Religion

/

Health

The God Squad: 50 years as a rabbi

Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

This year marks my 50th year as a rabbi. If you are not a paleontologist or an astronomer, 50 years is a long time and my colleagues from my ordination class have all pitched in to share their memories and lessons from a half a century of working in the fields of the Lord. The danger here is obvious. I don’t want to trivialize a lifetime in the rabbinate with a few banal and trivial observations and yet 50 years is time enough to have learned things that only clergy (of any faith) can learn. Here are some of those things that have floated to the top of my soul.

The only way to be a good rabbi is to have a deep belief in God. I remember one of our God Squad shows where my dear friend Father Tom Hartman (may his memory be for a blessing) and I interviewed some rabbinical students from my seminary. Tommy asked them if they believed in God which I thought to be a weird question to ask them considering their choice of career, but their answers were deeply disturbing to him and to me. Most of them were just not sure if God existed. They even defended their agnosticism by saying that they thought their future congregants would appreciate and identify with a rabbi who shared their doubts. I had never seen Tommy angry in the 25 years of our friendship, but he was angry that day, “Why would anyone join a synagogue where the rabbi did not believe what Judaism teaches? What comfort will they be able to bring to them? God is the source of our hope!” he said. Adonay tzuri v’ goali (the Lord is our rock and our salvation) I said. The social worker rabbinate and the positive psychology rabbinate and the secular Jewish peoplehood rabbinate never worked for me. I have learned and I have believed that the only reason to sacrifice what we have to sacrifice is the truth that with God we are never alone, never betrayed, and never abandoned. No job is worth what we give as rabbis but the rabbinate is not a job it is a calling to make God’s words real in a broken world.

I also learned that death is not the end of us. Again it was Tommy who taught me — or more accurately — reminded me that The Christian belief in Heaven was born from and is virtually identical to the Jewish belief in Olam Ha Bah (The World to Come). I am still surprised and disappointed by the undeniable fact that Christians are taught about Heaven more than Jews are taught about The World to Come. The belief that we will not be separated forever from those we love is the only hope that can survive the grave. The only response to human finitude that gives us strength to face our death and the death of those we love is the belief that the end of our journey here is not the end of our soul’s journey there.

I learned that trying is all that matters. Everything else is just not our business (TS Elliot). The shrinkage of the Jewish people, synagogue membership, and love of Zion are all bracing challenges but none of them matters a wit. All that matters is that we get up every day and try to make Jews, and to make Jews who are already made more spiritually literate. Whether my labors were enough to tip the scales and bring about a worldwide revival of Jewish life and faith is not an important question for me. All I cared about was trying every day to teach the truth that Judaism is the answer to every important need we possess.

I learned that there are many paths up the same mountain. My work on the God Squad with Tommy was a big step in what used to be called interfaith dialogue. Actually, it should be called spiritual friendship. We always tried to share with our audiences and in our show on HBO “How Do You Spell God?” our shared belief that we know enough about how we are different and not enough yet about how we are all the same. Although I believe that Judaism got more things right than any other faith, it just seemed obvious to both of us that God did not give all the truth to just one faith. When our contact with other faiths is limited to the annual interfaith Thanksgiving service, we deprive ourselves of the wisdom of other climbers up the same mountain. What they have learned can help us and what we have learned can help them. Circling the wagons is a corrosive temptation and I am proud that I never succumbed to it.

 

I am grateful to God that I am a rabbi.

(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at godsquadquestion@aol.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)

©2021 The God Squad. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(c) 2021 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

 

Comics

Lee Judge The Barn Jerry King Cartoons Mike Lester Loose Parts Mike Du Jour