I have a cherished colleague. Her name is Dr. M. Cathy Harmon-Christian. She teaches in the theology department at Marist. Among other things, she and I have a chavruta, a study-based friendship. It’s a lot of fun. An offshoot of that chavruta is that every so often she’ll send along a question asked by her students. “What’s it like to be a rabbi?” is one such question. Knowing that there may be lots of folks who are curious about this and other topics, I figure I’ll type my response here, rather than in an email.
What’s it like to be a rabbi?
On good days? It’s awesome. On bad days? It’s awesome. The main thing about being a rabbi is that I never get to rest on yesterday’s accomplishments, interactions, or ministering. I honestly believe that every day I have to earn the title “rabbi.” I think that while I am a rabbi, I have to stay a rabbi. I also think that being a rabbi is really a process of becoming. I’m trying to become the type of human being, Jew, and rabbi that I think I’m meant to be.
Being a rabbi has its opportunities and challenges. Opportunities– to do all sorts of amazing things, to live a life of study and spiritual reflection, to engage people in meaningful growth and exploration, to celebrate holidays deeply and fully. To be a rabbi is to be in relationship. With congregants, students, fellow rabbis, and people of all faiths and no faiths. It’s also to be in relationship to nature, all creation, and God, the Source of Creation. It’s to question, to study, to be present, to celebrate, to witness, to sanctify, and to bless. It’s exciting work.
Challenges– a lot of people think your first name is rabbi. Sometimes people forget that there’s a person behind the title. And sometimes the work that we do is the work of healing, of standing in the breach, of confronting the injustices of the world. But those challenges are also opportunities.
When I was in college my parents asked me a very reasonable question: What do you want to do with your life? My response, which came to me fairly quickly, was totally unexpected. I want to be a rabbi. At the time I knew that I wanted to live a life of service, of study, of relationship, of spiritual exploration. I knew that rabbis got to do all these things and more. I’m very happy with my decision and continue to explore my answer to that very reasonable question through the work that I do and the life that I live.