I often get the sense when I stand up on the pulpit, especially during the High Holy Days, that I am an entertainer.
As I get up, people settle into their chairs, lean back and seem to say, “OK Rabbi, inspire me!”
A good drosha is perceived as one that either entertains or inspires, rather than teaches or challenges. It’s similar to a trip to the dentist, where a good visit is described as one that wasn’t too painful.
But is that the job of the Rabbi?
Let’s put aside the entertainment component − which is definitely a great tool in a Rabbinic shed as I think we would all agree that it is not the Rabbi’s role to entertain. But is it reasonable to expect the Rabbi to inspire his congregation?
Yes and no.
Yes, because the Rabbi should be a living role model of Judaism. His enthusiasm for Jewish life and values should be evident not only in his sermons and shiurim, but in his very disposition and character. People should want to emulate his lifestyle or at least improve on their own as a result of interacting with the Rabbi. This part of the Rabbinic role is very difficult, but the success or failure of a Rabbi’s performance depends heavily on his ability to fulfil it.
No, because inspiration is a drug and the effect of a drug does not last forever; it wears off over time, often very quickly. The most rousing and stirring of sermons may move every listener to tears and hope for a better life, but an hour, day or week later the message has turned stale and the ‘performance’ forgotten.
Hillel asks, “If I am not for me then who will be for me?”
The 11th-century scholar Rabbeinu Yonah comments on this statement: “Because the motivation of others is only good for a short period of time…”
No sermon can change a person. No Shabbat Project can change a community. Only someone who chooses to take the inspiration and internalise it can really make any change.