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Monday, 17 March 2014

How to get the flight attendant to stop bothering you when you're davening on the plane

Sukkah 42

A colleague shared with me an issue that was tearing his synagogue apart.  It is customary that one who is in his year of mourning leads weekday services.  In his synagogue there were too many mourners and not enough services to go around.  It seemed like every day there was a fight, it was becoming quite uncomfortable.  Some had suggested that they hold multiple minyanim in different rooms, and my colleague, the rabbi, was struggling to figure out the best solution.

Nowadays we do not bless the lulav on Shabbat for fear that one might carry it in the public domain, which is forbidden on Shabbat.   But in the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they would bless the lulav on Shabbat. 

How would they avoid the problem of carrying?  They would all bring in their lulav sets on Friday and hand them over to the Temple officers.  On Shabbat, the officers would spread out all the lulavim and each person would find theirs to bless.

Particularly when the first day of Sukkot fell on Shabbat, it was important that one find one’s own lulav, because on the first day of the festival, in order to fulfill one’s obligation the Torah requires ownership of the lulav.  On other days of Sukkot, a borrowed lulav suffices.  To alleviate this concern, when the people dropped off their lulav, they would pledge, “Anyone who picks up my lulav [tomorrow] is hereby given it as a gift.”

Nevertheless, that caveat still didn’t serve to satisfy everyone.  If you’ve been to the mall on Black Friday, you can imagine the scene on Shabbat morning in the Temple when the officers spread out the lulavim.  People started pushing and shoving and swearing at one another, each laying claiming to the same particular lulav.  Sometimes it came to fisticuffs over whose lulav was whose!  Eventually, the rabbis said ‘Enough!’ and instituted that people bless the lulav at home.

These people were in the Holy Temple to serve G-d with their lulav and they’re beating each other up!  Unbelievable, right?  How could they think that they were doing G-d’s work when they were being so rude and mean to one another?  And yet people sometimes get so caught up in their own little ‘religious’ pursuits that they will destroy anyone who gets in their way.  Of course when they behave in such an irreligious manner, the blessing over the lulav is no longer sanctified, it becomes abhorrent in G-d’s eyes. 

The same is true of my friend’s synagogue.   How could anyone fight over the amud (the opportunity to lead services)?  The whole point of the exercise is to add merit to the soul of one’s deceased relative.   When one brings discord into the synagogue, not only does it not add merit, it brings dishonour to the soul!

In some synagogues, they have attempted to reach a compromise by splitting the congregation into multiple minyanim so that all the mourners can have the opportunity to lead.  But do you really think that splitting up the shul is favourable in G-d’s eyes?  “The glory of the King is [found] in a multitude of people.”  When we pray all together, the Almighty is most pleased, not when we separate into smaller factions and subgroups.  That, our Sages tell us, is not helpful to the soul.  One adds merit to the soul of one’s relative when one does whatever is best to promote peace and unity in the synagogue, even if it means regularly giving up the amud.

The story is told of the man who starts screaming at his wife in front of all the guests for forgetting to cover the challot (bread) on Shabbat.  The reason for covering is so that we don’t “embarrass” the challot when we make the first blessing over the kiddush wine prior to the blessing over the bread.  Embarrassing someone for not covering the challot kind of defeats the purpose, right? 

We all have idiosyncrasies in our performance of mitzvos that run the risk of defeating the purpose of the mitzvah itself.  Every time you do something for G-d, ask yourself if you’re hurting anyone in the process.  Whether it’s standing up on an aeroplane to pray and getting in everyone’s way, or it’s shouting at our kids for not setting the Shabbos table on time, are you ruining your mitzvah by bringing dishonour to its performance?