Yakov Saacks

The four sons grow up – Four types of clergy

Continuing the theme of the four sons that we just read during the Passover Seder, I wish to focus on four other types of people. In the previous article, we elaborated on the four sons (children) who grow into four kinds of parents. This article we will focus on the four types of clergy that we are blessed with.

As a Rabbi, I interact with many different clergy members across the board. Some of these clergy are classmates while others are peers, but I meet most clergy because of common interests and issues that affect our community and by extension the country. It occurred to me during one sleepless night that there are indeed four types of rabbis that jive well with the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah. I will attempt to illustrate them as I see them. Obviously, these thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt. Please do not start judging your Rabbi over this. We are judged enough without an insider stirring the pot.

Let’s begin.


The wise member of clergy would be personified as the quintessential scholar who has labored over the big and small books and equally knows how and when to apply these teachings. The wise one needs to be well rounded in Jewish law, medical ethics, philosophy, ideology and psychology, as clergy are called upon for advice, guidance and counsel for a myriad of different reasons. The wise one knows when he is able to help, and more importantly, knows when to back off. These are people’s lives and the wise one understands that there are some things that are above his pay grade. The Mishna declares that a wise person understands the ramifications of his actions and will therefore be very sensitive to what he says and does. The wise one understands that eight out of ten times he does not have to offer his sage advice, as more often than not the constituents are looking for a shoulder to lean on as opposed to a long-winded lecture.


I have a really hard time using the colloquial word wicked. What percentage of Homo sapiens are wicked? There are of course very bad people who live amongst us. However, I think words like wicked and evil are overused. I believe that all of us have warped views of right and wrong in some aspect or another, but that does not make one wicked. Misguided? Yes. Naive? Yes, but not wicked.

Therefore, the unsavory rabbi would be the kind who gets into the rabbinate for all the wrong reasons. If the primary drive to become a member of the clergy is to toot their own horn, and be the center of attention, then this person should have probably gone into politics rather than be a clergy. To satisfy one’s ego is antithetical to the rabbinate. If this rabbinical fellow chooses this vocation as it is appealing to be the boss man in charge of others, or if this person is attracted to power where his word bears weight and trumps others, then truth be told, a rabbi is the worst career choice.

A true leader needs humility 99% of the time. One of the main qualities a member of the clergy must possess is to be a humble listener, which is diametrically opposed to someone who likes to hear themselves speak. Trust me, a stuttering rabbi with a lisp with a humble disposition is far superior to someone who is oratorically brilliant yet arrogant and holds the belief that they are God’s gift to humanity.

The sages teach us that Moses had a cleft lip, and yet he was chosen by God to be His representative to Pharaoh. It was Moses with his speech impediment who was handpicked to be the teacher of the Torah. Would it have been better if God had chosen a man blessed with the eloquence of speech, gift of the gab who can weave the Divine message into poetry? The answer is a resounding no. The Torah attests that Moses was the most humble man on earth (until I came along). God was not interested in sending a slick salesman who could sell snow to an Eskimo in the winter. God wanted someone sincere, loyal, humble and ready to do His bidding. A glib tongue is not to be lauded. A pure tongue is. Parenthetically, being humble should not be confused with having no backbone or opinion. Moses, the humblest of men, stood up nose to nose to Pharaoh when needed, and argued, negotiated and cajoled God on behalf of his charge, the Jewish people.


I have met many simple son type Rabbis in my day. In fact, much of who I am falls into this category. I studied diligently in rabbinical school. I can spot the difference between a kosher egg versus a non-kosher one. In my prime, I could rattle off so much Jewish knowledge from memory, that I even impressed myself. Boy was I wrong.

In my 30 plus years, not one person has asked me to clarify the kosher egg identification process. Not once have I been asked to teach a class on how to kosher a cow’s udder so that it can be eaten as meat. I have lived in the same community for 29 years and I have never shared the seven reasons as to why we rinse our poultry and beef before salting it. Of course, when it comes to the Ketubah (religious marriage contract) and unfortunately the Get (if divorce) I do get to prove that I know my stuff.

However, in rabbinical school I was not taught anything about W2s, I9s, payroll taxes, parsonage, non-compete clauses, human resources, binding arbitration, air conditioning handlers and dampers, QuickBooks, Excel, mass texting, sump pumps, ozonate in the Mikvah, roof nails vs penny nails, computer networks, how to remove a weathered Mezuzah from a wall or how much PSI a commercial fire suppression system needs to have.

Basically, I was really naive going into this field. I was such a simpleton that I didn’t even know that I did not know. I thought a spreadsheet goes on a bed and updating my windows was done by calling a representative from Anderson. When I was told I did not have enough ram on my computer, I was angry with the local kosher butcher.

You get the drift.


In many respects, I have nothing in common with this son. When I needed to learn the function of an aquastat and why it is needed in a Mikvah ritual bath, I asked. Likewise, I now understand why scuppers are required on a flat roof. I researched the best wax to use for VCT tiles. Inquiring minds need to know.

I have a personal goal that I try to keep daily. I try to learn something new each and every day and I acknowledge it to myself when I do learn something new. I really want to know the right questions to ask, and I am pondering most of my day and night (hence the insomnia).

Where I do resonate with the fourth son, however, and have much in common with this boychik, is when it comes to fundraising. Every Chabad rabbi wears two hats. Aside from being the rabbi of the institution, we also carry the badge (albatross) of honor of directorship. This involves fundraising, developing new initiatives (also involves fundraising), marketing the new and existing programs (yep), and making sure all employees and vendors are paid. (Correct again).

I do not know how to ask. I am not a natural born fundraiser. I wish I was, but I am not. I am told that I am too much of an empath and do not like being a nudge. I love my fellow brothers and sisters too much and err on the side of caution. Truth be told, I am somewhat too cerebral about this. We are taught that “doing the ask” for a worthy cause is just as much a mitzvah as giving charity itself. The philosophy is that by asking for a donation, I am opening a heavenly door and allowing the potential donor to connect a very deep part of their soul with the portal that was just opened.

It takes incredible monies for The Chai Center to meet its obligations, like any business. However, I feel strongly that to compare The Chai Center to a business is foolhardy and incorrect. While the rewards are great and satisfying, the risks are of divine proportions. No normal savvy business person would choose to run a Chai Center type of enterprise because it is a good business decision.

In conclusion, you can help The Chai Center accomplish its magic without me asking by going to or contact me at to discuss further. If you prefer, I can contact you and attempt to ask without stammering over my words as I develop cottonmouth.

Please feel free to share (especially the last paragraph).

Talk soon.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.
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