Rabbi Dr. Irwin Wiener
Going through many books and writings over the years, I am sometimes drawn to articles relating to the life of a rabbi, or pastor, or priest, or minister in a congregational setting. It is quite different than being involved in social service efforts, or education.
It takes a certain kind of ability to commit to the daily tasks of caring and sharing that are the hallmarks of everyday commitments to a myriad of people with differing views about religion and how these traditions, customs and laws are to be observed, or not. To say that there are times when issues arise that boggle the imagination would not do justice to the actual involvement, whether individually or collectively.
There really are no exceptions. In fact, it is even more difficult in a retirement community, given that many come from all walks of life and locations, bringing with them the traditions and customs from their local environments. Living in such a community brings together people with different understandings of faith and observance. It is the blending of all these factions that make it an interesting exercise in finding common ground.
Recently, I read an article written by a colleague who attempted to delineate the different aspects of clerical performances. He writes that the greatest challenge is distinguishing a balance between his or her personal and professional life.
Perhaps that is the most difficult thing to do. We certainly are no different than the average person in that we look forward to the comfort of home life and the ability to find a relaxed environment. Most of us, I am sure, have attempted to do this in varying ways, but inevitably the two seem to clash.
Our instinct is to be friends with everybody, because we want peace and harmony to be the order of the day. Some people become closer friends and some a little distant. That is only natural. We cannot be close friends with everybody. Even in our home environment, we are closer to some of our family, not because we love one more than the other but, rather, because we gravitate to some more than others. It is the same with friends and neighbors.
Clerics also find themselves without personal lives because of dedication. We cannot say to someone who calls in the middle of the night hurting and in need of spiritual guidance: “We are off duty now. Take two aspirins and call us in the morning.” Or have our phone answered with a message that says, “If this is an emergency, hang-up and dial 9-1-1.” Sound familiar?
What I am trying to impart is that sometimes people perceive things that don’t really exist. Sometimes people use us for convenience in order to promote their own agenda. Sometimes we need to look deeper than the surface to really understand our role and how important it is for us to be available to everyone regardless of his or her station or likes and dislikes.
We do not normally toot our own horns and, in many cases, are reluctant to even speak for ourselves in order to not appear self-serving. That is probably a flaw in the system, but it is there nevertheless. In fact, it reminds me of a famous writing in Rabbinic literature: “They say to fruit trees: ‘Why do you not make any noise.’ The trees reply: ‘Our fruit is sufficient publicity for us.’”
We are friends to those who have no friends and certainly a friend to those who want to be friends. Because, as a Hasidic folk saying goes: “If you are looking for a friend who has no faults, you will have no friends.”
Something to think about next time you meet one of us.