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    Becoming a rabbi – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Why would anyone want to be a rabbi?

    A. Someone must have told you that it is hard to be a rabbi, and it certainly is. Yet there is another point of view. It is said that SY Agnon, the Nobel laureate, became a writer because he felt that someone was dictating the words and he had no choice but to write them. Theodor Herzl spoke of being borne on eagles’ wings and it was impossible to get off. Abraham Joshua Heschel told his students that Rainer Maria Rilke, the German poet, told a young man who asked whether he should become a poet, “Only if you cannot live without being a poet”, and Heschel added, “Be a rabbi if you are certain your life depends upon it”.

    So why would anyone want to be a rabbi? Because they feel they are called to it from On High and have no choice: they cannot run away from their destiny. Of course there are rabbis who entered the profession because they were desperate for a job, like the teachers about whom Bernard Shaw (or was it someone else?) wrote, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. Sometimes they succeed, but it’s a miracle. And there are rabbis who entered the rabbinate for the right reasons but found their idealism was squashed. So the problem is not only why one becomes a rabbi but whether the community taskmasters will allow a person to remain a rabbi.

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