NEVER SAY NO TO THE COMMUNITY
By Rabbi Rafi Rank, The CyberRav
As a child, one of the rules of the house was that we could never say “no” to the synagogue when it asked the family to help make the minyan. If the minyan needed us, everything else had to stop—mowing the lawn, reading a book, watching “Leave it to Beaver,” watering the garden, listening to the Beatles—it didn’t matter, because only the minyan mattered.
Did I like it? I would be disingenuous if I say I did. It’s not easy foregoing what you either want to do on a personal basis, or even must do on a personal basis, in order to fulfill the needs of the community. But as I indicated, it was a rule of the house, and for the most part, my brother and I complied with the rule. We were doing something very Jewish.
In this week’s Torah portion, Matot, the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe Menashe, expressed a desire to not cross the Jordan with the other tribes, but to take up residence on the east side of the river. Moses was unhappy with the request because it meant that a portion of the people would settle down and take care of themselves before the rest of the community could conquer and settle the Promised Land. Having heard his concern, the tribes of Gad, Reuben and the half tribe of Menashe pledge to assist the community in the conquering of the land and only thereafter to settle into their own homes.
Judaism, at its best, challenges us to rethink our positions in the light of tradition. We live in an age that places deep value on individualism. Yet our Jewish tradition teaches us that the community must come first. It was the community that received the Torah at Sinai, it is the community that permits recitation of a full prayer service, and it is the community that determines the standards of Jewish practice. But how can we reconcile our own cherished individualism with the communal orientation of Judaism?
Moshe taught us how. In fact, we need not opt for one over the other. We need only remember that the community cannot be ignored. Our individualism is not in danger; but our communities are all too often ignored. Make an effort to attend to the needs of your Jewish community, offering your time and talents, supporting our institutions financially, and most important—never say no to the minyan. You can always water the garden tomorrow.
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