For Rabbi Delcau, July 8th, 2016

Burning Bush

“I must turn aside and look…” Exodus 3:3

For Rabbi Delcau, July 8th, 2016 

Looking back over our four years with Rabbi Delcau, here are some sides of his presence that will always stand out for me.

He has been a font of faith in this temple. If cynicism and pessimism are contagious, faith is also contagious. “I am constantly speaking to God,” he wrote in one newsletter. “We all come from our own metaphorical Egypt. We should try to acknowledge God’s ability to bring us to a better place.”

He didn’t try to prove that God exists. He knows enough to know that enterprise is not a fruitful one. In the sunshine of his own natural faith, we classmates in Torah Study began using the word “God” without the scare quotes, unselfconsciously. Not as a metaphor. As the One you talk to when you pray.

He’s been a fearless advocate for Israel. He wrote, about a recent trip there in wartime, “The back wheels of the aircraft touch down on the ground and the clapping begins. I am once again on the soil of our people. I have traveled around the world, but nothing – nothing ever feels like this sensation. Nothing compares to it. Nothing stirs me like coming to Israel. I am truly at home.”

I have seen Rabbi Delcau stand in front of a Christian congregation in this town whose national policy committee had voted to undermine Israel economically and morally. He answered one question after another. The first volley was hostile. Only after all those arrows had been spent, and he was still standing – not angry, not defensive – did the questions become more respectful, even friendly.

I learned a lot watching him. They weren’t really asking the preposterous question, “Is the Jewish state above criticism?” Nothing is above criticism. They were asking, Are you afraid? Afraid to be a Jew who defends Israel? The moral fearlessness he showed was the right answer to their real question. For me, it was a teaching.

All this would have been unimaginable without a sense of mission. Rabbi Delcau was called to the rabbinate. He didn’t enter it as a kid looking for a safe career. He had a 12-year flourishing career as an engineer when he heard a distinct call to turn his life in another direction and become a rabbi. It may be that many of us hear calls just as distinct, to leave our way of life, or comfort zone, for a frontier path. Like a famous predecessor who could have had a comfortable life as a shepherd in Midian but turned aside to look, Rabbi Delcau turned aside to listen.

I ponder this as we face the troubling fact that his first full-time congregation has had to say to him that it can no longer afford a full-time rabbi. What must he think? What can we think? What could Hashem be thinking?

Imagine a different sort of man or woman, unanimously chosen by the Search Committee on which I served. Almost anyone else would have lived the recent months with distance, with resentment, half-turned away from us all.

To my utter amazement, Rabbi Delcau continued to be fully present, to teach, to lead, to urge us to stay unified as a congregation, to support the reasonable steps toward recovery that were put before us, to keep our eyes on the objective, to continue as ourselves.

In my experience with the God of Israel, sometimes Hashem micro-manages our affairs and sometimes not. But if – to paraphrase Mordecai’s words to Ester –God did place our Rabbi in our midst for such a time as this, God has greatly blessed us and we do well to be grateful.





About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” ( where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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