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I have been looking at a particular subject, which is "Why do we work?" What did Hashem have in mind when he said to Adam Harishon, To "work & guard the garden?" Was it just busy work?
I must admit that after listening to all of the webinars telling me how to become wealthy, I asked the obvious question.
Growing up in the USA, I was weaned on the desire that the next generation would be richer and better educated than the previous generation.
Which is more important, quality or quantity? If one focuses on quality, one may have the item for many years. On the other hand, if one focuses of quantity, one can afford to suffer a little loss. For example, some cars were known to last for many years, while others were known to break down at around 80,000 miles. The cars that were made to last were considerably more expensive. So the consumer had to decide quality over quantity. Choosing between a fast food establishment over a fancy restaurant presents a similar dilemma. Strangely enough, religion has the same conundrum.
If one is a youth director and/or rabbi of a synagogue, one of the main roles is to expand membership. The reason for this desired expansion is to share the financial responsibility. The dilemma faced by the rabbi/youth director is which type of investment should one make? If one goes for numbers, one is potentially sacrificing relationships that can help people grow religiously…the purpose that the rabbi/youth director signed on for. If one concentrates on quality then the officers aren’t as happy because it is felt that more people are needed to share the financial burden. Also the officers want to believe that their “product” is the best on the market and if more people would be exposed to their synagogue, more people would want to join and then the rabbi/youth director could engage these people in meaningful, qualitative experiences. It is a dilemma faced by all religious organizations.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch decided to invest in quality over quantity and was somewhat successful in his endeavors as a community of his design still exists in Washington Heights, NY. Rabbi Kotler also followed a similar path and started his place in Lakewood, NJ. Originally dreaming of 100 families, now Lakewood stands at a few thousand. It would seem that tour Rabbis of old chose quality over quantity and it seemed to have worked, but on the other hand, the question then surfaces and asks, what did we sacrifice? In the Talmud it tells of a story in which Rabban Gamliel limited enrollment in the yeshiva only to the best students. When he was deposed, they had open enrollment and had to put down many more benches for those students who weren’t up to the former standards but now were able to be admitted.
So one has to ask, is the board or rabbi’s approach correct? Is there a compromise that can make everyone happy? If there are 1000 members, can each one be made to feel special/important or is there going to be a time when people feel lost and disenfranchised? Should there be a cap on membership, just as there is capped enrollment in schools? What do you think?
With all this PEW talk and the impression that Judaism is on the ropes, I would like to explore an issue that I believe is untouched, namely the reason for lack of affiliation. I would like to suggest that the reason for lack of affiliation is that most people feel that one should not have to pay for their personal relationship with Hashem. One may feel that they communicate in their own way with the Creator and do not need organized religion to aid their desires. And to that claim, I must say that I couldn’t agree more! When Hashem presented the Torah to us at Mt Sinai, He didn’t demand membership via money, rather He demanded actions. Just follow the rules and one is good with Hashem. If one wants to learn Torah, one need only purchase a book or go to a public library and one can learn as much as one wants. Furthermore, one who wants to pray, can either talk to Hashem in one’s own way or use a standard prayer book. One can pray at home or in the office, or wherever one desires. If one wants to pray with a minyan, one can call 9 other friends and make the necessary quorum, holding services in one’s home. The total cost of observance would be negligible. But when one wants to join a synagogue, suddenly the cost skyrockets. Why must this be? Why can’t people just put a dollar into the charity box and be done?
The basic reason is that we live in a service industry. If one’s car needs repair, one may either do it oneself and save a lot of money, but lose a lot of time, or one can outsource the repair, save valuable time and pay someone else. The same is true for religion. It states in Pirkei Avot- The Ethics of Our Fathers- “One should not make a spade out of the Torah” which means that one should not make the teaching of Torah into a profession.” If that is true, than how can rabbis and teachers of Judaica accept pay? The Rav of Bartunora explained that “while a person should not be paid for teaching Torah, one is paid for the preparation time. He adds that one must also be paid if the community deems this a necessary service and wants the person to do so on a full-time basis.” Just as in every business there are many expenses that must be paid, so also synagogual life. Even without clergy, just opening the doors cost money. Somebody has to pay for the heat, air conditioning, kiddush, books, etc.
People remember the “good old days” in Europe where they could just throw a coin into the charity box, knowing the government would pay the other expenses. But in America, where religion and state are separate, it causes us to see the real cost of religion. The question that one must decide for oneself is do I want the religious services around, so that when one needs it, it will be there, or does one want to go it alone? What do you say?
At the bar mitzvah of one's son, the father recites a strange statement, namely, "Baruch Shep'tarani"-"Blessed is the One who exempts me from the punishment of this one." The father is declaring his "independence" from his son's transgressions. Until Bar Mitzvah, we, as parents, are responsible for all the misdeeds of our children and it is solely our responsibility to educate them and insure that they know how to properly behave. While many jokes are made about this sentiment, the bottom line is, it is troubling. It goes against logic. For which parent would not want to take the "punishment" as it were, and protect one's child. It is counter-intuitive! I even know one father who refused to say it, arguing that it was a horrible statement.
So here I was, facing down my son's becoming a bar mitzvah, and now I was in the "driver's seat" and had to come to grips with this statement. I started to really question whether or not I could sincerely say this. Maybe I could skip it or just mumble something else? After all, who would really notice? And the more I thought of it, the harder it came to say, until I remembered what I said when my parents died, namely "Blessed is the True Judge." I understood that I was not praising Hashem for killing my parents, rather I was acknowledging that I accepted that Hashem knew what He was doing. In the same way, when I would ultimately recite "Baruch She'pitarani" I was not washing my hands of my son, but rather recognizing that Hashem determined that at this age, my baby was now a "man" who would have to take everything he was taught and to act properly. It was no longer theoretical, but indeed practical.
So with joy in my heart that I had reached such a milestone and angst in hoping I, and his mother, taught him well, I said Blessed is the One who exempts me from the punishment of this one" with the confidence that Hashem knows what He is doing.
While shoveling my driveway today, I began to ponder what would happen to my life if I won today's Megabucks lottery. It's worth a half a billion dollars and it could all be mine. But would my life change and if so, how? I want to believe that I would still continue to do my job at the Torah Center, teaching and learning with people, as I truly enjoy it. I'd like to think that I would still shovel my own driveway in the winter and mow my lawn in the summer. I know that I would have to deal more with charities, but besides that, would my life really change?
Based upon other lottery winners tales of woe, I would have to pray that I would set up my winnings in such a way that I would never have to worry about finances again. At the same time, would I be strong enough to maintain my present life or would I be cajoled into a "richer" way of life? Would I study more Torah or less? Would I still think twice before making an acquisition or knowing that I could easily afford it, just buy it without a second thought?
I would like to believe that I would use the money well and help others out. I would hope that I would not get carried away with Hashem's gift and waste it on foolishness. I would pray that I would not lose myself or my family due to my new found wealth. Basically I would ask Hashem to provide me with proper guidance as to how to deal with my winnings.
Ah, to win a major lottery would be exhilarating and scary all at the same time...I wonder if it will happen? The biggest question that I have to decide today is "Do I buy the ticket? Did you?
Recently we made a trip to the "Big Apple." Truthfully, it was nice to see relatives and be part of the "action." I didn't have to awaken before dawn in order to daven with a minyan. For I was in Flatbush, NY and there was a shul with a minyan beginning every half hour. I could sleep with a clear conscience knowing that a minyan would always be available. And if that wasn't enough to make anyone happy, the proliferation of kosher establishments is mind-blowing. Multiple meat and dairy restaurants, Chinese, Vegetarian, and so much more, with bakeries on every block. Supermarkets filled with kosher foods from around the world. Not to mention the various places to study Torah and to participate in classes throughout the day. It was a venerable cornucopia of choices, who could ask for anything more?! I guess I could.
With all the advantages of the "big city," I missed my small town life. While I may not have as many choices, I feel that I'm part of something bigger. When I enter the shul, I immediately know if there is a guest and can welcome him/her to town. When somebody is married or has a child, even though I'm not part of the family, I feel like the extended family. There is a real sense of joy for the good tidings and sadness for the other times. When it comes to schooling, due to the limited choice, we are "forced" to make things work, even though we have people in the school who don't necessarily think alike. We are all exposed to each other's beliefs and thus we grow individually and as a community. And one of the other advantages is our low cost of living. One can actually own a house, live a comfortable life, and even save some money for later on.
Just as city life is not for every one, so also small town living. But, if one wants to be part of something big, then small towns are worth a look at. Are you ready to be part of something big?