Friday, August 14, 2020

Praying as a Community

לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר אֲנַחְנוּ עֹשִׂים פֹּה הַיּוֹם אִישׁ כָּל־הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינָיו You shall not act at all as we act now, every man as he pleases. In the twilight of his life, Moshe delivered these searing words into the hearts and minds of his beloved flock. Rashi gives some context to this ambiguous text. Once the Jewish people are settled in their homeland with the building of the Beis Hamikdash/Temple in Jerusalem, an individual would be forbidden from having a private altar in his home or property. Only during the previous phase of the settlement of the Land with the Mishkan in Shilo, Nov and Givon were people permitted to have private altars. With the permanent communal structure of the Beis Hamikdash that was established, it would no longer be permitted to have private altars. I would imagine that in ancient times with the lack of modern transportation, it would be very inconvenient for someone to travel all the way from areas in Israel that were sometimes several hundred miles away. Wouldn’t it be more convenient for some people to have private altars in their backyards? Isn’t the presence of G-d everywhere and not just in the communal house of worship? Over the years, I have heard a variety of reasons why people are sometimes unhappy with community minyan at shul. It ranges from the davening is too fast, too slow, too much singing, not enough singing, etc. There may even be a feeling of my spiritual needs are not being met with attending and participating in a communal minyan. There may be some validity to these sentiments. So I wonder, why does the Torah frown upon private altars? Wouldn’t that person perhaps find it more fulfilling to have that spiritual connection in his backyard? Moshe taught us a compelling lesson to this very day. He teaches us about the important value of community coming together in the service of G-d in a communal house of tefillah/prayer. Yes, of course, it may be easier for some to have a private altar or private minyan in their backyards. The value of coming together in unity at a communal house of prayer is not only to further the cause of Bein Adam L’chaveiro/ interpersonal relationships but also to enhance our relationship with G-d. A community that expresses its tefila/prayer as a wholesome unit is far greater than a collection of fragmented individuals or even minyanim. Spiritual needs are not just about finding the perfect minyan that is meeting at the perfect hour and the perfect place, davening at the perfect pace, with the perfect group of like-minded friends. Spiritual needs are about sometimes leaving your personal preferences at the door and sacrificing that on behalf of the community. We have done that as people for thousands of years because we know that the Kehila as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I think of a guy who lived in the area of Be’er Sheva in the times of the Beis Hamikdash/Temple. The distance to Jerusalem is about 100 kilometers. Traveling to Jerusalem either by foot or by on top of a donkey is not easy and is taking him a mighty long time to reach his destination. I can imagine that he wasn’t too happy to make the shlep. I would imagine he remembered Moshe's words that reminded him that the service to G-d was not about bringing that sacrifice or korban in the place that was most convenient, but rather about connecting with his people as a Kehila in Jerusalem. The premium that we place on Kehila/ community that Moshe taught in his dying days is timeless for the ages.

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