PunkTorah is anti-authoritarian.
This is what the young rabbi said about us. Now, he was actually defending us. We had been criticized for being a secret Jews For Jesus conspiracy (which we aren’t) and this rabbi was trying to set the record straight. His critique of us was, “oh, well everything PunkTorah does is weird, or silly, and the leadership and volunteers have no idea what they are doing — but at least they aren’t Christians!”
I wasn’t sure whether to say thank you or not. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
The issue of “who knows best” is an all too common one. I would argue that Jews suffer from Rebbe-itis…we have yet to discover that the internet is the best tool for Jewish learning. We still look to the person who went to a brand name Jewish school to tell us how to be Jewish. This stems originally, I believe, from the Temple period. Modern Jews today are still looking for the Levite Priest to offer us a kosher sacrifice.
But this week’s portion goes against this logic entirely.
For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” Rather, [this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it. (Deut. 30:11-14)
Do we need rabbis? Yes. We need rabbis like we need auto mechanics.
When my car needs an oil change, I could probably do it myself. Is there a chance I could screw it up? Probably. So I take it to the mechanic. But in reality, I’m smart enough to do it. I could go to school, but all the tools I need, practice on cars and get all the training to fix anything I want. But I’m not going to. I’m just not fully engaged in doing all the work myself, and I’d rather focus on what I’m really good at instead of auto repair.
Besides, the mechanic isn’t the end all, be all, of my life. Perhaps there is something I can offer the mechanic in return (and as a side note, as a rabbi, I’d really love it if people would donate $1 every time they ask for advice. It really goes a long way to help our online community.)
Rabbi Patrick Aleph is the director of PunkTorah and OneShul. In his spare time, he enjoys not working on cars. The auto mechanic metaphor is brought to you by Rabbi Menachem Cohen, a kilt wearing badass rabbi in Chicago.