I am Not Your Rabbiby Rabbi Jacob Rupp January 2, 2019
Nothing has slowed me down more than trying to be your rabbi.
I want to be that amazing voice of inspiration that changes your perspective on life. I want to give the speech that makes you view G-d, Judaism, your spouse, your children, your potential, in a way that you never did before. I want to be that force that made you change, that made you commit to consistent growth for life.
But even that is not enough. I want to be your rabbi, so that you support me, with your attendance and your pocket book. That you choose to support my institutions, instead of the multitude of others. I want your investment in me.
In a way, being “your rabbi” has always been a dream for me, ever since I was in middle school, when I heard a rabbi from Los Angeles speak on a tape sent to my mom by my grandmother. I don’t remember the message, but I do remember how it was delivered. He made me realize that there was such a thing as an inspiring rabbi – that was it for me.
When I was in college, my image of what it meant to be a rabbi became even clearer, when I met other rabbis who were bigger, more religious, more inspirational and more learned than the ones I knew before, I wanted so desperately to be those rabbis.
Then, I got the metaphoric punch in the face. Things started happening that made me think I couldn’t be that rabbi. I failed Hebrew three times in college. When I got to yeshiva, I started to think I could never be that rabbi because I didn’t know as much Talmud as the next guy. My Hebrew came slowly, my Aramaic even slower. I started to get down on myself about my lack of spiritual progress. One of my rabbis told me my body building was a waste of time. Another of my rabbis who trained me for semicha, told me I read Hebrew like a (I won’t name anything here so as not to offend my readers).
My confidence continued to shrink when I could hardly sit through a class in Yeshiva without wandering outside, and when we couldn’t make ends meet during our first years of marriage in Israel. I realized that, unlike others I compared myself to in my rabbinical class, I didn’t come from a “traditional” background. I felt bad that my dad wasn’t Jewish. I would even feel bad that my mom and grandparents raised me as a reform Jew, that I was proud to be Jewish even though I ate bacon and didn’t know you can’t drive on Shabbat.
I tried to condemn my past, and pretend to be someone I wasn’t. When I got a rabbinic position at UCLA, I was sure I had arrived. But still, I couldn’t be the rabbi I wanted to be—because of a million reasons. I wasn’t spiritual enough, I wasn’t organized enough, I had too much ego. Beyond all of it, I felt like someone would find out I wasn’t who I wanted to be.
In the Instagram world of superficiality, the only rabbis I wanted to emulate were pure, clean and perfect. I didn’t want to be the rabbi for the perfect people, the perfect Jews—I felt like a fraud. But, of course, I was Jewish, I was a rabbi and I wanted to share my story with my community.
In my coaching practice and business endeavors, I felt like I couldn’t reach out with the simple message that you need to start loving yourself if you want to improve in any area in life, to religious Jews because I was too flawed, and to less observant Jews because I was too “religious.”
In my relationships with the Jewish institutions in the city, I was (am) afraid to make my opinions known—because who am I? I keep trying to be your rabbi. I’m scared of my shadow. But slowly, I’m starting to realize, that maybe everyone is trying to be your rabbi. Everyone is tailoring themselves to an audience that only exists in their mind. Maybe even the creators, the publishers, the influencers, the nonprofit workers, the donors are busy being what’s good for “you,” even when the “you” exists only in their mind.
So, I want to make a resolution. I don’t want to be your rabbi anymore. I want to take one day at a time, embrace who my past has led me to be, and have enough confidence in myself and G-d to make the right choices about my future. And maybe, somewhere along the way, I’ll be able to be what someone needs. Not, G-d forbid, to be your rabbi, but your friend or mentor. Maybe I can help you and you can tell your rabbi that it’s OK to be a little more human, that you can still inspire and lead people who resonate with your message. Because after all, we are humans leading humans.