Editor's note: There is a great Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days in the month of Elul to study and prepare for the coming high holy days. The time is supposed to challenge us to use each day as an opportunity for growth and discovery. On each of the 29 days of Elul, performer Craig Taubman posts a "jewel," or story, from some of today's most celebrated visionaries. Past contributors include President Barack Obama, Desmond Tutu, Sarah Lefton, Eli Wiesel, Deepak Chopra, Ruth Messinger, and Jeffrey Katzenberg -- among many others. Today's reflection comes from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin:
It was February 7, 1984, and I was pacing the office of the Chief Sefardi Rabbi in Jerusalem. I was so overwhelmed with emotions that I was at the point of tears; I felt like my dream of Aliyah was turning into a nightmare. I had come with my family six months before, after having labored towards the establishment of Efrat for eight years. We had managed to happily settle 65 families in their homes. So what was my problem? From the initial moment of my involvement in Efrat, my heart was set on becoming its Rav. The Rabbinical Secretary had been singularly unfriendly, muttering under his breath that I certainly would not qualify. When I complained to the Chief Rabbi, he guaranteed that I would be tested, but warned me that they are unalterably opposed to a city Rabbi without a beard.
Finally, ushered into the office, I was beset with questions concerning the building of a mikvah and the construction of an eruv, which I answered easily. And then, from left field, the Chief Rabbi asked from the Laws of Divorce, "What if a wife says she finds her husband distasteful?"
Well, that was my Ph.D and the main topic of my book on women and Jewish divorce. I discussed the topic in depth. Afterward, the examiner rose, kissed my forehead, and said, "Mazal Tov! We didn't think you would pass."
As I shook their hands, they asked together, "So why don't you have a beard?"
"In order to maintain marital happiness, since my wife detests beards," I said, and then I added the Yiddish proverb: "A Jew without a beard is better than a beard without a Jew."
So began my new beginning as a middle-aged Rav in Israel. It is clear to me that everything that happened was directed by the G-d who remains in control and who directs both questions and answers.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin serves as the founding Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Israel (www.ohrtorahstone.org.il).
"If" Question: If you had to defend yourself in the presence of colleagues, how do you think you would do?