1. You didn’t go into the rabbinate to make money; you went into the rabbinate to serve your people. This is fine. Just don’t mistake serving others for being exploited by them.
2. Somewhere in the back of the mind of each congregant is an image of the ideal rabbi sewn together from mostly false and inflated memories of rabbis they have known in the past. This fictional rabbi is your real competition. You can’t win. Don’t try. Be yourself.
3. Lao Tzu taught that the emperor who governs best is the one who makes it appear that he governs not at all. This is fine if you are the emperor, especially one backed up by a large and well equipped army. But if you are an unarmed rabbi it behooves you to take credit where credit is due.
4. Keep track of your accomplishments. This will come in handy when your board begins to wonder aloud why they pay you so much for doing so little. It also comes in handy when you begin to wonder aloud whether or not you have achieved anything with your life.
5. Don’t assume that just because you were with so-and-so when she died that her family will be appreciative and supportive of you for long. After all, she died didn’t she?
6. You are your own worst enemy, and can sabotage yourself in lots of ways. Here are just some of them: First, you can dominate your community to the point where they are rendered impotent. Second, you can allow the community to dominate you to the point where you are rendered impotent. Third, you can believe your own BS. Fourth, you can believe the awful things some people say about you. Fifth, you can think yourself superior to your congregants. Sixth, you can think yourself inferior to your congregants.
7. Do not rely on your rabbinic salary to sustain you. Find another way to make money. It may be a hobby at first, but if the rabbinate doesn’t pan out, it can be turned into a business or marketable skill.
8. Synagogues are financial disasters. The only things that keep them going are the cash cows of Preschools and Bar/Bat Mitzvah training. This means that you have got to relate well to kids and their parents. The moment you seem too old and out of touch is the moment the board seeks to find a younger hipper rabbi who can keep the cash coming. If you don’t want to stay hip and cool, apply for a job at the Jewish nursing home.
9. You can’t stay hip forever. Keeping up with the latest tween fad is boring and demeaning. So eventually you will realize you are doomed. Quickly hire a young assistant rabbi; preferably someone who is still carded at bars. And keep your eyes on those nursing home jobs.
10. Don’t bother becoming balanced. No one is good at everything. Know what you are good at and do that. Outsource everything else. By the time you try to learn to do poorly what you really shouldn’t be doing at all, you will be facing an angry board and looking for a new job. Work your strengths, hire people to compensate for your weaknesses.
11. Don’t bother with contracts. If your congregation wants to fire you it will, regardless of your “life-time” contract. If you fight them there are at least half-a-dozen top-notch lawyers in your community who will gladly sue your ass for free. Why? Maybe you failed to visit them in the hospital. Maybe you failed to acknowledge them at a restaurant. Maybe they just hate rabbis. The point is you can’t afford to sue your synagogue. You will lose, and it looks bad on your resume. And don’t think your rabbinic union will protect you. Who do you think pays the salaries of your regional rabbis? Your contract isn’t worth the paper its printed on. Come to some simple agreement on salary and benefits, and hope to God your board doesn’t change its mind. Just remember: there is no security in this job.
12. Don’t take a sabbatical after age 55; your board may use the opportunity to fire you and hire someone younger. Similarly, don’t take a vacation after age 55; don’t skip a Shabbat after age 55; don’t sleep after age 55; don’t even take a nap! Whenever you are off synagogue property or unconscious you are vulnerable to a coup. Your board is worried that you will live long enough to become a very costly Rabbi Emeritus. They want you dead, or gone. It is illegal to fire you just because you are old, so they have to invent some scandal. There are plenty of people who are willing to bring you down. If your synagogue suddenly announces an Iron Man competition and your board insists that you to compete in it—look for a new job, fast.