A Reflection on a Rabbinic Milestone

A Reflection on a Rabbinic Milestone

  Yesterday I received a Doctor of Divinity for over 25 years of service as a Rabbi of the Rabbinical Assembly, the International Organization of Conservative Rabbis.  The convocation took place at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York where I finished my rabbinical training in 1981 after years of study at the University of Judaism (now know as the American Jewish University) and Israel campus of the Masorti movement at Neve Schechter.  I was fortunate to have many family members and friends there to share in this professional milestone in my life.  I am grateful to them for supporting my rabbinic calling over these many years.    It was also lovely to share this moment with a wonderful group of colleagues and teachers.  I respect them greatly and am so grateful for their teaching and mentorship over the years.   

The rabbinate is a very demanding profession.  Yesterday,  I reminisced with my colleagues about our student days and the hopes and dreams we drew on to launch our careers.  Everyone’s journey was unique and has it’s twists and turns.  Everyone of my colleagues spoke of successes and disappointments along the way.  But the feeling that I carried away from this wonderful day was the special joy of the unique collegiality of the rabbinate in general, and the Conservative rabbinate in particular.  I felt a  special closeness with my colleagues who share the same profession, educational experiences, and commitments over these two decades plus of service of God and the Jewish people.  

 Several members of my family commented about how moved they were by the closeness of colleagues to one another, something unique to the seminary rabbinate among the professions.  This may be so because we are relatively small as a professional group and the unique challenges that the rabbinate entails.  This closeness is not only with those who we share in this life’s journey, but with all previous generations of rabbis who came before us.  We feel a closeness to the colleagues whose words are embedded in Talmudic discourses or Midrashic flights of fancy.  We connect to colleagues whose stories are told in Aggadot (rabbinic folklore) and whose opinion is registered in a Mishnah (a core rabbinic work of 200 CE).   They are very much of our Hevrah.  This sense of tradition is one of the main qualities that led me to the rabbinate. 

The title of ‘Doctor’ is quite insignificant compared to the feeling of fellowship with other Rabbis that I feel as I move through the years.   The privilege to be close to the brilliant legacy of Jewish teaching and learning is moving to me and continues to inspire me.  

In this week’s portion, Behaalotcha, Joshua is disturbed by the unauthorized prophetic ecstasy of Eldad and Medad.  The Torah records Moshe’s reaction to Joshua’s call to restrain them,  “But Moses said to him,  ‘Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets (N’vi’im) , that the Lord put His spirit upon them. ‘”

 This reaction of Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses, our Rabbi) gets at one of the most moving aspects  of being a Rabbi.  Following Moshe, a  Rabbi wants everyone around him or her to be a Rabbi.  Not only do we want to share the Torah we have learned, but we want to learn from every Jew who has drawn from the well of Torah.   The Torah is not the private property of trained scholars, it is the heritage of all  the Jewish people.    The Talmud teaches that everyone is jealous of another’s success, except a father of his child and a teacher of his pupil (BT Sanh 105b).  I so much enjoy to see those I teach become students and lovers  of Torah and fervently hope that each of those I have touched will  exceed me in learning.  

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and to share my joy of this professional milestone in my life and my calling. 

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

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