbi's comfort with Judaism and Torah has to do with his strong sense of personal belonging to a specific tradition. His identity is also interwoven with that of many beloved relatives and holy men whose history he shares.
Why is he my rabbi? Because he has no agenda and no airs and, you have no doubt, he loves all Jews. Sometimes he will say he forgets in which parasha (weekly portion) a certain Torah passage is written but, in being forthright about his doubts, his credibility is enhanced. Truth is too much for any of us. We would not know it if it smacked us in the face. And if we did happen to recognize it, we would only run away. But authenticity -- and my rabbi has it in spades -- draws me close like a warm fireplace brings me near to it on a cold winter night.
I can tell my rabbi is real because he smiles a lot. During a Torah shiur (lesson), he will ask a question. If you give him the right answer, he will smile at you. If you give him the wrong answer, he will smile at you just the same. We are talking about Torah, after all. And what gladdens the heart more than that?
During the twenty minutes or so that separate the afternoon and evening prayers, my rabbi gives a lesson in halacha (Torah law). A few feet away, someone may be checking his cell phone. And those sitting in the back of the synagogue may either be asleep or too far away to hear the rabbi, who speaks softly. But the rabbi does not mind at all. He will continue the lesson anyways even if only one or no one is listening. He is not a bells and whistles rabbi. He does not play to the cameras or the crowd. I In any event, his words of Torah, on their own, bring additional light and life to the world. Even if the sound waves of those words only reach the synagogue walls, their reverberations are eternal. It could be that nearly everyone has dozed off but it's really not their fault. After all, we live in a world where excitement, rather than authenticity, is what it takes to keep most people awake.After the evening prayers are done, my rabbi will sit and teach for another hour and usually more. He teaches mishna but often goes off on tangents that are as illuminating of God’s will and desires in this world as the mishna itself. He will tell anecdotes or pass along Torah novellae that are illustrative of Divine Providence in daily life.
My rabbi loves to teach. We could probably sit for another hour or more since he is never in a hurry. And if I kept asking questions, he would keep answering them far into the night. But if he did not know the answer, he would tell me that, too.
I think, in the end, that’s why he’s my rabbi. He just wants to sit with you and teach you Torah, instruction that could go on forever since the wisdom found in the Torah is infinite, too.