The conversation with Reb Shlomo that changed my life: -
Since the early 1970s, Reb Shlomo, TZ’L was my main living exemplar of living Torah consciousness. Another word for ‘Rebbe’ I suppose. He had been my Rebbe for some time but when I became a Rabbi, I really really to the deepest depths needed a Rebbe. Especially when it came to a consequential question that faced me soon after officially becoming an Orthodox Rabbi. It was the late spring of 1989. I had just returned from North America where I was offered a very creative Rabbinical position. For a Reb Zalman, Shlita, connected Renewal community in which females participated equally in prayer leading and of course without a mechitza.
Up until then I was entrenched in Orthodox practice and had not stepped outside of it since my entry into it in the early 70’s. I was unsure what to do. Should I/could I (as an Orthodox rabbi) take that job? A conversation with the main Orthodox rabbi of the city I was considering made it clear that I would no longer be seen as an Orthodox rabbi if I was to be so employed. He and other local Orthodox rabbis wouldn’t participate in a Beit Din with me and he wouldn’t allow me to teach at his Orthodox school though I was highly qualified and they needed good teachers. “What would my baalei batim (board members and shul machers) say?” he told me in explanation. I realized the only person I could really ask about this was Reb Shlomo. I made sure to be on the Moshav for the next Shlomo Shabbos. Sometime on Shabbat I asked him if I could consult on a pressing question. He of course said yes and suggested we talk after Shabbat ended. It was a quiet Motzash, no concerts, no weddings (must have been during the 3 weeks) and Reb Shlomo invited me to accompany him to his home. We came in, he knocked off a quick Havdalah (with no Shlomo nigunim!!) for his holy family and took me to his room to talk privately. After explaining to him my situation including the baalei batim rationale. I asked: “So if I take this job, does that mean I’m not Orthodox any more? He smiled at me and said: “Chas ve’chalilah, you’ll be even more Orthodox!” I still don’t really know what he meant by that, but before I could ask him, he continued by asking me who the Rabbi was that said that to me. I named him (he was from a distinguished rabbinic family) and he said: “I know him, I did his Bar Mitzva years ago.” He then fixed his gaze directly on me: “Listen I want to ask you something, what percentage of these ‘baalei batim’ are ‘mechalel Shabbat be’pheresia’ (desecrate Shabbat publicly- driving to shul and so forth-and also invalid as witnesses). I said: “I don’t know....70%?” He said: “Higher, probably closer to 90%...and they’re going to be judging you?!....for what....for helping women get closer to the Torah and God.??!!...I used to give women aliyot long before anyone else.” (I later researched this and it seems that there were a few instances at the Berkely House of Love and Prayer that he gave women aliyot.) His words had big and immediate impact on me. Yes, of course, how absurd to be so externally focused that the ikar (most important) had become tafel (secondary) and the tafel became ikar. His simple question and answer burst a socially constructed mental bubble for me. It enabled me to go freely forth into the larger world and try to help all human beings, male and female, get closer to God and Torah. Thank you, Rebbe.