Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Interviews & Buzzwords

Visiting my grandma the other day, she asked me a "practice interview question": why do I want to be a rabbi?

A fair question, to be sure, and one I have spoken to in much of my writing, directly or otherwise. My answer had three parts:

1. I love studying, reading, and teaching Torah and Jewish history.

2. I like non-profit work, and my passion for Judaism will drive me professionally.

3. My favorite part of working with people is watching them grow and develop.

She found my answer lacking because I did not, in all that, mention God or spirituality. I felt I did; in describing education, social justice, and family life I described my spirituality and connection to God.

The ensuing debate contrasted very mundane, secular issues with religious, spiritual ones; any regular reader of this blog will know the intersection of those perspectives is one of my favorite places to be. I brought the question to several of my friends I visited last week to get their input, and the majority agreed my grandma was right.

Grandma had an excellent point. I cannot get so caught up in soaring intellectual, spiritual answers that I ignore good interview technique. I am reconsidering my answers to say the same things but use the essential buzzwords.

But there's another issue at stake for me, and it's big enough I almost want to ask the interview panel their opinion on the subject. I believe religion, and God, is not something to be separated from the rest of my life. I am just as Jewish when I'm at the office, stuck in traffic, blogging, praying, or watching TV. God is not unpacked for the holidays like some table decoration to be put away again once the festival is over; God is God at all times, and my relationship to God is likewise constant.

The question "Why do I want to be a rabbi" is different than the question "What is my relationship with God". But the second question underlies the first, and probably is the one that should be asked first. The question my Grandma should have asked me, and that hopefully the interview board will, is "Given your relationship with God, why do you want to be a rabbi?"

My non-Jewish friends spoke about a sense of "being Called" to the clergy. That's not really part of Judaism. In fact, I think people that decide to be rabbis primarily because of their strong love for God will have a very difficult time of it. They will quickly burn out, for the same reason as many of the excellent camp counselors who utterly fail as camp administrators; they take the job thinking they'll get to be at camp all day, then discover they are working a difficult office job that just happens to be on the camp grounds.


  1. What's God got to do with being a rabbi? Your answers were right on. Consider the four worlds of the Tree of Life. You address the worlds of

    1. The Intellect
    3. The Heart
    2. Action

    The fourth world - of Emanation, is beyond the pale of rabbinics, into the world of mysticism.