This too is Torah

Rabbi Ben Goldstein
November 18, 2014
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There are intimate moments that we share with our friends, moments with our families, and there are moments that can be just between us and God[1]. I recognize that I am saying this as a rabbi, and as many people have pointed out, my private life is not exclusively my own. I know that there are aspects of my life as a father and a family man that are shared and thought about[2] by others.

As I write this, I am wondering what the line is between openness and privacy. In my role as a teacher of our tradition, I wonder where my duty to my congregants and the Jewish community ends, and my right to privacy begins. I am reminded of a famous episode[3] in the Talmud in which students talk about following their teachers into all sorts of private moments. In one story, Rav Kahana speaks about going to his teacher, Rav’s house and hiding under his bed. While he was there, he heard Rav and his wife laughing and having fun. When he was discovered, his teacher told him to leave, saying that it was improper for him to be there. Rav Kahana responded by saying, “This too is Torah, and I must learn!”

While the idea of following our teachers into their bed or bathrooms[4] might sound ridiculous, there was a practical reason for it. These students had been studying with their teachers for years, and the teachers had not just taught their students about the inner workings of ritual and ethical practice; they were guiding these students as to how to live in the world. Rav Kahana and his friends had learned the laws of family purity and intimate relations, but they wanted to make sure that their rabbis were actually practicing what they preached.

The role of a rabbi is not only to stand up in front of a congregation and sermonize on Shabbat mornings. Our job is more than speaking about the values and ethics of Judaism, it’s about living them. I can preach and teach about loving my neighbor all I want, but if I cut people off in traffic, if I am rude to the cashier at the grocery store, then my words mean nothing.  Yes, I enjoy my privacy. I like the idea of being able to go shopping anonymously, or to be able to just hang out with people as something other than “the rabbi,” but I also know that there are lines that I cannot cross. I know that more than my pulpit, my life needs to be grounded in the lessons of Judaism.

I remember a conversation I had with a teacher of mine many years ago. I told him that since I tend to be an aggressive driver, I felt uncomfortable wearing my kippah while driving for fear of creating more anti-semites in the world. My teacher responded immediately, and brilliantly. He said, “That’s exactly why you have to wear your kippah while you drive.”

Since that day, I always wear my kippah when I drive, and I will never forget that lesson. While I may not have yet perfected the art of patient driving, I have gotten a lot better, and I don’t cut people off anymore. Similar to the stories in the Talmud, I know that the entirety of my life is guided by the lessons and ethics that I learn and teach. While we all value our privacy, perhaps we might be better off living our lives as if we are being observed, either by God, a neighbor with a cell phone camera, or our children. In that way, we are all teachers, and it is up to us to strive to model the values and ethics that we hope will guide the lives of those whom we might inspire.


[1] Whether you use the word “God,” or “The Universe,” or whatever you want to call it, the moment when it’s just us and the bathroom mirror, or our car.

[2] Perhaps even talked about

[3] At least it’s famous for those of us who have learned it.

[4] Yes, the other stories describe following teachers into the bathroom to learn which hand is preferable to use for wiping.

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Rabbi Ben Goldstein was ordained from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in May of 2010. Since that time he has been working as the rabbi for a congregation in suburban New Jersey (yes, that’s right, I said New Jersey). He has been watching television and movies ever since he was old enough to have the core strength to sit up without falling over. Goldstein's love for the performing arts led him to pursue it as a career and he even managed to star in such cinematic triumphs as Jewz N The Hood. After a number of Signs from our Creator (and more than a few casting directors) he realized that actors don’t take themselves nearly serious enough so he needed to find something else to do. Taking a look at the job description of a rabbi (writer, counselor, teacher, performer, student) he thought it sounded like a really great way to spend his life. In addition to being trained as a rabbi, Goldstein has an encyclopedic knowledge of television and movies from the mid-80s to today. That makes him either a fantastic Jeopardy contestant or the world’s most boring cocktail party guest. You can reach Rabbi Goldstein at

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