As part of a people who have witnessed more than their fair share of its people literally going up in smoke at the hands of others, we Jews ought to be horrified beyond words, when we read about someone dousing himself with gasoline and then setting himself ablaze. Personally speaking, I find it even more horrendous, if that individual is clergy. Sure, we have unfortunately become inured to reading about Tibetan monks practicing self-immolation, but when it comes to a retired United Methodist preacher here in Texas…
Such was the case last month, when Charles Moore, a retired Methodist minister met his death in an inglorious blaze. While I can’t speak for other Rabbis, Reverend Moore’s death got me thinking about two inseparable terms: clergy and despondency.
Unless one is a total egomaniac, (and I shudder to think that some clergy actually are), “what are we accomplishing” is a question that nags at all pulpit ministers, priests and rabbis, albeit at some more than others. Accordingly, clergy would do well to remind themselves of the following three realities, however unpleasant they may be.
This is the business we have chosen. If anyone who enters the clergy truly thinks that he is going to change the world, then he ought to consider pursuing a career in medicine, where he will have the opportunity of discovering a cure for cancer, or at the very least, a cure for the common cold. Unfortunately, humans, while very much capable of change, are for the most part extremely resistant to change. The best sermon ever that leaves people in tears (and G-d with a big smile) is ephemeral. With but the rarest of exceptions, all the tears in the world won’t suddenly transform an occasional congregant or parishioner into a regular attendee at services.
Keep your goals high; keep your expectations low. When our rabbinic sages taught us: “he who preserves a single soul, it’s as though he saved an entire world”, they were more sagacious than we realize. The rabbis never mentioned transforming a soul; rather they spoke of preserving
a soul. Apparently Hippocrates of Kos and our rabbinic sages were very much in concert, in that both adjured their followers to do no harm. As for transforming a person, the only one who can transform a person, is that person himself!
We’re not in the business of death. Sure, we officiate at funerals. But we understand that death is not in our hands. After all, we are not murderers. Clergy, real clergy, unless they are put to death by others, for their beliefs, are here on the face of this earth to live for G-d, not die for G-d. Clergy, real clergy, are here on the face of this earth to serve as examples of how to live life, not take life away. In that realm, Charles Moore did his calling a disservice. May G-d have mercy on his soul.