13 Letter from a Diaspora Rabbi
Chananya Weissman
March 31, 2020

Dear Congregant,

In the last few weeks our lives have dramatically changed. Our routines have been interrupted. We are confused, frightened, and unsure what will be from one day to the next like never before in our lives. This period has been a time of reflection and soul-searching for us all, and I have come to a painful realization that I must share with you.

I have misled you.

I didn't do this on purpose. I didn't even do this consciously. But deep down, a small part of me always knew that I was misleading you, and today I have to come clean.
Let me explain.

I developed a love for Torah in my yeshiva years, and wanted to continue learning throughout my life on the same level. Becoming a rabbi was virtually the only way to insure that. Our community is full of professionals and businessmen who serve the community in many ways. They also have a great love for Torah; they attend shiurim, they make time for learning whenever possible, they seek guidance when questions come up, and they run their homes in the spirit of Torah. I have the greatest of respect for them. But I needed more. I needed to be surrounded by Torah at all times.

I knew that becoming a "Torah professional" and earning a living at the same time would be very challenging. Desirable positions are scarce, and there is great competition every time an opportunity opens up. At the same time, those fortunate enough to obtain one of these positions have to walk a tightrope to keep them.

Nevertheless, making it as a rabbi was my goal. I studied diligently, built my resume, and did everything I could to make connections in the right places. I accepted internships and entry level positions at prominent institutions to get my foot in the door. Eventually I received an opportunity for a full-time position at a small shul, and I stayed there for two years to develop my skills and make a name for myself. When a better opportunity opened up, I jumped on it. One thing led to another, until I became the senior rabbi of our wonderful kehilla, a position I have enjoyed for more than fifteen years an eternity in this profession.

I realize now that my career path as a rabbi has been little different than that of a secular professional. I was little different than the doctor, lawyer, or businessman I always secretly felt were spiritually beneath me. Every step of the way I was simply trying to climb my version of the corporate ladder, and when I reached the peak I wanted only to maintain my position.

I was always on the lookout for those who could bolster my career, and I shamelessly groveled to them. I would immediately identify those who pulled the strings in the shul and the community, and made sure to stay on their good side. When they engaged in behaviors that were unseemly or worse, I looked the other way. I rationalized. It was the only way to become a rabbi and remain a rabbi, I told myself. It was the only way to influence the community in the long term, I told myself. If I didn't do this I would be out of a job and someone else would do it; better me than the next person, I told myself.

All of this is probably true. Too many of my colleagues lost their positions after ruffling the wrong person's feathers, or giving the community mussar that it didn't want to hear, or failing to sufficiently please the big shots. I had to choose between making some difficult compromises to serve as a rabbi and make any kind of difference, subsisting on a part-time rabbinic position in no-man's land, or leaving the field entirely.

I cannot fault myself for making the difficult compromises. But I fault myself that they were not difficult. I lost my way. I cared more about making it as a rabbi than living up to the great responsibility of being a spiritual leader, a true teacher of the Torah. I lost sight of the ideals of my youth, of the mission I was supposed to be on, and became just another corporate professional with a title and an office.

The past few weeks have helped me to realize what I always knew deep down. I refrained from giving you tough mussar because I was afraid of jeopardizing my job. I discouraged young people from making aliya because I was afraid our membership would age and die out. I discouraged older people from making aliya because I didn't want to lose their money and stability. I discouraged myself from making aliya because I wouldn't be able to make it as a rabbinic professional in Israel.

I always had reasons, of course. I knew all the right Torah sources and practical arguments to justify my position. But deep down I discouraged aliya because of fear, for myself and my personal dreams, not because I really believed it was what Hashem wanted.

I lied to myself, and I misled you. I cannot live with this lie anymore. I'm sorry. From the depths of my heart and soul, I beg your forgiveness.

Maybe it is easier for me to realize this now because our shuls, yeshivas, and organizations are all closed. We don't know when or if they will be able to reopen. Economic hardships might make it impossible for many of them to survive even in a best-case scenario. Dreams of climbing the ladder in one's rabbinic career are less relevant than ever before, as the only pulpits these days are virtual.

So be it. My repentance may not be perfect, but repent I must. I now encourage us, all of us, to make aliya. Enough with the excuses. Enough with the personal considerations. Enough with the biased arguments. We know deep down that Hashem wants us to return home, all of us. We need to do everything possible, both individually and as a community, to make that happen without further delay.

My final service to you as senior rabbi will be to serve as a true spiritual leader and faciliate our return to Israel, starting with me and my family, and whoever is willing to join us. I am prepared to sacrifice my prestigious position and lucrative salary to settle for being an ordinary citizen in Israel, if that's what it takes. I am prepared to sacrifice my inflated notion of serving the Jewish people to return home and bring others with me. Indeed, there can be no greater service than that. Once I am there, I will find another way to serve the Jewish people, if necessary.

My family has already started preparing for aliya and I encourage all of you all of you! to do the same immediately. Let us reunite in Jerusalem with joy, and march forward bravely through the unknown toward a wonderful, glorious future.

Rabbi ___________