Firstly, may I say that it is good to be back! We had a wonderful time in Johannesburg, spent catching up with family and catching up on sleep (for some reason I found that I had become somewhat short on sleep over the last few months) and I appreciated a chance to “get away from it all” but as the saying goes, there’s no place like home – and although Israel is our real home, Cape Town is where we’re staying for now, and I am delighted to be back with all of you.
Another opportunity that we had on holiday was to be in and experience different communities. It was fascinating to see just how different Shul and Shabbat can be (I don’t often spend Shabbat away from Morasha, so it’s always a different experience for me!) and I spent a lot of time thinking about those differences – lessons we can learn, and to see what we’re doing right.
One observation that struck me on one of the Shabbatot was the way in which the Rabbi delivered his drasha. He began: “The Gemora says…” and went on to explain a lesson that we can learn from the ways our Sages describe Avraham’s nephew Lot. The lesson itself was interesting, but it struck me that the sermon began without a “Good Shabbos” or a welcome. I am well aware that different people want and expect different things from their Shul and community experience (this is part of what makes communal life both rewarding and challenging), but it became clear to me that part of what I want from Shul is a community experience.
The more I think about it, the more I feel that a community of worshippers should feel like exactly that – a group of diverse people who are joining in prayer to God. All too often, it feels like a community is simply a canvas – a backdrop for one’s own personal prayer. Some people I know tend to see a Shul almost as a petrol station – a place to stop in, fulfil your obligation of prayer, and leave to go about your business. “Well of course a minyan is important,” such a person might say, “without a minyan one cannot say Kaddish, listen to Torah reading and say the prayers of sanctification of God’s name.” True – but is the purpose of a minyan simply halachic? I believe that rather than seeing a minyan, a community prayer, as something that is required by halacha to make our prayers complete, we should know and feel that our own prayer experience is completely different in the context of a community than alone – and it is that difference that enables us to include the most sublime parts of the service.
The people around us in Shul are not strangers, and certainly not props. They are our fellow Jews, created in the Image of God, and through praying together we discover and experience a far greater and deeper connection with Hashem that we could ever hope to do so alone. I am grateful to all of you for that gift in my life, and I hope that we can all experience community in this way. Shabbat Shalom and welcome!
On a different note, I have restarted my “2 minute Parsha” after taking a few weeks’ break. I plan to continue with Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, but this year I’m looking at volume two of his great work “Mei Shiloach”. This week the video is called “The Flow of Blessing” and in it I explore Yitzchak’s hidden desire to bless Yaakov and secret reluctance to bestow it upon Eisav. You can find it here.
Aviva, Shalva, Tzuriya, Azriel and I wish you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Sam Thurgood