Our yeshiva in Melbourne had closed for summer break and so many of the boys had chosen to sleep in that day. (Does one “choose” to sleep in or is that just the absence of getting up?) Being punctilious about tefillah b’tzibur – praying with a congregation – I started to knock on the doors of the dormitory, seeking minyan men.
Bleary-eyed, Moshe stepped into the study-hall in his pyjamas. “Do you have a chiyuv (obligation)?” he asked me innocently, referring to the duty of a mourner to recite the kadish with a minyan.
Menachem immediately turned to him and chided, “We all have a chiyuv to pray with the minyan. Some of us just think that everyone else will take care of their chiyuv for them.”
Amidst the epic celebrations of the Simchas Beis Hashoeivah (Festival of the Water-Drawing) on Sukkot at the Temple, Hillel the Elder would exhort the people, “If I am here, everyone is here. If I am not here, then who is here?”
Rashi explains that he was talking on behalf of G-d, so to speak. Hillel’s warning to the people was that they should not forget their religious obligations throughout the year. As long as they observe the commandments, G-d will be present in the Temple and they will be able to come on Sukkot to celebrate. If they fail in their commitment to Torah and mitzvos, then G-d will forsake the Temple and there would be no further reason to celebrate.
On a deeper level, our Sages explain that Hillel was offering an incredible insight into the attitude we must have regarding our attendance and participation in community events.
Sometimes we think to ourselves, ‘Why should I bother going? There will be enough people there without me. Nobody will miss my absence.’
Hillel teaches that if everyone were to have that attitude, then nobody would show up. “If I am here, everyone is here. If am not here, who is here?” was Hillel’s motto. Everyone must have the attitude that their showing up to the event or cause is integral and then lo and behold, everyone shows up! But once one person starts with the excuses, why should anyone show up?
This is true for synagogue programs, community events and communal leadership responsibilities. If you adopt the perspective that you are indispensable, then you will be indispensable and integral. If you cop out and leave it to someone else to take care of, then chances are, nobody will step up to the plate.
If you are there, then everyone will be there. But if you do not show up or step up, then who will?