Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

This is especially good advice for a rabbi.  Case in point.:  after a recent service a congregant approached me while I was speaking to a couple of other people.  Interjecting herself into the conversation, she said “this is the greatest rabbi in the world!”  I used my standard response to that kind of superlative, and said “well at least the greatest rabbi in the room.” 

Rabbis have to be very careful not to believe their own press clippings.  It would be even better not to ‘read’ them at all, but you can’t help it, because people can be so effusive with their praise.  Following are some things that help me keep a sense of perspective.  First, remember that people aren’t reacting to you as a person.  It is you as the rabbi, and that creates a particular lens that people view you through.  Secondly, keep a sense of humor, and let your family keep you humble!  My kids never hesitate to point out a mistake I’ve made, and they laugh at it!  And they also grade my sermons – generally I get a 2 or 3 out of 10 from them.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, remember this:  you are never as good as they say you are, and you are never as bad as they say you are.  That is a mantra that runs through my mind all of the time.  At the end of the day you are generally your best judge.  You know when you’ve done well, you know when you’ve put in the proper effort.  Trust that, stay grounded, and stay grateful.  The rest will take care of itself.

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2 responses to “Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

  1. Linda Gerstein

    We don’t have to live with you! I can personally say, you are the greatest rabbi. I don’t have another to compare you with. I am so thankful for your caring and understanding through my conversion and Robert’s cancer scare. Thank you for always being there for us.

  2. Jeff Mendelsohn

    I can remember as a child my Dad taking to me to shul on Friday night when Rabbi Agus was still presiding over Beth El. I used to look around the room and watch (and listen) to all the men sleeping (and sometimes snoring). Some years later, I would attend services with Rabbi Loeb at the helm, and watch the crowd … to his credit, I surmised, far fewer people were dozing off during services. And, today, I attend services (albeit less frequently), and I can rarely, if ever, find anyone sleeping through your sermons! Clearly, your predecessors were truly great and highly intelligent rabbis…but what I believe makes the most effective Rabbi is his or her ability to connect with the masses. Sure, I’m older now…and yes, I pay attention more than I did in my youth. But I can say without reservation, that I have never felt as connected to my synagogue, to its clergy and to the Jewish community than I do today. I look forward to hearing (and/or reading) your sermons and enjoy your blog and perspective. Keep up the great work!

    Now if Rabbi Agus had been a fellow ‘DeadHead’, this would’ve been an entirely different story!
    PS… a 2 or 3 from your kids is actually pretty good! I don’t even ask mine anymore!

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