Sunday, May 12, 2013

So YOU are my community!

So YOU are my community! We all know the Groucho Marx line that goes something like this: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.” I have never been one for self - deprecating humor and I strongly and respectfully disagree with Mr. Marx. We as Jews are taught NOT to separate ourselves from community and that community is what makes us as individual components that much more powerful, more fulfilled and more effective. Community is EVERYTHING for us, whether that community is our family, organizations to which we belong, a team on which we are a member or the shul where we daven. There are so many laws (yes, actual Halachot) about how we are to be part of community, from honesty in our business dealings to taking great care with what comes out of mouth in terms of our speech, from not embarrassing another to giving each other the benefit of the doubt and so much else. One of my favorite stories to teach and learn and share is the one about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a noted Tanna/scholar, who stays in a cave for many years only to study and learn. He and his son are confined to this secluded dwelling AWAY FROM COMMUNITY after his prolific and extensive criticism of the government thus putting his life in imminent danger. After his prolonged isolation of thirteen years, upon hearing of the death of the cruel leader from whom he escaped, he exits his long-term cocoon and notices a man working his fields. Bar Yochai does not understand what the man has been doing and his reality. So learned and dedicated to his study and prayer, Bar Yochai screams in agony at the man for forsaking Torah for the purpose of menial labor. Easy for Bar Yochai to say -- having been protected by his cave, having his food provided. and needing for nothing for all those years. As soon as these words were heard, the entire field was burned. A voice (Bat Kol) came from the heavens, directed at Bar Yochai, inquiring, “For this you came out? To destroy my world?” Back into the cave went Bar Yochai for many more years – this time to reconsider for what purposes we learn and pray? We all know that Torah can be the elixir of life or the poison that brings death. It is up to us in terms of how we use it and the choices we make in terms of that use. Torah teaches us how to farm so we should farm. Bar Yochai sadly did not understand this. Torah teaches us to be honest in our business dealings. Our Orthodox minyanim that exist inside of prisons are clearly made up of individuals who do not abide by this. Torah teaches us how to speak with each other and respect each other. Unfortunately too many of our learned and devoted Jewish community members need to remember this as well as the verses of Torah and the words of daily prayers. We have so many explanations of the different types of members of our community in our Torah and prayers – the very words we study and recite in our devotion to G-d. We know we need BUILDERS as well as CHILDREN WHO LEARN to quote one verse. We have Jews who do Mitzvot, Jews who learn Torah, Jews who do both and Jews who do neither, but as we hold the Arba’ah Minim together on Sukkot, we remember that WE ARE ALL PART OF THE SAME COMMUNITY. Our four children in our Pesah Seder and the different types of questioning included reminds us of the variegated fabric we call Jewish community. Our community is as colorful as the many different people that make it up and THIS is what we are supposed to be part of. This is the club in which we all belong. It is made up of those who pray, those who learn, those who farm, those who observe more, those who observe less, and so on. MOST IMPORTANT, every member is BE’TZELEM ELOKIM and BELONGS TO THE CLUB. Maybe even Groucho Marx!