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Parshas Vayeilech / Yom Kippur                        9 Tishrei 5782

09/14/2021 08:41:56 PM


Almost two years ago God brought something upon the world to cause the world’s human population to grow  closer together. A pandemic ravaged all four corners of the earth. At the time, the scariest part was the constant unknown of how, why, from where and when the virus manifested itself.  The virus drew no lines between global socio-economic societies. Rich and poor, healthy and compromised, men and women, Jew, and gentile, all were affected by serious illness and far too many by death. It seems to be that every year there are tragic events that give us pause when we recite the holy prayer of Unesaneh Tokef. Overcome by the power and the awesome majesty of the words, together we sing who by….and who by…..With no rhyme or reason that we mere mortals acknowledge that some are taken and some are spared. These past eighteen months have unquestionably been a most difficult time for everyone, and the Jewish people are no exception.  Nevertheless, the Jewish people approached the complex issues they faced: camp, school, yeshiva, shul, weddings, and so forth, in a variety of ways, all determined by the status of the daily spread of Covid. There was one area, however, where observant Jews throughout the world saw some common ground: how to figure out ways to maintain the daily minyanim.  During the months of the pandemic,  connecting on Zoom worked for many, but later setting up small, makeshift minyanim became the common rule wherever possible.

The terminology in halachik terms for such measures to be taken is called a “Sh’as Hadchak”-  a pressing time. In difficult and challenging situations, such as a pandemic, Jewish law may not be fulfilled to the most stringent level. Instead an ipso facto approach is taken for the time being. One may ask, ”What is so bad about conducting smaller minyanim and gatherings in backyards, parking lots, and the like?” The answer is, if this is the limit of what we are permitted to do then we do it; it becomes the “best” scenario or the “L’Chatchila” for that time. The words “for that time” are critical. Once the limitations or the issues are no longer present and the risks and dangers are not what they once were, then we should not rely on leniencies; rather we go back to the ways things were or at least move toward that ultimate goal.

Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, writes in Mishlei 14:28 "ברב עם הדרת מלך, ובאפס לאם מחתת רזון"   משלי פרק יד פסוק כח: “In a multitude of people is a king’s majesty, but the ruin of His Princedom is in lack of people”. The commentator Malbim explains the first “people” (Ahm) refers to a nation united in loyalty to the king. The second “people” (L’Om) denotes a population united by a spiritual belief. Even where there is an impressive display of numbers, the minister in charge of legislating and regulating religion, will find himself helpless if there is a lack of people of religious faith and understanding. The Gemara in Yoma 26a and Brachos 53a states in many places that the performance of a precept with a multitude of people is preferable to performing it in solitude; also, the participation of many in the performance of a precept is preferable to one person performing the entire precept, such as the sacrificial service. It is also preferable for many people to discharge their obligation of reciting a blessing by listening to one recitation rather than by reciting the blessing by themselves. It is even meritorious to gather to witness the performance of a Mitzva, as in the case of the korbanos/sacrifices of Yom Kippur. 

Fast forward to our current situation. Although there are certain locations which still require smaller minyanim and gatherings, in many places the situation in general, regardless of growth or decline of Covid numbers, of  has become an excuse not to return to the Shul davening. People have gotten used to a no-frills davening with no Rabbi, no drasha/sermon, and no boundaries. In larger cities there are enough people to go around and create small, localized prayer groups where no one tells them how or what to do. I have heard directly from several my friends, Rabbonim and even strangers who shared this experience with me. One individual told me they now go upstate New York a.k.a. to the country for all the holidays and long weekends, stating, ”We are never going back to the pre-Covid days.”  A friend of mine in Teaneck told me that the Shul he used to attend is now only one third full; pre-Covid it boasted multiple minyanim and overflow standing room only events.

When the virus struck it brought Klal Yisroel closer together in terms of praying together from a distance, helping each other in times of need, going out of our way and sometimes into harm’s way for the unfortunate. In my humble opinion the sense of connectedness the Jewish people felt has not been greater since the six-day war in 1967. Despite the fact Hashem has shown mercy on the world with a vaccine battle against the virus, things have changed drastically - some for the better and some for the worse. The division among the general population regarding creating safe situations and at the same time giving an expression of freedom has been tested to the limits of our society. I will stay clear of policy, religion, politics, etc., and focus on one aspect that is germane to the Jewish people: the lack of cohesion in and out of Shul. The second to last Mitzva of the Torah #612 commands the Jewish people of the Mitzva of Hakhel: to gather.  

The Torah states in Parshas Vayeilech Devarim 31:12 "הקהל את העם האנשים והנשים והטף, וגרך אשר בשעריך, למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את ה' אלוקיכם ושמרו לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת" “You must gather the people, the men, the women, children and proselytes from your settlements, and let them hear it. They will thus learn to be in awe of God your Lord, carefully keeping all the words of this Torah”. The Mitzva of Hakhel is a once in seven-year event that takes place during Chol HaMoed Sukkos, the year following the Sabbatical (Shmittah) year. In today’s day without a Beis HaMikdash, we can fulfill the spirit of the Mitzva by gathering in the Mikdash Me’at, the small Sanctuary which is the substitute of the Holy Temple itself. 

The silver lining for an out-of-town community is the lack of choices. At times that frustrates a community, but on the other hand it lends itself to a more cohesive group, all doing the same thing together. I am sure that if the members of our Shul lived in larger cities with many more Shuls, they too would be “enjoying” the ‘alternative Minyan’. I am very proud of Beth Jacob; that we do come together under one banner and it is this allowance for people to gather together which fulfills the Mitzva of Hakhel. Through our dedication and efforts to come together and serve God, Hashem should bless us all with health and happiness and a year of growth in Torah and Yiras Shamayim.

Wed, January 19 2022 17 Shevat 5782