Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wise Student - Introduction

I always begin the personal remarks portion of my wedding ceremonies with the following paragraph:

Friends, one of the most fascinating things about the Jewish tradition is that a Jewish scholar, be he, or for that matter she, the greatest scholar of his or her generation, is referred to as a talmid chacham, literally a wise student. That is because Judaism values the idea of life long learning. Whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask myself, this couple, being unique individuals, what can I learn from them, what are they, consciously or unconsciously, teaching me, and indeed us?

My daughter, who is fifteen and a half years old, has a phrase she uses, whenever dad gets kind of mushy. She will stop what she is doing, and dramatically announce, “Corny alert!” I am sure she would react the same way to the above paragraph, but let’s face it, if there is anywhere you can and should be a little mushy and corny, it should be at a wedding…

Beyond the “corny” aspect of the above, I do mean what I say. There is, after all, one approach amongst men and women of the cloth, that holds that we should impart to the masses wisdom from on high. I can think of specific such clergy, who one can tell, think they have much to teach, but not much to learn from their fellow human beings. I have always begged to differ. The main theme that ran through the graduate school program in educational leadership that I attended was what is referred to in flowery language as a “learner centered approach”. This is an academic and fancy way of stating the obvious, its not about you the teacher, its about the learner, and if you follow that approach, watch out, you may learn something too! This is probably what the Talmudic sage, Chanina ben Hama, was referring to when he said, "I have learned much from my teachers, from my colleagues even more, but from my students I have learned the most." (Talmud Bavli Tractate Ta'anit 7a)

This approach demands a degree of true humility, which can be a challenge at times for people, who are referred to at times as “(wo)men of God”. (I add the word “true”, mindful of what Golda Meir allegedly said to Moshe Dayan once, “Don’t act so humble; you’re not that great…”) It is worth it though, as I believe that one’s life can become so much richer, if one treats every interaction with others as a potential “teachable moment”. Conversely, I always feel a little sorry for people, who due to the fact they think they have all the answers, go through life, and miss out on valuable lessons they could be learning from others of all walks of life.

The main reason I got into this “trade” of the rabbinate and education is because I love people, interacting with them, building relationships, and learning together. This is why when I officiate a wedding, I spend time to get to know the couple, build a relationship with them, and together build the ceremony around them, rather than shoehorn them into some preconceived idea of a ceremony I already have. The wedding, after all, is not about me, it is about them. Indeed, beyond life lessons, some of the best ideas for things to include in ceremonies come from my couples! Therefore, it only makes sense to share with the audience what I have learned from these unique individuals.

In this blog, which I intend (fingers crossed!) to update every two weeks, I intend to share with you, a slightly larger audience, some of the lessons I have picked up along the way, from the wonderful couples I have been and am fortunate to work with. In that spirit, let the learning begin!


  1. Wonderful post! Hope to see more soon!

  2. It’s wonderful to read of a rabbi who is more than an ornament to place at the top of wedding cake. You clearly aim to be both teacher and learner in making a wedding. That’s important because bride and groom rarely come from the same congregation so knowing the rabbi and building trust is a vital -- though often overlooked -- part of the process.