Communal Prayer: Is This My Minyan or All of Our’s?

Nov 24, 2014
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Rabbi Elie Silverberg

Today is the Tenth of Tevet, one of the six fasts we are commanded to undertake during the year. It represents the date in the Jewish calendar on which our enemies besieged Jerusalem. Eventually the walls of Jerusalem were penetrated on the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on the Ninth of Av.

Even though these latter two dates, the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av, each represent a further progression in the destruction and hence more severe events, in some ways I feel more saddened by the Tenth of Tevet. One reason for this is that we just finished Chanuka, which usually, and this year was no exception, leaves me on a spiritual high, feeling confident in the Hashgacha, the Divine protection of Hashem for Klal Yisrael. To then be reminded so soon of the tragic events leading to the destruction of the Batei Mikdash leaves me with the feeling – couldn’t I have enjoyed my high just a little longer?

Secondly, the Tenth of Tevet is the beginning of the half of our year that culminates with the Ninth of – it is the beginning of the mourning period, the period that lead to the loss of the Beit Hamikdash, of Yerushalayim, and of the long exile that we are still experiencing.

However, being saddened does not mean being depressed. Instead we should use the message of the day to galvanize ourselves into action. I like very much what Rabbi Leff said on Motzei Shabbat, that the word “ra” (bad) is “eir” (waking) backwards – we should view these days as wakeup calls. The Maharal repeats many times that the greater the darkness the greater the light that can later emerge. Indeed, in our calendar year, Tisha b’Av , the day of exile and the first day of Pesach, the day of great redemption, come out on the same day of the week.

But what can we do? And quite frankly, are we really responsible for all this? Bnei Yisrael of those generations were so bad until Hashem finally lost patience and destroyed the Beit Hamikdash. They got what they deserved. We’re not perfect, but we’re a lot better than that, aren’t we?

No we’re not. The Gemara Yoma in Talmud Yerushalmi says the following incredible statement, “Any generation that did not have the Beit Hamikdash built in its time, it is as if it was destroyed in that generation!!” If we were better than the generation of the destruction, the Beit Hamikdash would have been rebuilt already!!

Well, why are we destroying the Beit Hamikdash? What exactly is our terrible sin or sins? It seems to me that the simplest approach to this is that if we are still ‘destroying’ the Beit Hamikdash, we must be perpetuating the sin or sins that lead to its actual destruction!! And it makes the most sense to look at events of the second Beit Hamikdash, since the first exile was relatively short, while the second one is still ongoing. We are told by Chazal that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder; whereas the second destruction came about because of “sinat chinam,” needless hatred.

What can we do? Well, as was said Motzei Shabbat, the first thing is to look inwards and not try to point the finger at someone else. Let us look at ourselves as individuals and as a tzibur – a congregation here at Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell’s. Even among fine people there is always room to improve.

I believe that part of the problem is that we don’t appreciate what sinat chinam is and what forms it can take. I believe there is an element of sinat chinam in any situation where your focus is only on your needs and does not take enough into account the needs of your fellow man.

One area which I have observed this year, where I feel we as a community could improve, is the area of Tefilla B’tzibur, communal prayer. Not the prayer, but specifically the emphasis on the tzibur, the communal aspect. I ‘ve heard a number of assorted complaints about our morning minyan. The davening is too fast, too slow, too loud, too quiet, too unemotional, too this, and too that. These are not new complaints – the Gemara in Berakhot tells the story of a congregation that came to the Rav to complain about a shliach tzibur, a cantor, who they said davened too slowly. The Rav responded, “Surely he’s no slower than Moshe Rabbeinu, who took forty days and forty nights to pray on behalf of Klal Yisrael!” Then another day they came to the Rav to complain about a shliach tzibur who davened too quickly. The Rav responded, “Surely he’s not quicker than Moshe Rabeinu, who on behalf of his sister prayed, “Keil na refa na la (G-d please heal her, please),” a total of 5 words!! His point being that it’s not the davening that’s too long or short, it’s that it’s too long, short, loud, quiet, etc. for me. Mirror, mirror, on the wall – who davens best of all? And I believe this type of focus, even when it relates to spiritual needs, is a form of sinat chinam. My needs come first.

Now, to be fair, many who have complained to me, have usually added the admission that the problem is with them, and they are probably right. But at some point something must be done. And I don’t mean davening at the bubble!! Because, at the risk of bursting your bubble, the Torah says “Lo titgodedu,” you should not break up into factions. I believe that too is a form of sinat chinam – instead of dealing with a problem head-on, run away from it! Well, that solves nothing, except to explain the high divorce rate in the Western world. Don’t work things out but go your own way.

Note: finding a minyan where everyone davens at your speed, at your volume, your nuances or lack of nuances, is not real Tefilla B’tzibur, it’s cloning. The most real Tefilla B’tzibur is where the only thing you share with the other daveners is that you are all involved in tefilla, i.e you are only a tzibur because of your common goal of tefilla!

We know that when you have Tefilla Btzibur, there are extra things added to the tefilla – kadish, kedusha, barchu, modim, etc. Why is that? Perhaps, because accomplishing anything difficult deserves a reward. In reality, tefilla is a very private thing – you are talking to Hashem — pleading, thanking, praising – all in your individual way. For everyone there is a personal way of doing so most effectively, ranging from being solemn to wild gesticulations, from hushed tones to loudly pouring out your heart. To get ten or more Jews to daven together under these circumstances deserves a reward!!

How can you daven effectively and not be bothered by the fact that other guy davens too slow/fast/loudly/quietly?

The answer, I believe, and the remedy is simply to remember that you are not the center of the universe, but Hashem is. From that perspective, the tefilla of your fellow Jew should be as important to you as your own. You should, respect that he has more insight than you do as to how he best gets that tefilla across. Indeed, this idea of the centrality of Hashem and not of the individual was one of the main ideas represented by the Beit Hamikdash. Three times a year Bnei Yisrael had to leave behind their homes, their jobs, and their egos and all come together as Klal Yisrael, as a tzibur coming to collectively do their Avodat Hashem.

Indeed, let us put ourselves back to the times of Shlomo Hamelekh and similar times where some one million Jews converged on the Beit Hamikdash – what a “balagan,” what a mess! Believe you me there were Jews then also – each individual had their personal style and approach to the avodah. Yet in Pirkei Avot it tells us an amazing thing, even though they were crowded while standing, they had ample room when they bowed down. The reality was that it was tremendously crowded, but when they bowed down, when they made Hashem their focus, there was suddenly room for everyone, each one with his or her own approach.

This was the zenith of achdut, of unity and a necessary element for the functioning of the Beit Hamikdash.

I wish to offer a chidush. We are told by Chazal that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder, whereas the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed by needless hatred. The first exile lasted only seventy years, whereas the second exile is about two thousand years and counting. Why this tremendous difference? Is sinat chinam so much worse than the threesome of avodah zara, gilui arayot, and shefikhat damim?

I wish to suggest that the reason for this imbalance is because the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed as a punishment for doing such evil sins. Bnei Yisrael had to be punished and shaken up in a very real way and nothing does this as effectively as galut, exile. But punishment is finite and once seventy years had passed, Bnei Yisrael had paid their dues and it was now time to restart and rebuild.

I wish to suggest that the reason for this imbalance is because the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed as a punishment for doing such evil sins. Bnei Yisrael had to be punished and shaken up in a very real way and nothing does this as effectively as galut, exile. But punishment is finite and once seventy years had passed, Bnei Yisrael had paid their dues and it was now time to restart and rebuild.

But the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash was not a punishment per se. As I said before, the Beit Hamikdash represented our focus on Hashem, on the avodah of Klal Yisrael, on the need and ability to look beyond our differences to a higher common goal. Sinat chinam is the antithesis of all that the Beit Hamikdash stood for. Therefore the Beit Hamikdash can simply not exist where there is an atmosphere of sinat chinam. It would be like a fish out of water. Hence the Beit Hamikdash cannot be rebuilt until we rid our atmosphere of the poison of sinat chinam. The moment we can do this, the Beit Hamikdash will immediately reappear!!

Tefilla is what replaced the sacrifices. Instead of sacrifices we have avoda b’lev, service of the heart, i.e. tefilla. The direction of our tefilla, wherever we may be in the world, is towards the Beit Hamikdash. There is no place for sinat chinam in any venue of our society, but it is especially destructive in the area of tefilla.

The Chafetz Chaim is to have said, “When I was a young man, my goal was to change the world; when I reached middle age I modified that to changing my village; when I reached old age I modified that to changing myself.” I wish to interpret these words as not that he gave up hope, but rather that he realized that the way to change the world is to change oneself!

This is the day to start to reverse the trend, right here, right now. If Hashem sees our tzibur davening together, with different styles but k’ish echad b’leiv echad (as one man with one heart), as it says by Har Sinai, we can hope Hashem will look down and say, if they can do it, maybe the time has come to try this again on a much larger scale. May this be Hashem’s Will.

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