Friday, December 01, 2006

412. In this very place

I subscribe to Sitemeter, and can see which Google search terms lead people to this blog (mostly the word "chanting" and Hebrew phrases like "El Nora Alilah"). The other day I noticed that someone in France found me by typing "rabbi fever." Was that a kind of cultural obsession like "disco fever," I wondered, or more like "dance fever," with the guy who wore really tight pants? Or an illness specific to Jewish leadership (like the search awhile back for "swollen vocal cords clergy")? I clicked on the link that brought this Googler to me, and was amazed to discover I spoke French--I had no idea!--but otherwise gained little insight into the reason behind the query.

But it got me thinking about rabbis. For reasons I don't understand, my parents held teachers, rabbis and their ilk in pretty low regard. I always got the sense that instructing others meant you couldn't do the thing yourself, a very non-Jewish point of view. As a kid, and rabid Star Trek fan, one of my favorite books was "The World of Star Trek" by David Gerrold, in which he divides humanity into three types: creators, producers, and service people. (Why this philosophy stuck with me all these years, I have no idea. But it made quite an impression, maybe because I once equated Gerrold, writer of "The Trouble With Tribbles," with God.) Creators, he wrote, were the best kinds of people. (I sighed with relief, because I knew I'd grow up to be an artist.) Producers--people who made things happen, like my mother, a bookkeeper who kept a business running despite her boss' incompetence, and supermarket managers like my father, who told others what to do and made sure everything was fresh and perfect--were OK, too. Last in the hierarchy were service people, grunts who took care of all the other stuff. I slotted teachers and clergy into this category. What did they do but pass on info and engage in meaningless ritual? You could read books or pray on your own, if need be.

I think this arrogant bias prevented me from taking full advantage of what my teachers had to offer. Once I understood, sometime during high school, how smart they really were, I became intimidated. Teachers suddenly seemed superhuman, possessing of mysterious talents, and I didn't know how to speak to them. I realize now that this misperception never quite went away; even though the rabbis at my synagogue share so much of themselves by allowing me into their world at the bima, I often feel it's not my place to share back. Which is kind of ridiculous, and is limiting the insight and knowledge I could gain from these associations. On this Shabbat Vayetze, as Jacob awakens from a dream of angels and ladders--"Ma norah ha makom hazeh, how awe-filled is this place; God was here but I knew it not"--I hope I can follow his example and truly see, use, and reciprocate the gifts of people and ideas that surround me.

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