When I first began working as a congregational rabbi, I used to ask my wife to comment on my sermons. One day she said to me, “your sermon was good, but do you have to sound so preachy?” I thought that was a funny question to ask a “preacher.” But I’ve learned over the years that the most effective preaching doesn’t sound preachy. Years later, in the work that I did when I was executive director of STAR, I was introduced to Eda Roth, who is a communications specialist and this week’s guest blogger. Eda explains how rabbis and all people involved in public communications benefit when they step out of their role and step back into their authentic selves. Hayim Herring
Rabbi Hayim Herring has quoted me as saying “You cannot be someone else. You can only be more fully yourself.” What does that mean? Most people express a narrow range of themselves. We all develop habits and stay within a certain range of expression. Professionalism adds even more constrictions. Whether business, healthcare, non-profits or the Rabbinate, there seems to be an agreed upon, accepted set of limitations called “what is appropriate” or “professional”.
Recently when working with rabbinical students, I heard a generic commonality in what and how they were expressing, rather than the vibrant individuality and uniqueness of who they really were, with their insights, passion and genuine desire to reach people. Granted, as students they were beginning to learn effective modes of constructing sermons and messages, but the danger was that some of those early habits would become entrenched and limit them and their capacity to genuinely inspire others; that they would stay within a rather safe, comfortable, borrowed and habituated range.
There is an unmistakable ring of truth when we touch genuine chords of who we are – our individuality, passion understanding, insight – and allow those to be heard and felt. That’s the power of words made manifest. If our expression is timid, or limited, if we are afraid to be loud enough to be heard, or so bombastic that we are not making our own genuine connections with the text and allow that to be heard, then our communication is not genuine.
Years ago a rabbi came to me for voice coaching. He felt his voice was constricted and reported that he would run out of breath. As we worked, we addressed not only on the dynamics of the voice, but his connection to what he was saying in his sermons. Were his messages coming across as compellingly as he desired? Was he really reaching people? We continued to explore the message itself, his real connection to what he was saying, the fullness and freedom of how he was saying it, and whether and when he was genuinely connecting with those to whom he was speaking (whether a Bar Mitzvah or a congregation).
In connecting with text or Torah, it comes most alive when we bring our insights, understanding and passion to the text, and allow those to express THROUGH the text. It’s then that truth and meaning become immediate real and alive, not just historical cultural memory and wisdom revisited. Say, for example, we are quoting from Proverbs, “Trust in God with all your heart and lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God and God will direct your paths.” We first, of course, begin with the text itself. What is it saying? How is meaning conveyed through the construct of language itself? What is the architecture of the language, the arc of the phrasing? Then we address how we enter and fulfill that text. If we bring what we know, understand, have lived of those words to our expression of the text, then it becomes present and alive with meaning. Our understanding, our individuality, what we know and have lived of that text enables us to become a transparency for the truth of the text and IS what reveals meaning. It is not reducing the text to us, but allowing who we are to come through the text. We then become a link in the chain of generations through which the word is not only passed down, but is alive, real and immediate. That is then the power of the word, expressed and felt.
How honest, how daring, how real are we willing to be? More than a repeating or rehearsed expression, do we express ourselves genuinely, authentically? That can only happen if the fullness of who we really are is opened and available. We bring our intellectual understanding, our passion, compassion, the fullness of our voices available to reveal that expression, and most of all; great love of truth and of all to whom we communicate. We do not constrict or circumscribe expression, but ultimately allow and reveal.
It is a noble goal – to inspire – to breathe divine life into – others; to allow that divine life to breathe into us.
Eda Roth & Associates
Real Presence and Communication
Eda Roth is a communications consultant who uses her acting and directing skills to enable people be more value-based, genuine, strategic and clear. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.