In my first shul, Newtown Synagogue, everyone was afraid of Freddie. For a while, Freddie sat on the board. He wasn’t the president, but he always seemed to get his way. Nobody would dare offer an alternative view to his, because they knew that Freddie would go off on a tirade. Even once he left the board, the question always seemed to be ‘How will Freddie take it?’ Everyone tiptoed around him; all we ever wanted to do was to make Freddie happy.
After all, Freddie was responsible for paying off the mortgage.
The Torah states, “You shall observe my Sabbaths and revere my Temple.”
What does it mean to revere the Temple? A person should not enter the Temple Mount with his staff, nor with his shoes, nor with his money-belt, nor with dust (avak) on his feet. And he should not use it as a shortcut. And [we learn that] he may not spit from a light to heavy (kal v’chomer).
A “light to heavy,” otherwise known as ‘a fortiori’ reasoning argues that if the law is true in a lighter case, then it is most certainly true in a heavier case. Rashi explains that Queen Esther instructed Mordecai that it was inappropriate to enter King Ahasuerus’s palace wearing sackcloth. If that was true, then how much more so would it be inappropriate to spit in the King of Kings’ ‘palace’ – the Holy Temple!
Joining a shul board is a thankless job. You have to stroke a lot of egos – people who think that they are doing you a personal favour by paying their membership dues and not ‘taking their business elsewhere.’ And you’re a volunteer!
But shul politics is a mere microcosm of Temple politics. There have always been people who wanted to push their weight around. King Rehoboam was ill-advised by his henchmen during the early days of the First Temple. In the Second Temple, various sects, from the Sadducees to the Zealots, fought for dominion over the Temple. And so our Sages have stern words to say about one who wishes to use the Temple or synagogue to get their way.
You may not enter the Temple Mount with your staff. A shul is not a place to wave your proverbial stick about and make people fear you. A shul is a place to fear the Almighty. Stop waving that stick at people!
Nor may you wear your shoes: On Yom Kippur, we’re told to remove our leather shoes. Year-round we have dominion over the animal kingdom and everything else in this world. But on Yom Kippur, we must nullify ourselves before the Almighty and demonstrate that have no dominion; only He rules the world – all creatures are equal in His eyes. Taking off your proverbial shoes means recognizing that a synagogue is a democracy where everyone should have equal say.
While you’re at it, please remove your money-belt. We certainly appreciate the fact that you paid off the mortgage, but that doesn’t mean you own the place. The Almighty blessed you with the wherewithal to support the community. But don’t forget that we are still a community working together to serve Him alone, not to serve any money interests.
You’re doing well, you’ve removed your shoes. But, wait, there’s still some dust (avak) on your feet! Just like avak lashon hara (the dust of gossip), which is not real gossip but it’s the kind of conversation that might lead to gossip, you need to wash your feet of any dust of any egotism or narcissism. Whenever you have an issue at shul, ask yourself what’s best for the community. Am I bothering this poor volunteer on the board with my self-centered demands?
Maybe it’s time you stopped thinking about number one and volunteered to serve on the board! But don’t make it a shortcut for your life’s ambitions. Make sure you’re stepping up in order to serve our people and not just to get to know the right people in the shul to advance your own agenda. The Temple Mount may not be a shortcut!
And finally, don’t spit on anyone – from light to heavy! Everyone deserves respect in shul. Whether they are the big donors, or the minyan man who doesn’t pay much but attends minyan faithfully, day in day out – everyone in the shul is of equal importance! Treat them with honour. Respect their space, their opinions, and their commitment.
That is the meaning of reverence for the Temple!