May 30, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

All Welcome! (Vayakhel/Chagigah22)

On the day that they removed Rabban Gamliel from his position as the chief rabbi and appointed Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah in his place, they dismissed the guard at the door of the beis midrash and permission was granted for all students to enter. Rabban Gamliel’s policy had been that any student whose internal thoughts and feelings were not like his external conduct could not enter the study hall. Instead of Rabban Gamliel’s selective approach, the new policy asserted that anyone seeking to study should be given the opportunity to do so.

On that day, several benches were added to the study hall to accommodate the numerous students. When he saw the tremendous growth in the number of students, Rabban Gamliel became depressed. He said, “Perhaps, Heaven forbid, I prevented Israel from engaging in Torah study!” They showed him in his dream white jugs filled with ashes alluding to the fact that the additional students were not serious. Like most dreams, the vision wasn’t an accurate depiction of the situation. Nevertheless, the dream was shown to him to ease his mind.

תַנְיָא אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי מִפְּנֵי מָה הַכֹּל נֶאֱמָנִין עַל טׇהֳרַת יַיִן וָשֶׁמֶן כׇּל יְמוֹת הַשָּׁנָה כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יְהֵא כׇּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד הוֹלֵךְ וּבוֹנֶה בָּמָה לְעַצְמוֹ וְשׂוֹרֵף פָּרָה אֲדוּמָּה לְעַצְמוֹ אָמַר רַב פָּפָּא כְּמַאן מְקַבְּלִינַן הָאִידָּנָא סָהֲדוּתָא מֵעַם הָאָרֶץ כְּמַאן כְּרַבִּי יוֹסֵי

Rabbi Yosi said: For what reason are all people trusted with regard to the purity of their wine and oil that they bring to the Holy Temple for sacrificial purposes throughout the year? So that each and every individual should not go off and build a private altar for himself and burn a red heifer for himself. Rav Pappa said: In accordance with whose opinion do we accept testimony nowadays from an unlearned person? In accordance with whom? Like Rabbi Yosi.

What do we do when people who aren’t so frum come to the Beis Hamikdash with their offerings? Should we simply take their word for it that it’s completely kosher? Do they even know the laws of kosher and purity well enough to be able to vouch for their offerings? Let’s take that chance, says Rabbi Yosi. If we don’t trust them, we run the risk that they will walk away and start their own temples.

There was a time when we had the same problems in our shuls. If someone walked into shul and felt disrespected, he would open up another shul down the road. Sadly, however, if he’d felt religiously slighted, the new synagogue would often not be quite as Orthodox as the one that he’d left. Today, tragically, if people are made to feel uncomfortable in our shuls, they’re not starting new congregations. They’re simply staying away from shul life altogether.

The Chazon Ish writes that it is permissible to give tools to those less knowledgeable during the shemitah year, even though there is a concern that they might use those tools to work the field. Why? Because withholding the utensils may lead to greater problems, beginning with ill feelings toward Torah scholars, which is no less forbidden than sabbatical farming.

It’s lovely when we can walk into shul on Shabbos morning and everyone is just like us. They dress the same. They send their kids to the same schools. They talk the same language. They share the same values.

But that’s not what a shul should look like. Every expression describing our shuls says something completely different. A shul is a beis haknesses, from the word le’hikaness, to enter, meaning that all are welcome to enter. A congregation is a kehillah, meaning a gathering. The same word is used when we are instructed to gather as an entire nation, once every seven years. “Hakhel” included all Jews, not just the ones who are like you. The word for community is tzibbur, which may be understood as an acronym for tzaddikim, beinonim, u’resha’im, righteous, average and sinful people.

And above all, a shul is called a mikdash me’at, a mini Temple. Just like everyone was welcome in the Holy Temple, regardless of his religious background, everyone should feel welcome in our shuls. What’s more, in the interest of making people feel most welcome in the Temple, we even turned a blind eye to the status of their offerings. We didn’t ask any questions. We simply took their word for it that the food was kosher enough to be offered in the Holy Temple.

That should be our attitude toward people who walk into our shuls and who don’t look exactly like us. It’s OK if they’re wearing a pink shirt on Shabbos. It’s nobody’s business how they got to shul when they live on the other end of town. We shouldn’t be judging them by their tznius choices. And if they’re occasionally whispering to their neighbor, it’s no reason to be screaming at them. Yes, by doing so, we might maintain the decorum of the shul at peak performance, but we’ve forgotten our responsibility and role as leaders of the beis haknesses/kehillah/tzibbur/mikdash me’at.

Let’s make everyone feel as comfortable as possible in our shuls, regardless of a person’s background, appearance or observance level. Let’s get people into our mini-Temple and keep them coming back for more. May you be known as the person in your shul who makes everyone feel welcome and special!


Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the author of “The Transformative Daf” book series. You can hear him live at seudah shlishit this Shabbat at Keter Torah (Roemer). ALL WELCOME!

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