It’s hard to be a rabbi. There’s a saying about that too. It says that a rabbi whom everybody loves is no rabbi, and a rabbi whom everybody hates is no mensch.
Somewhere there’s probably also a saying that it’s hard to be a preacher. Fancy having to find something interesting to say every week of the year and to say it with life and conviction.
Even when the occasion is exciting like Pesach or the sidra is dramatic like those at the beginning of Sh’mot, it’s still not easy to find a new theme and not just to rehash what was said last year or the year before that. People should be sorry for the preacher and not criticise too harshly.
Take this week. There is immense detail in the sidra, but how can one find something interesting enough to expound and apply to real life? Material about furniture and textiles – interesting for those who are in the trade, but boring for everyone else!
How much can the preacher extract from the text to help ordinary people to live their lives and become more spiritual and ethical?
Maybe one year the preacher has a brainwave and succeeds in making something of the sidra, but every year? If ever there was evidence that it is hard to be a preacher, this is surely that evidence.
But hold on a moment. Leaf through the sidra and it is amazing what gems suggest themselves.
The sanctuary light was to be made of pure olive oil… as any service of a cause requires pure motives and unalloyed devotion. The lamp was to burn continually… as Judaism is a full-time religion and not just for certain places and occasions.
The priests’ garments had to be made by those who were “wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom”… as anything special has to be made expertly; “good enough” cannot be good enough. The vestments were “for splendour and for beauty”… as the trappings of any office must have dignity and be dedicated to God.
The high priest’s regalia had to bear the names of the Israelite tribes… as any leader must always be concerned with his/her people… Bells had to be attached to the high priest’s robe so that his movements would be heard when he entered the sanctuary… as every human being must make their arrival heard and not burst in on anyone.
Engraved on a plate worn on the high priest’s head were the words, “Holy to the Lord”… as each of us must live in a way that shows our faith in God.
A sidra barren of material for a preacher? Hardly. Shakespeare speaks of sermons in stones. There are lessons for life in everything. Not just for professional preachers, but for everyone.
We should all keep our eyes, ears, minds and hearts open to find inspiration in everything. Preaching is not only for professionals but for everybody.
Hard to be a preacher? Not if you are alert to what the Torah text and the Torah of life has to teach in abundance.