The 2 Priests Who Came for Rosh Hashana

The 2 Priests Who Came for Rosh Hashana
On Rosh Hashanah, we hosted two men who are studying to become Roman Catholic priests. They were lovely guys, one from Connecticut, one from India, who were very curious to learn more about Judaism and Rosh Hashana (our Indian guest, like my husband, seemed to particularly enjoy the tradition of eating a fish head).
During the meal, a fellow guest asked them what had inspired them to join the priesthood. The American priest shared that he had grown up in a Catholic family, but by the time he started college, he was no longer observant. He went to parties. Played basketball. Had a girlfriend. 
And then, after he graduated, he traveled to Africa to volunteer in an orphanage operated by the Catholic church. One night, after the children were all asleep, he and the nuns sat in a circle, the dark room lit up only by candles. And he felt a calling, to live a life dedicated to giving to others.
And shortly thereafter, he broke up with his girlfriend and started his training to become a priest. 
His classmate, from India, shared a similar calling to the priesthood. He had grown up in a Catholic family in Calcutta, and after seeing the work that the Catholic church was doing for the city’s poor, he decided at the age of 18 to commit himself to a life of “poverty, chastity, and obedience.” 
As I was washing (many, many) dishes after the meal, I thought about these idealistic young men, and I couldn’t help but ponder the Jewish vs. the Catholic path to fixing the world. Rav Kook taught that the most basic characteristic of the Jewish soul is, “a powerful desire to do good for others, without limit…This is the inner kernel of the essence of the soul of the Jewish nation.”
So then, why don’t we Jews follow the Catholic model, so that certain highly-motivated community members would devote themselves to a life dedicated to serving God and people in need, without the distractions of a spouse or children? While this might happen occasionally, it is certainly not the Jewish ideal. We Jews marry, and have children, and also help others. 
But after thinking it over, I realized that if a person is concerned with helping as many people as possible, ironically, becoming a person who does good while “distracted” by children is the way to go.
And my mind wandered (as it often has over this past month) to the Shnerb family, who were thrust into the headlines after their 16-year-old daughter, Rina HY”D was murdered in a terror attack. Rabbi Eitan and Shira Shnerb are deeply religious people who devote much of their lives to helping the many needy residents of Lod. If they were Catholics, I could imagine them (please forgive me) choosing to become a priest and a nun, devoting their lives to God and the needy, without having to care for the many needs of their 11 children. 
But by following the Jewish path, Rabbi Eitan and Shira, are raising children who share their values, to serve God and help the needy. So there aren’t just two of them, there are many God-loving, people-helping Shnerbs. And in a generation, or two, there will be IY”H many, many more.
Or as Rabbanit Dana Slae puts it so beautifully and powerfully in her new book The Soul You Placed Within Me
“Our desire to do good is the basis for our desire to give birth.
“When Adam was created, God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone,’ and therefore, ‘I will make him a help-meet.’ The reality is that a person on his own is lacking. Complete good appears only through the unification and partnership of a married couple. That is why a man is commanded to marry a woman. And from within the goodness of their unity, and the sweetness they enjoy from their partnership will awaken the desire to make it greater, to empower it, through bringing children into the world.
“Our souls, by nature, yearn for good to be revealed in the world and to influence all of reality. We understand that this influence will widen and grow the more good souls we bring into this world, and that is why we invest so much effort into having as many children as we are able.
“HaRabbanit Chana Tau would say of the Jewish people, “We are Chafetz Chaims,” people who desire life. In other words, we yearn to bring and reveal good in the world, and the channel that enables its appearance is the souls of our precious children.”

13 comments

  1. My grandfather used to say, “It’s a shame there aren’t more people like us in the world”.

  2. Chana-Jenny, what a wonderful outlook you have. Tolerant and open-minded but at the same time holding steadfastly to strong Torah values.I hope you don’t mind if I mix in to elaborate on the question that you raised.
    The world sees the spirit and matter as two diametrical opposites. Judaism sees them as symbiotic.
    Chassidus teaches that Hashem Yisborach created a world that feels itself as a separate self-determining entity, in order that the Chosen People,whom He created with the capacity for free choice, should uncover the truth and reveal the creative energy that is constantly keeping all of “existence” existing. Instead of negating the physical world, we do mitzvos with physical objects, thereby uplifting the world, and drawing holiness into it.

    • thanks mina, I would love to hear more about this. Could you go on and further elaborate on how this expresses itself through getting married and becoming parents?

  3. Chana-Jenny, Your answer is an excellent one,I just wanted to explain from a different vantage point.

  4. What greater example can there be than the union of two people who until their marriage were two separate worlds. Through their marriage, they become partners with Hashem to create (nearly)”yesh me’ayin” a physical body into which Hashem Yisborach puts a soul.
    At Mt. Sinai,on ‘the day of marriage’ between Hashem and the Jewish people, Hashem came down on Mt. Sinai, while Moshe Rabbeinu,as representative of B’nei Yisrael climbed up Mt. Sinai, thereby the barrier between physical and spiritual was removed. The Torah was given then,as it instructs how to bring together the spiritual and the physical in the individual details.
    Women especially express the idea of bringing together the physical and spiritual as they go about their day infusing mundane tasks with holiness.They may be busy with worldly things but their intention is to nurture and nourish.

  5. This is an interesting piece because I keep feeling that I don’t want to have any more children (after 6) because I am starting to feel this need to give to people, to the community and especially to other mothers. I have always been someone who likes to make other mothers’ lives easier by watching their children when they feel its too much, or holding their baby in the park so they can push another child on a swing… but with my own babies this has always been too difficult, I can’t listen to another woman talk while chasing my child around the park and I can’t be present at a family BBQ because I’m neurotically checking the my little runaway child is staying in the vicinity. I’ve been finding this extremely difficult and am slowly able to relax and come out of my shell now as my baby turns 18 months. And I wonder whether I’m supposed to feel this “moving on” feeling. I know it’s best to keep having children but I’m starting to feel stifled like I just want to move on – I’m 38, I did this childbirth thing and now I want to be someone else, someone who can look out of my own daled amos and think about other people, volunteer when the shul or school needs someone and not feel trapped by my baby’s nap schedule. This article touches on that a little in that, you mentioned that we can only be true givers by having more children. I’d love to discuss this more in depth with someone.

    • dear mrs. anonymous, I can hear what you are saying, and your thoughts sound very much like ones that I was having when I was 38 and a mother of 6 children. Everybody is an individual, and every couple needs to find the way that is best for them. But today, I am so grateful that a mentor convinced me not to stop at 6. My Yaakov and Yoni bring me and my husband and their siblings so much joy and nachas! If you decide to have more children, or even if you don’t, for that matter, I would recommend doing what you can to make your life easier. Delegating, outsourcing, lowering standards. And whatever you decide, I am rooting for you!

    • Mina Esther Gordon

      Dear Anonymous,
      We were taught that if there is a Mitzvah that you find especially hard to do it is s sign that that specific Mitzvah is the main task that your neshama came into the world to do!
      Isn’t it strange how it is always easier to do something when you aren’t obligated to? Why is it that you find it fulfilling and worthwhile to watch other people’s children yet burdensome to watch your own? (And believe me,most people are like that!)
      The reason is quite simple. When someone chooses to do something that they are not obligated to do 1=they do it on their terms, and 2=they feel good because they did something extra. If they would stop and think, however, they would realize that it is greater to do what Hashem wants,and on His terms, without the glorious pat on the back.
      This was why King Saul lost his kingship and why Dovid is the true king.
      I highly recomend jewishmom.com as a great place to get inspiration for dealing with motherhood on Hashem’s terms. May Hashem bless you with wonderful children and much nachas from all those beautiful neshamos that you brought (and will bring) into the world. They can have many neighbors, babysitters, teachers, but they will always have only one Mommy.

      • Thank you! But it is so hard for me to watch overwhelmed mothers and be unable to help them because Im overwhelmed myself. Id love to be in a relaxed good place, so I can help mothers not be where I am!

        • Mina Esther Gordon

          Perhaps the best way to help others not feel overwhelmed would be by finding positive coping strategies for your own situation. Then you can teach by example. It would also be more efficient, more effective, and more beneficial for everyone.

        • Mrs. Anonymous, this is a wonderful topic that you’re bringing up.
          I can understand your feeling that you’ve “done” the baby thing, and you’d like to move on.
          My answer to that is this – we women are so blessed because we have different chapters in our lives. In each chapter of your life, you can develop a different aspect of yourself. You WILL get to the point where your children are not constantly pulling at your skirt (I myself am sitting in an empty house at this moment. All the kids are out 🙂 ) . Then you will have an opportunity to be a wondrful, giving person to your community.

          If you are emotionally and physically able to care for your children, then keep going. This is your chapter in your life. It’s not a “bdieved” not to help the community because of caring for your children. It the most wonderul thing that a women can do for Am Yisrael – to raise Jewish neshamot who will carry on your values.

          All the best to you for a wonderful new year!

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