Responding to the Call
Benjamin Samuels is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Class VI and has served as the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah of Newton Centre, Massachusetts for the past sixteen years and teaches widely in the Greater Boston area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This summer, I have been leading a Shabbat afternoon Tanakh study, “Responding to the Call: Divine Commission and Reluctant Prophets.” In our sessions, we have explored the call-narratives of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel analyzing their similarities, differences and unique aspects. We have tried to imagine what it is like to be seized by the Divine word, to be called to leadership, to be captured by an undeniable sense of mission and obligation?
One of the questions that I frequently get asked is: “When did I know that I wanted to be – had to become – a rabbi?” There’s a longer answer that honors the many contributing forces shaping my life’s trajectory, including my saintly Chassidic Zaide, incredibly dedicated rabbis and teachers who took a personal interest in my learning and development, and a teenage love who told me that she wanted to marry a rabbi (my wife of 20 years!). But there’s also a short answer, a discreet, defining leadership moment.
In March of 1986, my senior year of High School at the Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago, two great Torah luminaries, Rabbis Moshe Feinstein zt”l and Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l, rabbinical leaders who bridged the worlds of Eastern Europe and America, were called to the heavenly yeshiva, as the rabbinic expression goes. Our principal at the time, Rabbi Tzvi Blanchard, assembled our entire school community to eulogize these extraordinary men and join us in the wave of international mourning gripping the Orthodox Jewish world. I remember him rhetorically asking: “Who among us will rise up to the challenge of Jewish leadership? Who will become the rabbis of the next generation?” It is truly wondrous that we can find ourselves serving as God’s messenger, as a partner to the Divine in inspiring others to choices of meaning and purpose, even in creating for others electrifying moments of calling and commission. This has become one of the roles that I now aspire to as a rabbi myself. But back in ’86, as an adolescent student seeking high destiny, my own rabbi’s calling questions arrived at just the right time in my personal journey, and I was seized by my own answer.