Reshuffling On The High Holidays

Featured imageOver the past 35 years, I have observed a pattern where things tend to unravel in congregations during the High Holy Days.  Its as if things people have suppressed all year come to a head.

One year, a guy in my congregation with a serious moral issue came to me the day before Rosh Hashanna and presented me with his situation.  He refused to make it right and we had to disfellowship him because he refused to fix it.  It wasn’t a punishment for his wrongdoing, but his unwillingness to stop.  Two years later, he came back and ended the situation.

Another year, a guy felt all the problems he saw were my fault, and he left to start another congregation.  Two years later, he met with me and apologized and admitted he was wrong.

Several years later, other people had a blow up about other issues.  I could go on and on.  Honestly, I dont have the temperment to deal with these blow ups.  I am a peaceful person and I like to teach and care for people, but I could get ulcers from all the unrest.  Thats why I am so happy with my current position as Rabbi Emeritus.

I used to think it was me, and that I was doing a bad job, but as I compared notes with other leaders, most of them had major issues coming to the surface around this time of year.  Even the local Chabad is having problems.

As I reflect on this, it makes me wonder why this happens.  I believe at this time of year, God reshuffles the deck.  People in positions of leadership may need to move on.  Some in a congregation need to go somewhere else.  Sometimes there are issues that really do need fixing, and the unrest can lead to needed change.

In the past, it has caused me to review the issues brought up and it has led to us making necessary changes.  Sometimes it has led to us renewing and reaffirming our vision for the congregation.  It causes us to examine ourselves.  In that sense, these are good things.  The problem I have is not the changes, but that it takes emotional blow ups to make it happen.

Why can’t we find positive ways to make the changes that are needed without the drama and emotion?  When people leave a congregation, they often leave in a huff, criticizing the worship service, or the leader, or that its not Jewish enough or too Jewish.  They do damage to themselves and to the congregation, not to mention the hurt that is caused. All this is very painful to a caring leader.

People can leave well, or leave badly.  When people move to a different geographical area, no one takes it personally, and they are always welcome back.  People don’t need to move to have a positive departure.  A good way would be for people to come to their leader and just say they feel they need to move on.  It is perfectly legitimate to say that you have different needs and want to find a place that meets those needs.  They can go with their leader’s blessing, and the blessing of the congregation.  They can come back if they want without a sense of awkwardness.  Its a peaceful departure.  Everyone wins.

As I mentioned earlier, the trauma can have a positive side effect; necessary change.  I believe turning things into a positive is to not be critical, and to move forward, blessing those who have been part of our lives, and being open to what God may be doing.  The words of scripture hold true, “As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

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3 thoughts on “Reshuffling On The High Holidays

  1. Interestingly enough, I just left the Baptist church I had been attending for these past two years. Hopefully, there wasn’t the level of drama you describe in your blog post, but on my blog, I had chosen to review one of the Pastor’s sermons, which was critical of Messianic Judaism as well as Rabbinic Judaism (he differentiated the two) and Seventh-Day Adventism as a “misuse of the Law”.

    I felt my online review was measured and courteous, though honest in the level of its details. I could have taken my issues to him privately instead of airing them on the web, but I’ve reviewed his sermons as well as Sunday school classes before with no apparent ill effect.

    He commented on my blog post several days later (something he rarely does), and even though I’ve always been careful not to identify him or his church, he chose to post links to a recording of his sermon (hosted on the church’s website) to allow my readers to hear him in his own words and to draw their own conclusions.

    Perhaps it was for the best as I’ve been struggling with the significant dissonance between my beliefs and how the church teaches the Bible for pretty much the entire time I’ve been there. Pastor and I used to meet almost every week to discuss our views on the Bible, Yeshua, and God, and although we don’t agree on very much, we developed a friendship and mutual respect. I think we’ve managed to salvage some of that, but rather than continue to be an irritant in his church and knowing how he likes to “lock down” what information his flock is exposed to, I made the decision to leave.

    It never occurred to me to draw an association between my leaving and the High Holidays, especially since as a Baptist church, they don’t observe any of these events nor give them any credence.

    I feel a sort of freedom in the aftermath of my decision, but a lot of other people are now concerned because I don’t have “fellowship” or a “community”. I figure God will take care of that in time and believe my brief sojourn in traditional Christianity was still fruitful, if for no other reason than I finally learned to understand some of the history of the Church and the relationship between the various denominations, an area where I have been previously uninformed.

    Sadly, we will never escape drama in the body of Messiah as long as that body is made up of human beings. To one degree or another, we all hide behind our masks but God sees our faces. Knowing who and what we are, I can only hope God is more forgiving and tolerant of imperfections, secret scars and hidden pain than people are. If religion is a crutch then who isn’t limping?

  2. I often wonder why we fight when we have differences instead of talk things out. I am guilty of doing this myself. Sometimes it’s because I am acting out of a spirit of fear instead of love, for whatever reason. Maybe I’m really hurt or offended by something someone did or said and I can’t get out of my own way to look at the situation objectively. Maybe there is a misunderstanding or more to the story that I just don’t understand. Anyway, I am striving to pursue peace in my life and with others around me, A friend of mine has this saying “it’s simple but it is not easy”, the action itself of going to someone to talk something out is simple but…it is not always easy. May G-d bless everyone during this season of atonement and may you find peace 🙂

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