Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup


“Do you think that, as a rabbi, you are forced to fake your feelings more than other people?”

We were sitting at lunch, and I was enjoying one of my favorite camp meals. Particularly achy from a full morning of physical labor, I’d confessed to my friend that I didn’t feel like getting up from the table to greet a staff member who had just arrived at camp. This friend is quite perceptive; my face no doubt betrayed my emotional exhaustion, which was the real source of my unwillingness to summon a cheerful greeting.

There is something about being at camp that inspires deep conversations about who we are. Maybe it’s because we are living with our co-workers—praying together every morning, learning and playing together all day, eating every meal together. I don’t know what surprises me more: the fact that we have these conversations, often with people we’ve known only a few weeks, or our ability to conduct these conversations in the crowded, noisy Dining Hall.

As I polished off my sandwich, we discussed the various professions that require a person to act in a friendly manner to all people, even toward those she might genuinely dislike. We refined the question, examined it and, although we answered it, I am still sitting with it.

Aside from professional obligation, I personally strive to greet everyone cheerfully, just as Shammai counseled in the first century (Mishnah Avot 1:15). I don’t know if Shammai was faking his feelings—his reputation as a grouch has persisted for nearly two millennia—but I suspect he understood the social contract that obligated him to be pleasant toward people.

Do I think that, as a rabbi, I am forced to fake my feelings more than other people? I don’t know. It’s almost impossible to distinguish whether I behave this way because I am a rabbi or simply because I am a human.

I’ll tell you what I do think, though. As a rabbi, I love to chew on a good question during my favorite lunch at camp.