I am at a terrible disadvantage in writing this column. Whatever I say will be dismissed outright by many for being self-serving. I ask you to hear me out anyway, because what I want to say is not about me at all, but is about you, it’s about all of us and it is about setting a tone in a community.
This past week, Yocheved and I had the honor of participating in the Bar Mitzvah of a fantastic young man, the son of one of our newest members. When I walked in to the simcha, the father came over to me and said, “What is the Rabbi’s schedule, when does the Rabbi need to leave and when should we have the Rabbi speak?”
To be honest, I had no clue what he was talking about or to whom he was addressing his questions. Which Rabbi, I thought to myself. I don’t know his schedule, ask him. And then I realized that he was talking about me, but was doing so in third person. I was taken aback and frankly was terribly uncomfortable being addressed in that fashion. Third person should be reserved for brilliant Torah scholars, truly righteous individuals, famous Roshei Yeshiva and Roshei Kollel, I thought to myself.
It was greatly tempting to correct him and to instruct him not to refer to me in that manner any further, but instead to speak to me directly in a casual and comfortable way. I stopped myself from correcting him, not because I enjoy the honor, but because I recognized that he was trying to practice and teach his children an important principle, kavod ha’Rav, honoring Rabbis, and who am I to deny him that opportunity.
Believe it or not, that conversation wasn’t the greatest display of kavod ha’Rav that I saw this week. On Wednesday, Rabbi Moskowitz and I had a meeting with someone from the community. Midway through the meeting, I noticed that he was wearing a suit and tie and I didn’t remember ever seeing him in such formal attire before. I asked him about it and his response blew me away. He said in anticipation of meeting with the Rabbis, he bought a suit and he is now excited because he will have it for Shabbos as well.
Deference, respect and honor for authority figures in general, and for Rabbis in particular, seems to be an increasingly lost art. I can already hear the responses: Rabbis need to earn respect and act in a way that deserves it. Today’s Rabbi is more like a friend than a Rabbi and that is why people are so casual with him. Why are Rabbis so egocentric and narcissistic that they need people’s honor?
Perhaps there is merit to all of these responses. To be clear, I love feeling close to the members of our community and feel no lack of kavod ha’Rav. As a Rabbi, I personally try to take what I do seriously, but never take myself too seriously. I share these reflections not because of anything my colleagues or I need, but because of something our children desperately need.
Imagine the difference between a child who observes his or her parent talk to the Rabbi in third person and one who hears their parent talk about the Rabbi in disparaging terms. Consider the impact on a child of watching their parent gravitate towards Rabbinic or Torah personalities instead of away from them.
One of the worst messages a parent can send is to learn from a sefer while a Rabbi is speaking, answer text messages during a dvar Torah, or walk out altogether because the Rabbis words are so useless that schmoozing in the lobby is a more valuable use of time.
In contrast, a great gift a parent can give a child, in my opinion, is the tradition of going to say good Shabbos to the Rabbi, a teacher from school or the principal at the end of davening on every Friday night. Model for and train children to stand when a Torah scholar, male or female, walks in the room. Never speak negatively about Rabbis and Jewish educators and indeed, always seek to defend their honor. Don’t casually call Rabbis and Jewish educators by their first names in front of them or in their absence. No matter how they may introduce themselves to you, always use their title and thereby honor what it stands for and represents.
Our community is blessed to have some incredible Torah personalities and role models. Some of them are in education, others in outreach, some work with youth, some teach, some write, and some are retired. Let’s bring back the art of kavod ha’Rav, honor, respect and deference for those associated with Torah learning and teaching. Let’s not do it for them. Let’s do it for the impact it will have on us, on our children and on our community.