A Teacher’s Lament; A Teacher’s Joy

The only rabbinic function I’ve ever really performed is teaching Torah, primarily to adults.  I’ve never wanted to be a pulpit rabbi and I certainly have never wanted to work in any organizational bureaucracy.  I don’t deny that these positions are very important, but I’ve never had either the skill set nor the interest, and certainly never the ambition t0 pursue them.  But teaching Torah is the only reason I ever chose and worked to become a rabbi.

Additionally, I’ve only rarely taught through established institutions (although I have been honored with the opportunity to teach in the Aleph rabbinic program where, over the years, I’ve been privileged to work with many exceptional people). I don’t have a particularly “academic” bent, and am not interested in historical theories nor comparative approaches.  Admittedly, I have a rather eccentric relationship with our rabbinic tradition and, over the years, have developed a growing certainty that our tradition provides us with an infinitely powerful, endlessly customizable (with a mandate, not a mere option, to customize) technology to enable and enhance our individual and communal relationships with God.  I don’t think I’m the first and I’m certainly not the only person operating with this insight and basic assumption (although I might be one of the first to use this language of technology), but this approach doesn’t fit well with most established Torah institutions.  While I wholly, lovingly and unconditionally accept the validity of Torah and Mitzvot as Judaism’s unique path, I find it unthinkable that the technology they mandate, i.e. the modes and manners of achieving the Mitzvot, not evolve along with the rest of humanity since humans are the ones charged/blessed with those Mitzvot.  The goal, of course, remains unchanged–uniting with The Creator. Regardless of topic, this is all I teach, with the “topics”, Tanach, Mishna, Gemara, Halacha, Chassidut, Mussar, Kabbalah and the like are all, probably co-equal depending on one’s personality, channels to approach Devekut, that complete immersion in and unity with God.

I work best in one-on-one tutorials and very small groups, so I often form very close bonds with my students.  Sharing Torah and working together to understand it creates close friendships that are much deeper than everyday co-worker relationships.

Over time, however, classes end.  Students move on.  Books are completed and subjects, at least at a certain level, covered. It’s bittersweet when the best of my students “graduate”–I hope they’ll go on to teach to their own future students, but I deeply miss them.  I guess I’ve succeeded as a teacher when I’ve worked myself out of the job.

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2 Responses to A Teacher’s Lament; A Teacher’s Joy

  1. Dear Rabbi Zeitlin,
    I still consider you Mori, “My Teacher”, so we haven’t finished yet. In fact, I think we’ve only just started.
    Todah rabah,
    Laurie Franklin

  2. Amen to that. We’re all of us, always, only just starting!
    G’mar Chatima Tova.

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