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Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Do you belong to a vampire shul?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 87


Congregation Bnei Shimshon in Springfield was known as a vampire shul.  What’s a vampire shul?  It’s a shul that sucks the blood out of its rabbis, leaving them lifeless.  Bnei Shimshon would change their rabbis every four or five years, always bemoaning their lack of luck in getting a good rabbi.  Sadly, they had many good rabbis, most of whom were so burned out by the end of their stint at the shul that they would leave the rabbinate and find something else to do with their lives.

Concerning the obligation to rend one’s garments upon the passing of a loved one, it is written in the Book of Shmuel, “Then David took hold of his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him. And they wailed, and wept, and fasted for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of G-d, and for the house of Israel.”
Rashi explains: From here we learn that one must make a separate rend for each person who dies.
It was taught: If they told him his father died and he tore but they then found out it was actually his son, he has none the less fulfilled his obligation and need not make an additional rend.

King Saul despised the young David.  He spent the final years of his life in hot pursuit of the man who would become his successor.  He felt so threatened that he would stop at nothing to destroy David.  And yet David never ceased in his reverence and respect for the King of Israel, to the extent that following the king’s death, he rent his garment in mourning!  Indeed, from this story, our Sages learn that all Jews must rend their garments with the passing of a leader of Israel.

Sometimes we have spiritual leaders that we have issues with.  But that does not give anyone the right to disrespect.   Shuls that change their rabbis like their socks must look deep inside and ask themselves what the real issue is.  No matter how Saul treated David, he never wavered in his reverence for the leader of Israel.  Even if you think your rabbi is wanting, that does not give you a pass to treat them with disrespect or disdain.

We are heirs to ‘rabbinic’ Judaism.  We believe that the rabbis are our spiritual guides, our keepers of the mesorah, the Oral tradition.  Having a rabbi in your life is integral to traditional Judaism.  If you don’t like the rabbi of your shul, find another shul.  If you can’t find a shul with a rabbi you like, you really need to ask yourself whether the rabbi is the problem, or if you are the problem.   David had a spiritual leader who made his life miserable and ultimately desired to murder him and yet he still maintained his respect.

When you do everything to support the rabbi and rebbetzin of your shul, you will find your shul will truly blossom.  The rabbi and rebbetzin are the key to a shul’s success.  Shuls that supports their rabbinic leaders – whose boards and members are there for the rabbi and rebbetzin, helping them to succeed –  are the shuls that are most successful.  Shuls that change their rabbis every few years and do what they can to control and undermine their rabbis sit there scratching their heads, wondering why they are wallowing in mediocrity with a declining, unhappy membership.


A successful rabbi makes a successful shul.  The shul you call home is a reflection of your personal spiritual success.  If you desire spiritual prosperity, respect your rabbi and rebbetzin and give them the support and tools they need to make your shul great.  May you merit an awesome congregation, and rabbinic leadership that continues to elevate the shul to greater and greater heights!