Jews' Next Dor

Congregation Beth David's Young Adult Group for Jewish 20 & 30 Somethings

Jewel of Elul: To Thine Own Self Be True by Rabbi Jacob Pressman

Posted by challahbackgirl on September 29, 2008

Rabbi Jacob Pressman

Rabbi Jacob Pressman

We bring you the last Jewel of Elul for this year on this 29th day of Elul as Rosh HaShana approaches, fittingly by Rabbi Jacob Pressman, the father of Congregation Beth David’s Rabbi Daniel Pressman. As a congregation we all think about Rabbi Jacob Pressman on Erev Rosh HaShanah as for years we’ve heard his remarks read to us from the pulpit. They are full of humor yet very practical and grounded words of wisdom and wishes for the past and future. Enjoy his words in this Jewel of Elul as you prepare for Rosh Hashanah tonight.

Elul 29 To Thine Own Self Be True by Rabbi Jacob Pressman

I entered the Seminary in September of 1941. On December 7, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and we were at war. That very day, all the Seminary boys told Chancellor Louis Finkelstein that we were quitting to go fight the Nazis. He begged us to stay put because Jews had to provide hundreds of chaplains for the Armed Forces.
My very first service was a graveside funeral for a month-old baby. I was driven to the cemetery by the mother, the father being overseas in the Service. I stood, my heart in my mouth, waiting for the hearse. Finally, I timidly asked, “Where is the casket?” The mother pointed to a tiny pink box lying level with the ground and promptly collapsed into my arms. I conducted the brief service, weeping, no longer pretending to be a rabbi. For in that moment, I had truly become a rabbi, and I never turned back.
Over the years, I opened myself totally to my congregation. One Kol Nidre night, I had the nerve to say to them, “I have asked myself: could I preach to you and would you listen, if I were stark naked?” I answered myself, “Yes, I could, because the robe does not the rabbi make. Besides, I have the pulpit in front of me.”
So as a rabbi, I say: In all your pursuits in life, use all your God-given talents and be yourself. Don’t pretend or you will always be fearful of having your real identity exposed. And if you are true to yourself, you will fulfill my favorite words in the Talmud: “His inner self is the same as his outer self.”
And if Talmud is not your thing, take my favorite words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet when Polonius says to Laertes, “This above all, to thine own self be true. And it must follow as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Jacob Pressman is Rabbi Emeritus at Congregation Beth Am in L.A.


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