"What is the typical day of a rabbi?"
It is a question I get occasionally, sometimes on an airplane or at the bowling alley at one of my kid's birthday parties. The questioner might continue, "I mean, do you counsel a lot of people? Think about your sermon?"
Kind of. Let me begin by saying many people work a lot harder than I do. I cannot imagine living the life of nurse who works the night shift, the restaurant owner who never has dinner with her or his family because that is the busiest time of the day, or the construction worker who is up at the break of dawn doing physical labor.
But I would say that there is no "typical" to my day, and that I move at the "speed of life," if not light. And I imagine many ministers and other clergy live out similar days.
Let's take last Thursday. I drove my kids to the school in the morning. I fit in a half-hour workout at the local gym. I then arrived at the synagogue, where I was greeted with a hearty "hello" from the custodian. I said my morning prayers, putting on my tallit (Jewish prayer shawl) and tefillin (leather prayer boxes worn on the head and arm). I find that if I get both physical exercise and prayer in to my morning, it is hard to have a bad day.
I then prepared classes in front of the copy machine, edited my sermon on the computer I had written earlier in the week for this Friday night, and answered email. I then met with the chair of the School Committee to talk about planning for next year. A member of the Sisterhood stopped in to go over an advertisement for their upcoming spring dinner. I also called a couple of people just to check in on them and let them know I was thinking of them: The woman taking chemotherapy and a set of grandparents whose grandchild needs cancer treatment.
I ran home for lunch. I am fortunate to live only a mile from the synagogue, so going back and forth is no big deal. I love my commute.
At one o'clock I had my weekly meeting with the President of the congregation. We talked about fundraising and how we can make up this year's shortfall without putting an extra burden on the congregation. I worry about the demographics of my neighborhood: Are there enough Jewish families to maintain our current level of staff and programming?
I then taught my weekly Jewish law class. A dozen people, mostly retirees who have time during the day, come each week for cookies, coffee and Jewish learning. The topic of the day happened to be business ethics and fraud. The conversation was lively.
After that, I met with a woman who had knee replacement surgery and is really struggling. I heard her pain and saw her tears. Instead of thinking of her body as the enemy, I asked her to try to think of her body as an old friend who has gotten her this far and now needs her compassion and help. We then went into the sanctuary and said a prayer of healing together.
By this time, school has let out, and kids started coming in for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah appointments. I sat with each one for a half-hour and helped them write their speeches. They have to teach something they have learned from their Torah portion, about what becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah means to them and their family (whom they have to interview), and their Mitzvah project, which is some kind of community service. The hardest part is usually the "thank yous" at the end: "And I would like to thank my little brother for absolutely nothing! Shabbat Shalom."
At five o'clock I had a Bar Mitzvah rehearsal, which included the young man's parents. We stood up on the bimah (stage), practiced his prayers, Torah chanting, and speech with the microphone ("Slow down!"), and confronted his greatest fear of all: carrying the Torah scroll. No one has dropped it yet.
At 6:30, I met with a young couple preparing to get married. I do a series of three or four appointments per couple to not only talk about the wedding but actually being married. How do they talk to each other? How do they argue? Are they workaholics, and have they ever considered making Shabbat --- a time of sacred rest - a part of their lives? And many other questions.
We finished, and I grabbed a suitcase full of prayer books and kippot (head coverings) to go to a congregant's house whose mother passed away. I led a short prayer service in his mother's memory. I remarked that she died during Passover, the Jewish holiday of freedom from slavery, and perhaps his mother is now free from the suffering she was in.
I then went home and had a late dinner. I hugged my family and caught up on my kids' day. My daughter was excited about her dance competition. My son wanted to know when he could go back to the indoor pool to swim laps. My wife and I watched some dumb TV.
People sometimes ask, "How can you go from the joy of babies being born to the sadness of funerals?" The truth is, there is a little mourning and a bit of joy in everything. At the birth of a child, people are missing those who have died who are not there to see it. And at the funeral of a loved one, people tell stories and even jokes celebrating the life that is completed.
Every person's life is a package deal, both bitter and sweet. It is an honor to be an intimate part of other people's lives.