A Davar Torah in Honor of the Smichah of Rabbi Cantor Glenn Gelman
Offered by Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Shabbat Morning Services, April 12, 2008
A young rabbinical school graduate was hired as the second rabbi of a large Conservative congregation. One of his new duties was to officiate at an overflow service on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. The senior rabbi tells him "You must be aware of one thing. Our cantor is stubborn and refuses to permit us to hire a second cantor. Therefore the cantor prays with one congregation and his voice is piped into the other. We must make sure, therefore, that our sermons are of the exact same length. On the second day of Rosh Hashannah, the cantor is praying with your congregation. I have prepared a thirty two minute sermon. Make sure you do the same."
The young rabbi went home and prepared a 32 minute sermon. On the Second day of Rosh Hasahnnah as he was giving his sermon, he noticed that his digital watch had gone blank. He became nervous and lost his timing, but ultimately he finished the sermon. When he finished the talk he signaled to the cantor, who immediately began chanting the Kaddish for the Musaf service, "yitgadal veytkadash."
Unfortunately the new rabbi's nervousness caused him to deliver a 32 minute sermon in 26 minutes.
5 minutes later the senior rabbi came running in, yelling, "You made a fool out of me in front of my entire congregation!"
"What happened?" The new rabbi stammered.
"I had just reached the emotional high point of my speech. I was saying: 'Today there are those who say that God is dead. Is God dead?' And the cantor's voice piped in: 'Yitgadal veyitkadash.' "
This funny story illustrates the challenges that rabbis and cantors have sometimes when they work together. One of the pleasures of coming to Beth Shalom is to work and collaborate with Cantor Glenn Gelman. Glenn loves to share the pulpit, to include his colleagues and the congregation in worship. He is exquisitely sensitive to the needs of others and does not seek the limelight. Yet when he leads the service he brings a wonderful presence and spiritual beauty.
Now our beautiful Cantor has achieved a great milestone in his life. He has studied for the rabbinate and received smichah. In honor of this great accomplishment I would like to share some teachings about the rabbinate in honor of Rabbi Cantor Gelman.
Rabbi Akiva said:
If a person studied Torah in his youth,
He should also study Torah in his old age;
If he had students in his youth
He should also have them in his old age.
A verse indicates this,
"Sow your seed in the morning,
(and do not hold back you hand in the evening.)
Since you do not know which is going to succeed, the one of the other,
Or if both are equally good."
ו בַּבֹּקֶר זְרַע אֶת-זַרְעֶךָ, וְלָעֶרֶב אַל-תַּנַּח יָדֶךָ: כִּי אֵינְךָ יוֹדֵעַ אֵי זֶה יִכְשָׁר, הֲזֶה אוֹ-זֶה, וְאִם-שְׁנֵיהֶם כְּאֶחָד, טוֹבִים.
One of the most impressive things about Rabbi Cantor Gelman's accomplishment is that it reveals his lifelong love of Torah. To be ordained as a rabbi requires hours and hours of study. We all know how busy you are, running an accounting business, caring for your family, and your continuing voluntary service to Beth Shalom. But despite all these demands, the love of Torah is central to your life.
Here is another teaching from Maimonides' Mishneh Torah
"Among the greatest sages of Israel were woodcutters, water drawers, and blind people. Nevertheless, they were involved in Torah study day and night."
The original rabbis were not professionals, who drew their livelihood from serving as rabbis in congregations. Maimonides himself, one of the greatest Rabbis of all times was a full time physician. Rabbi Cantor Gelman follows a great tradition of the rabbi who does not serve with expectation of financial reward, but instead serves out of the love of Torah and the love of the Jewish people.
Here is another text that illuminates a quality we love about Rabbi Cantor Gelman:
And raise many students (PA 1:1)
The School of Shammai says:
A person should teach only those who are wise, humble, a descendent of distinguished people, and wealthy.
The School of Hillel says:
A person should teach everyone, for there were many Jewish sinners who became attached to Torah study, and, as a result, righteous, pious, and decent people came from them. Avot De Rabbi Natan A3
Our Rabbi Cantor clearly follows the school of Hillel. You are a person who teaches all the people. You do not want to exclude anyone from your Torah. You are always concerned that your words and your melodies are accessible to all. You want to make your Torah and your Shirah like low hanging fruit, easy to pick, easy to enjoy.
I want to share with all of you another teaching from Maimonides about one of the vulnerabilities of the rabbinate and the cantorate:
"It is a duty to honor every scholar even if he is not one's teacher, as it is said, "You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man"
מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם, וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן; וְיָרֵאתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲנִי יְהוָה.
(Lev 19:32). "Old man refers to one who has acquired wisdom. (Hilchot Deot Talmud Torah 6:1)
The obligation to honor a Torah sage always caused problems, because it often caused many Rabbis and Cantors to conduct themselves as if they deserved honor because of their titles. In more traditional Jewish society-Rabbis especially- were revered and treated with the utmost deference. It is an understandable and very common foible for people with such a title to be become full of themselves and to laud it over everyone else.
This is illustrated by a Hasidic story:
R. David Moshe of Tchortkov once met R Aaron of Tchernobil. R. Aaron asked the former how may beadles he employed and received the answer that he had 5. R David then began to list their duties: "One of them stands on duty at the door of my study, the second is responsible for finding accommodation for my Hassidim, the third looks after the cleaning, the fourth sees to purchases, and the fifth oversees all travel arrangements. "
He then asked how may R Aaron had, and the latter replied that he had six. Five of them, he explained performed the same offices as those of R. David.
"What then is the function of the sixth? R David asked curiously.
"He is the most important of all." Replied R. Aaron. "He stands behind me all day and whenever I say anything, he murmurs devoutly, 'Wonderful, absolutely marvelous!'"
That is why Maimonides adds the following teaching concerning the honor due to sages.
"It is improper for a sage to not put the people to inconvenience by deliberately passing before them, so that they should have to stand up before him. He should use a short route and endeavor to avoid notice so that they should not be troubled to stand up. The sages were wont to use circuitous and exterior paths, where they were not likely to meet those who might recognize them, so as not to trouble them." (Hilchot Deot Talmud Torah 6:3)
This teaching of Maimonides made me think of you Rabbi Cantor Gelman, because you are the one who takes a circuitous path so as to not draw attention to yourself or to catch the virus of arrogance. You embody one of our tradition's great virtues-Tzniut-modesty. Your modesty is more than a virtue; it enables you to teach and to let others to shine for the good of the community and for the good of the Jewish people.
The Talmud has another wonderful expression which I have as a signature on all my emails. Rabbi Cantor Gelman, I aspire to it, but you embody it.
Yafeh Talmud Torah Im Derech Eretz
יפה תלמוד תורה עם דרך ארץ
The study of Torah combined with kindness is very beautiful.
Mazal Tov on becoming a Rabbi.