Although a quarter century has passed since that fateful day, it seems as though it’s been a few short years. I once again stand at the crossroads, determined to make a principled and significant life style altering decision. I convinced my wife that it was time to move on-to leave our home and community where we raised our kids to leave the home that brought us so much good fortune and so many wonderful memories to a new home in a new community. Granted, we weren’t leaving the city, nor we were leaving friends and family by going to a far away place. We were however, altering our life style by moving to a community that was radically different than what we were accustomed to. In an uncanny way it reminds me of the Abraham episode when he was commanded to leave his fathers house, to go to an unknown place. Until my own self induced command to leave my community, I never really understood this chapter of Abraham’s development. It was his principled conscience that had compelled him to make the monumental move. My conscience too has compelled me to uproot my family from a community and to reestablish ourselves in a place that would renew hopefully and enhance our spirit.
I have always prided myself on having lived my life making few significant compromises. Naturally, we all make compromises. We compromise every day of the week. We wouldn’t be able to stay in a marriage or business relationship without compromise. But here I refer to compromise that go to our core values – the things we believe in. As far back as I can remember I refused to bend on core issues. The first significant issue with which I was confronted, was when as a student of Harav Aron Soloveitchik, ztz”l I was expected to sign a document in exchange for his signature on the documentation certifying my Semicha. The document stated among other things that I would never assume a pulpit that didn’t have a mechitza. This was a uniform document that all his students were expected to sign. Harav Soloveitchk was uncompromising on the subject. It didn’t matter that 98% of a synagogue membership were driving to shul and that the parking lot was crammed full of cars on Yom Kippur. The only criteria as to whether or not you were allowed to accept the pulpit position was if it had a mechitza.
Invited to Harav Soloveitchik’s home for the exchange signing of documents, I knew in my heart that I couldn’t sign his document, because it went against everything I believed in. I believed then as I do now in academic freedom as well as the right to religious dissent, however that may be manifested. No one has the right to determine for me how I will live my life today or in twenty years. If he didn’t trust me or his other students, than he shouldn’t have accepted us as students. Furthermore, if I was the perfidious type, no documentation would alter the course I would take. How could I successfully get these points across to my Rebbe without offending him or creating an unbridgeable chasm? It was with these fears and a very weak stomach that I rang his doorbell. After a few pleasantries he presented me with the document. It took all my strength to explain to him why I wouldn’t be able to sign it. I was hoping for a compromise and a way by which the two of us could save face but yet accomplish what each of us wanted. I didn’t have the slightest idea as to a formula by which to achieve this. My concern quickly evaporated when he abruptly terminated the meeting telling me how bitterly disappointed he was in me. I left his home relieved that I had held my ground without compromising my values or his.
That meeting between us was perhaps the most important one during those formidable years because it created a pattern by which I would live my life. There have been many occasions since then when I had to choose a principled path even though it meant some hardship. In the long run I’ve never been sorry for any of those decisions. I say this because many years have passed and once again I am at the crossroads and its time for a decision on how to live a life as a principled person and as a principled Jew.
I was leaving a community I felt lacked spiritual leadership, placing a premium instead on the size of one’s penis. I set my sights on a community with a small Jewish population but the allure of the area seemed to overcome my apprehension of living in “galus”. It came down to a question of living the way I wanted to live or living in a community by default, because it so happened to be populated by a lot of orthodox Jews. Life, I reasoned is very short and getting shorter. If I don’t make the break now I may never have the opportunity. It so happened that there was an orthodox shul in the area-walking distance from our home and although meagerly attended it seemed that I could have the best of all worlds-I could have my cake and eat it!
We moved in just before Rosh Hashanah and I attended services at the sparsely attended shul. It seemed at first depressing because here I was, coming from a shul that boasted of three minyanim every Shabbos and Yom Tov and here there was barely a minyan. To make it worse, these were economically depressed Jews and the shul reflected the economic status of its small membership. The physical plant was a stark contrast to the shul that I had left. Whereas the previous shul was sparkling and newly renovated with high end accoutrements my newly adopted shul was faded and in total neglect due to years of impoverishment. It was in need of a massive renovation and the roof leaked. The contrast between the shul I left and this makom kadosh was staggering, but I never doubted the wisdom of my decision.
To be sure, there was a cloud hanging over the future of this once great and proud community. However, there was a silver lining which manifested itself in the Rabbi. Here was a man who was totally devoted and committed to the growth and development of this kehilah. Rarely does one meet a Rabbi with the breath of knowledge coupled with mastery of limudei kodesh. I am sure that he will succeed because not only does he possess the interpersonal skills and loves people, he is also a visionary. He is a man with a mission who knows and understands that his yiddishkeit isn’t translated by gashmios but by love and commitment to his people and the welfare of the general community. Here was a Rav who was head of a small impoverished community not by default but by choice. Here was a man who was not at the beginning of his career but at it’s twilight. While he looked the role of a soon to be retiring Rabbi, he had the aura of a young, idealistic Rav ready to conquer worlds l’shaim shamaim. I was proud to be associated with this Rabbi and this community. For the first time in many years I felt that my Jewish nervous system was in a state of heightened sensitivity acutely aware of the challenges that lay ahead but pleased to have journeyed into the proverbial dessert and hopefully participate in its blooming.