I had a very interesting conversation this week with a friend of mine.
We were talking about the various things now on zoom such as shiurim and zoom ‘minyanim’ for people who can’t attend shul.
He said to me ‘Isn’t it fantastic!’ and I thought to myself, it’s so remarkable that we can access this on technology – but it’s not fantastic, it’s a tragedy that we have to do this.
This is in no way a substitute for what it should be.
I still go to shul, I still go to a minyan every day, three times a day, thankfully my shul is open with all the Covid guidelines. However, it is davening and leaving. It’s not a Bet Knesset, it’s not a place we come and schmooze and we have a sense of community, a sense of kehilla. Am I grateful that I have the chance to daven with a minyan and say kaddish for my parents? – of course. Is it fantastic? No, it’s very sad.
However, my question is the following, do we realize what we’re missing? What do I mean by that? Do we understand the centrality of tefilla b’tzibur? The fact that we can’t, that so many people can’t go to shul for whatever reason, do we miss it? Do we feel the lack?
At the moment we are so angry and so upset about what’s happening in parts of the Charedi world. Where they’re going to shul, when they’re having their weddings, going about life as if nothing’s happened.
However, think about it, part of the reason (and I’m not excusing it at all) is because in the Charedi world you have to daven in a minyan three times a day. It’s what Jews do. Of course we say yes you do, but at the same time you have to take in the government guidelines, you’ve got to take in the covid secure measures.
However, the simple fact is, do we feel a sense of lack? Do we feel a sense that this is something we are missing out on, or are we quite content?
I remember someone said to me about the recent shul services – ‘It’s so nice, I get a lot of space, it’s quiet, Shul services fly by, I like this.’ Yes, there are ‘benefits’ to the current arrangements, but you know what, that’s not shul. This is a ‘sealed room’ kind of shul we’ve had to create because of Covid, but it’s not what it should be and we should be absolutely distraught that we can’t resume our daily lives as Jews the way we used to, especially when it comes to davening in a minyan.
I remember I was taught in Yeshivat HaKotel, all of us were, the importance of davening three times a day in a minyan. In Yeshiva it was rather simple to do that, but the messages were for when we returned to the UK, began university and the next stage of life.
I remember when I got to Leeds University it was a big shock for me because there was no daily minyan at Hillel. Yes, on Shabbat we had, but during the week we didn’t. I had to davenbeyechidut, by myself, or maybe with one or two others.
However, I remember so clearly one Sunday afternoon in the first term one of the boys in Hillel told us that his parents were coming to visit that afternoon and his dad had Yahrtzeit that night. So he asked us if we could please make a minyan for his dad so he could say Kaddish, of course all the boys agreed.
So there we were Sunday afternoon in the Hillel shul, and I remember that I was so emotional while I was davening the silent Amidah. I was thinking to myself that soon I’m going to hear Chazarat Hashatz– the repetition of the Amidah for the first time in a while, soon I’m going to hear Kedusha, I’m going to hear Kaddish after the Amidah. I hadn’t heard them during the week for such a long time. I really remember that feeling, that emotional feeling of thank you Hashem, that I can now daven once again in a minyan. I felt a sense of lack and that’s what inspired me and a few of us in that minyan after that day to say we’ve got to make sure this happens more often.
Eventually we started a regular minyan at Hillel, Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv and by the second year it had really grown because we realized we couldn’t go on like this.
Of course, at the moment we can’t change anything, because of the government regulations and we shouldn’t, but we have to realize there should be a real sense of lack, a sense that we’re not holding where we should be holding. That this is not in the slightest way ideal.
There’s a fascinating idea in the parasha which I think brings this home. Parashat Mishpatim is generally known not to be the most exciting parsha! I mean we finished with all the great stories of Adam and Chavah, of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, of Yosef and Moshe – of kriat yam suf and Matan Torah, that’s all gone, it’s now halachot – mishpatim – laws.
However, if you look at the end of the parsha, there is the most incredible story.
It is just after we said naaseh v’nishma, after the Jewish people committed themselves to a life of Torah and mitzvot
Against the great men of Israel, He didn’t stretch out his hand – they gazed at Hashem and they ate and drank.
The Mefarshim are split on what this means, when it talks about that Hashem didn’t stretch out his hand – is that a negative or a positive? Was He happy with them or was He angry?
Rashi says based on Tanchuma, that they sinned grievously, He wanted to kill them for what they did. How dare they, in the presence of the Shechina, eat and drink. What are you doing! This is a holy place kadosh kadosh, you’re not eating and drinking!!
Yet the Ramban says no, Hashem was praising them. Why?
When you have Hashem’s presence have a simcha, eat and drink! It’s something to celebrate, you’re close to Hashem. They ate and drank in grateful celebration of the great spiritual privilege that Hashem awarded them.
But with both opinions, whether Rashi and the negative or the Ramban and the positive, what are they both saying?
When you’re in the presence of Hashem it should mean something. It should give you an emotional connection, whether it’s too much or too little, okay that’s a discussion, but you’ve got to feel something.
At the moment we’re going through a vaccination drive. Please God soon the whole country, the whole world will be vaccinated.
As far as our spiritual virus, we have got to inject ourselves with passion.
I feel so much that our world, the modern Orthodox world, we don’t have that passion. The Charedi world, whether you disagree with things at the moment, fine. However, the Charedi world as a whole has the passion, has the commitment, has that yirah and ahavat Hashem that we have to learn from.
Of course we have to make sure that we learn from it within the guidelines of the modern world as well as Halacha and how to make sure that we are conducting ourselves as a Kiddush Hashem. However, we must strive to realize that passion, that commitment, that drive – that’s something we should be emulating. Something we should be inspiring ourselves to be.
One final idea, that stone, that Sapir, that brick under Hashem’s kisei hakavod, what does it mean?
The Midrash explains that Hashem placed it there because during our slavery in Mitzrayim, it was His way of remembering our sadness, our devastation while we were slaves and while He was preparing to redeem us. However, throughout that difficult time when we were in a terrible state, Hashem said ‘I’m remembering you, I’m seeing you, I’m relating to your pain.’
In the same way we have to realize now that we cannot connect to Hashem in the way that we used to because of what’s happening. We can’t davenB’kol Ram. We can’t daven in a Shul that’s full. We can’t have all the celebrations and the simchas that we normally do, to eat and drink and to celebrate with Hashem. We just can’t.
However, we have to remember in our minds and in our hearts, that there is a lack, we are missing Hashem, we are missing the way we used to connect.
We should feel a sense of loss, should feel a sense of distance and doubt because we don’t have it.
We pray that the injections, the vaccinations will help us restore our physical health to fight off this virus and give us the ability to once again inject ourselves with passion and commitment to really connect to Hashem in the way we should and to feel now, that even though we have Zoom and we have all this technology this is no substitute for real yirah, real ahavah, real connection.