What would I want my rabbi to know? Part 1

Posted on January 23, 2007

“I want my rabbi to feel comfortable with me, with my disorder…”

Revised 1/28/07

I want my rabbi in particular to feel comfortable enough with me, comfortable enough with my disorder, that when he makes his “rounds” at shul and asks me, how are you?, he looks to see if my words and my silent signals (body language, facial expression, eyes) match.

And if they don’t, that he notes the discrepancy. Maybe, if he knows he has some time, he gently suggests I come talk to him. Maybe he simply presses for a more honest answer.

Most importantly, I want him to give me every reason to trust him.

I want to trust him. Completely. And it’s not that I don’t. It’s that I’ve been hurt. And with my history, it’s hard to trust in the first place. That’s why I don’t always give him a totally honest answer. I don’t lie – I couldn’t bring myself to do that. But I can say I’m just tired. Or that I’m doing better (when I’m not really yet).

Most times I see him, there are dozens of other people who want to talk to him. I don’t know how many want something from him, how many are requesting or even demanding his time, his energy. I see that and I know that there are people going through far worse things than I am. Unemployment, terminal illness, recent death of a loved one. My problems seem insignificant in comparison. So I don’t ask. It seems selfish when I’m not even sure what I’m asking for.

A couple of times, I’ve been really honest. I’ve said I’m having a really hard time. He says, I’ll call you and we’ll get together and talk about it. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes I guess it’s bad timing. It’s so hard to have him reach out, to say let’s talk this week, and then feel the crush of disappointment when it has to be rescheduled because something else came up. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth rescheduling. Most times, I don’t believe the appointment will really happen until it’s already underway.

I know others (men and women) in the shul who learn with him regularly. Weekly, sometimes more than once a week, and not always in a formal class sort of environment. There’s a pang of hurt, when I hear this. I wonder if my struggles were with Torah and not with my place in the shul because of my illness, would I feel I have a more legitimate reason to talk with him?

And then there’s a pang of guilt. I mean, he’s not my therapist. I already have one of those. Even though she’s not Jewish and can’t give me Jewish answers to my problems. And I know he’s busy. Maybe I’m just expecting too much. Maybe I’m looking for Jewish answers in the wrong place.

And then there’s a pang of anger. If I can’t seek Jewish answers to a huge life-altering challenge from my rabbi, then who can I seek them from?

Once again, I wish I could just send him this post. But I can’t risk the anonymity or I couldn’t speak freely. If I knew he was reading this blog – and knew who I am – I couldn’t write this post. I’d be too afraid of hurting him, no matter how much hurt I’m feeling.

I wish I could just schedule an appointment and tell him all this. Tell him what I need. But I don’t trust that what I want, what I think I need, what I wrote at the top of this post, is appropriate. There is no solution. No magic potion. No wonder drug. No verse from Torah or even lines from a psalm that will make this all better.

I’m afraid of not getting in to see him, and at the same time, I don’t even know what to ask for. Other than help. And without more detail, that request only sets everyone up for failure.

I’m slipping through the cracks and I’m allowing it to happen because anything else just hurts too much or carries too much risk.

Someday I guess I’m going to have to take that risk anyway and talk to him or show my tears in shul or somehow let it be known that I can only endure so much.

And that scares me to death.


  1. Rivka

    Ilana-Davita: what I’m willing to say is I go to a small/medium size shul with only one rabbi in a medium/large size city. I don’t want to say more at the risk of it affecting how people here see me. Why am I with these people when I could be with those people, or don’t I know it could be easier if I went over there.

    I guess I’m going to do a sort of Rivka FAQ post and I can address this a little more.

    Chana: he recommended a Jewish pastoral counselor a few years ago but when I pursued it, my insurance wouldn’t cover the fees and I couldn’t afford even the low end of the sliding scale, which was substantially more than a copay. I also needed someone with more knowledge of depression medications, and she didn’t have that. I like the counselor I have. She just can’t provide that Jewish piece.

  2. have popcorn will lurk

    What a painful experience. What if you spoke to him and asked him if he could recommend any Jewish therapists? Hopefully that could serve a double purpose – get the point across that you are looking for help that he has been unable (unwilling?) to provide, and maybe give you a lead that really WOULD be helpful to you.

    Sending lots of cyber-hugs and comfort your way,

  3. Ilana-Davita

    I hope I am not too intrusive but I was wondering whart sort of shul you go to. I know you don’t feel like going public but I believe this is a small detail that will not enable anyone to identify you.

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