A letter from a Chabad Rabbi

February 20, 2015 by J-Wire News Service
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Rabbi Danny Yaffe is Chabad and lives in Sydney. He has written a letter to the Jewish community.


Rabbi Danny Yaffe

Although I am one of the rabbis in your community, I have decided to keep silent until now. I have been debating with myself and somewhat lost for words as to the appropriate comments to say in such trying times. For those who know me personally, I do not often involve myself or volunteer my opinions on controversial community issues.

During the past few turbulent weeks, I have felt an overflow of varying emotions often sending me in to a state of internal battle; bewilderment, confusion, frustration, anger, sadness and guilt to name but a few that I have managed to recognise, many others I struggle to find a defining name for.

In the past two weeks, I have spent much time turning inwards, and taking the opportunity for self-introspection; as we call it, a ‘calculation of the soul’, a pidyon nefesh, in order to better understand my place, role and purpose in not only the Sydney Jewish community, but within the wider Australian Jewish and global communities.

Before I embark on this outpouring, I present you a disclaimer. This is not a political statement, a defence nor an excuse. It is merely a collection of expressed thoughts from my heart and mind, with insight into how these feelings can help me to refine myself and my future actions.

I grew up in what one might call a mixed home; some members of the family were more observant, and others less involved. Despite these differing levels of observance, all my siblings pursued academic degrees in the Arts, IT and Graphic Design, all succeeding with flying colours. Being the youngest of the siblings and being exposed to the chosen pathways of my elders, this gave me the necessary exposure and opportunity  to decide my own life’s career path. Thankfully, my parents did not pressure me to make a particular decision based on my siblings’ decisions, but rather supported me every step of the way on my own journey of self-discovery.

I chose to pursue the Rabbinate path; to become a Rabbi. Yes, I was well aware that there were tens of thousands of Rabbis in the world, and only a limited amount of communities worldwide. Yes, I was aware that it was not a job that guaranteed financial success and sometimes even stability. I was also aware that in order to become a qualified and recognised Rabbi, it would take me at least eight years of intensive study, beginning early morning to late at night, with minimal breaks. It would require high levels of concentration and advanced cognitive skills, as well as sacrificing all creature comforts particularly good, nutritious food and personal privacy. I would need to travel across four countries spanning the globe in order to qualify and even once qualified, I might never attain recognition, respect or honour!

So then what was behind my motivation to pursue such a career? What was it about this gruelling, seemingly out-dated, unprofitable title that drove me to leave home at thirteen and still be pursuing it until today?

For the last fifteen years of this journey, I have had the opportunity to learn, to teach, to experience, to guide, to lead, to influence and in turn to be influenced by thousands of unique and special individuals, each one an entire world, each one an infinite soul. This, if it is even possible to summarise, is the reason why I became a Rabbi. I believed back then, and even more so today, that I was created and placed in this world for a reason. After all, why would G-d waste time creating and forming each of us if we didn’t have a specific and unique mission?!

While I do not know G-d’s ultimate plan, I must do whatever I can do within my power to make this world a better place. Throughout my years working as a Rabbi here in Sydney, I have often discovered that each person I come across finds themself at some point in a challenging situation where they need an ear to listen to or a shoulder to cry on. They may need a sounding board or a friend, they may need advice or guidance. They may want to be heard, understood and validated. They may want to learn about the depths of our precious heritage for the purpose of intellectual stimulation or personal guidance. They may need somewhere to sleep or somewhere to eat on Shabbat, or simply they may just need to feel accepted.

I decided fifteen years ago I wanted to be that friend, that ear, that shoulder, that hand, that guide, that mentor, that teacher, that support and that host. Why? Because hundreds and thousands, if not millions, don’t have access to at least one or several of those support systems. Therefore, I chose to fill as many of those roles as I could. As the days, months and years pass, I am developing my skills in order to successfully fill each role, one step at a time. Of course, I am aware that throughout my life, I will only have a limited effect on a limited number of people, but to be able to affect, help or support just one person, who in turn might be able to affect another, fulfils the purpose and reason I was created for.

By the mere fact that I have chosen to serve as a Rabbi, means that I must follow higher moral standards and conduct, and that I must be scrupulous in adhering to these standards constantly without failure. Because I am held to a higher degree of responsibility, my actions, therefore, are judged accordingly. With each of my actions, and with what I say, I must first analyse its appropriateness, what effect it will have on those around me, the Sydney and wider Jewish community, and of course, on my own development. It is a tedious process, but a necessary one.

I have been given a gift. That gift is the trust of my community; a trust that I will act, and react accordingly, in the best interest of those around me. If an individual approaches me, and shares with me something untold from their youth, painful, tragic or perhaps a secret which they have feared may cause them or their families abandonment, perhaps they have been bullied into keeping quiet, and have, therefore struggled and agonised over this burden for many years, then it is my duty, obligation and responsibility to relieve them of these struggles, in whatever way I can. The pain and guilt that they carry, is not, and should not, be theirs alone. It is also mine.

As a Rabbi, it is my responsibility to assist those who have gone through ‘hell and back’ to find solace, peace and comfort. It is my responsibility to take action for those who fear acting. And it is my responsibility to speak out for those whose voices cannot or will not be heard

We, the Jewish people are one nation. From Sinai, the moment we became a nation, we stood as “Am Echad, B’Leiv Echad”, one nation with one heart. This is the dictum we have lived by for thousands of years and will continue to live by. Just as if one of our limbs is injured, the whole body is in pain, so too with the Jewish people. If one individual is injured, physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually, we are all injured. Whilst one is in pain, we are incomplete.

But why do we need to be complete? What benefit is it to us as individuals? For the very reason why we are here today; why I am here today writing this, and while you are here today reading this letter. When our children see that we are a unified, connected and strong people, devoted to truly helping one another in every sense, then our children will feel safe, supported and confident. This, in turn, will create a ripple effect throughout the generations, promoting a stronger, unified and proud community!

So let us heal from our fractured past, deal with the present accordingly and in unison, so that we will have a stronger and safer tomorrow!

Rabbi Danny Yaffe


9 Responses to “A letter from a Chabad Rabbi”
  1. Rabbi Danny Yaffe says:

    First of all I would like to thank everyone for taking the time and making the effort to write such complimentry comments, it was not necessary to comment on my letter as it was not written for that purpose, rather simply to share my thoughts and feelings.

    Secondly, I would like to respond to Ari; Dear Ari, thank you for pointing out a very valid point, in the process of life development it is very necessary to hear critizism and take it all on board. You are right, you do not know me, and perhaps you might be far more surprised than you realise, I am happy to meet you over coffee?

    With regards to my grammatical error, as a Rabbi, I am honestly a bit biased, I admit it. For me, my title represents my life path and direction, and it is my guide, irrelivent of current events. Therefore when somthing is important to you, you tend to enhance it, perhaps more so than what others may feel is correct.

    But thank you for pointing out the various correlations. Albeit it does not really change the point that I am making!

  2. Liat Nagar says:

    Pretty unseemly response, Ari BarYochai. Especially with that choice word ‘prostitute’ right at the end – meant as a barb? Yep, as you said, the reader can read between the lines.

  3. Ari BarYochai says:

    Rabbi Yaffe, aside from what you have written about yourself in this article, I know nothing at all about you, so I read it with no preconceptions about you. But one can read between the lines and deduce a great deal. For one thing, it is clear from your style of writing that you had a good education, at least in the area of English expression. Despite this, your article is littered with multiple instances of a glaring grammatical error of a type that is very, very telling about you. As a class of error, it is not a consistent one, yet it consistently occurs in conjunction with the use of just one single word, which appears many times throughout your article — the word “rabbi,” which you invariably, but wrongly, capitalise. The same error also occurs with other forms of the word like “rabbis” and “rabbinate.” I have not the slightest doubt that if you were writing an article containing nouns for other professions, like architect, barrister, engineer, judge, pilot, physicist, professor or teacher, including forms such as professorial or professorship, you would not capitalise any of them. Except when used as a title prefixed to a proper noun, as in “Rabbi Yaffe,” “rabbi” should not be capitalised any more than “prostitute” should.

    • harry freedman says:

      what a meaningful comment, a grammar spell check, that takes the discussion to great heights

    • Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

      A somewhat mean spirited set of meandering comments, raising mainly irrelevant issues with a most insulting comparison in the last sentence.
      Rabbi Yaffe needs our encouragement not insipid insults.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Ari, when you venture into the public domain with full , identifiable details, such as your full – and not so common – name, you need to be careful tat you don’t make a meshuga of yourself.
      Rabbi with capital ‘R” ( “capitalised” means something else, mind you )is very correct identical in honour to Master of Arts or Bachelor of Whatever. It is a degree one obtains from a learning authority, say a Yeshiva and, as such, Rabbi is perfectly in order, unlike your comments in tottum – no capitalised T -.

  4. Liat Nagar says:

    Thank you for sharing so much with us, Rabbi Yaffe. The warmth and humility that comes with your words is a gift to those who read them, especially at this time. Those qualities combined with your knowledge of Judaism will be a fine combination when dealing with people in the Jewish community. I believe that everything we experience in this life can be used beneficially, and most probably the fact that you grew up in a mixed family will equip you with greater comprehension and understanding of the complex and difficult issues people can be faced with.

    Perhaps though in times to come you would prove to be invaluable in speaking out on controversial issues, for the very reasons mentioned above. Chabad is fortunate to have you and I trust any reform undergone due to what has been exposed will allow room in senior positions for Rabbis that are not necessarily part of the previous hierarchical system.

  5. harry freedman says:

    I wonderful piece Rabbi Yaffe, it would have been so much better had you been making such statements in the witness box before the Royal Commission, than those who did appear.

    your words say what should have been felt, said and acted on those years ago rather than the cover ups, denials and excuses.

    You describe what we expect from our rabbis, and in doing so make it clear of how poorly those others have behaved and harmed our community

    Shabbat Shalom

  6. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    If Sydney is to be served by young men like Rabbi Danny Yaffe into the future how fortunate we will be.
    More power to him and his ilk.
    G-d in His mercy will create new opportunities for the growth of Torah in Sydney as He is doing in so many communities throughout the world.
    Let us learn from our mistakes and pay the price where necessary, moving forward to the time when the Almighty will deem it appropriate that Moshiach should usher in the Era of Eternal Peace and Universal Harmony.
    Let us be positive in all our deliberations.

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