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    A friendly rabbi – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Which is better – a gregarious rabbi or one who is a loner?

    A. What do you mean by “better”? A rabbi who loves people and mixes easily creates a good feeling. But in some ways it makes rabbinic leadership rather difficult.

    To be “one of the boys” can put the rabbi in a bind when he really should stand aloof and be more judgmental but he knows this might affect his good relationship with people. That’s one reason why popularity can be a drawback.

    But looked at more deeply, aloneness is part of any form of leadership. Abraham is ha-ivri, the Hebrew, because by a play on words one can say that he had the courage to be on one side (eiver) of civilisation, the side that rejected idolatry and unrighteousness. His descendants, the people of Israel, are praised by the heathen prophet Bilam as “the people that dwells alone”.

    When you are a thinker you cannot always go where the crowd goes. Lord Jakobovits said that when Rav Soloveitchik wrote his classic, The Lonely Man of Faith, he was really writing about himself.

    On the other hand, the communal rabbi cannot cut himself off from the people. He must know and love them, care for them and feel their joy and their pain.

    The same Bilam who recognised Israelite individuality also recognised their communality as seen in the tents and dwelling places of Israel, the synagogues and schools that drew them together and made them a people.

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