The Rabbinate as Calling and Challenge

Benjamin J. Samuels Tradition Online

Toward the end of our Shabbat prayers we recite two evocative rabbinic teachings: 

It was taught in the Academy of Elijah: Whoever studies halakhot (Jewish laws) each day is assured a place in the World to Come, as it says (Habbakuk 3:6): “Halikhot olam Lo, The ways of the world are His” – read not, “halikhot, ways,” but “halakhot, laws” (Nidda 73a). 

Immediately following this the liturgy juxtaposes another teaching: 

Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Hanina: Torah Scholars increase peace in the world, as it says (Isaiah 54:13): “And all your children (banayikh) shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” Read not “banayikh, your children,” but “bonayikh, your builders” (Berakhot 64a).

At the 2002 Hag HaSemikha, Rabbi Norman Lamm asked the celebrants: Why does this tefilla first teach that Jewish law must be studied daily, only to follow up with a second teaching of midrashic homily, an aggada about peace? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to immediately teach a halakha, thus fulfilling the edict of that very teaching? In my mind I can hear R. Lamm’s intonation as he asked this question. I envision him standing before the newly minted musmakhim, scanning eager eyes with his serious countenance, then breaking into a subtle smile. “[Torah Scholars increase peace in the word] is not a descriptive-aggadic [statement],” he exclaims. “It is a normative-halakhic one; namely, it is halakhically required of scholars that they increase peace in the world! It is the preeminent halakha one should reiterate daily.”

The substance and juxtaposition of these two rabbinic teachings touch upon so many topics pertinent to a discussion of R. Lamm’s articulated views on the rabbinical calling, as well as the challenges of the contemporary rabbinate…

Rabbi Lamm’s essays and derashot on the contemporary Orthodox rabbinate were the subject of Benjamin J. Samuels’ contribution to the Rabbi Norman Lamm Memorial Volume. Now open-access, read “The Rabbinate as Calling and Challenge.”

Order your copy of the Rabbi Norman Lamm Memorial Volume.

Benjamin J. Samuels, Ph.D., has been rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah in Newton, MA, since 1995 and teaches widely in the Greater Boston Jewish community.


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