The Daily Minyan Needs You…and You Need It!

Here’s a question of Jewish law that could only be asked in the 21st century:  Can we fulfill our obligation to pray with a minyan in a videoconference held online?  Could 10 Jews be at home or in an office and pray together using Skype or ZOOM?  On the one hand, a videoconference seems like a brilliant solution to convening a minyan, especially for people who don’t have a lot of spare time to go to the synagogue.  The internet is an element of technology that could not have been envisioned by the Talmudic sages and medieval scholars who codified Jewish law.  It’s possible to read the Torah via videoconference if one person had a Torah scroll and could chant the portion.  It’s even possible to imagine a “virtual minyan” expanding well beyond the minimum requirement of 10 Jews for a quorum.

On the other hand, a virtual minyan is a bad idea, even if it’s a clever merging of religion and technology.  That’s because no matter how good your computer is or how fast your internet speed is, people aren’t truly brought together in cyberspace.  There’s something real about being in a shared physical space, where we can hear each other’s voices as we pray and sing, that simply isn’t very authentic online.  Human interaction is most genuine when we face one another, listen to one another, take note of one another’s feelings that are seen in the expressions on our faces.  And praying together requires genuine human interaction.

I say this as a prelude to putting in a plug for your presence at our daily minyan.  If you are one of our regulars, or even if you come to the morning minyan occasionally, you know that Oheb Shalom’s daily minyan is a close group of people who care about one another and support one another.  If one of us is ill, the rest of the group is concerned.  If one of us is in mourning, the rest of the group provides comfort and consolation.  If one of us can’t get to the minyan on his own, someone from the group will provide transportation.  We celebrate each other’s joys with blessings at the Torah, in conversation before and after (and even during!) the service and enjoy breakfast and a few words of Torah study after the service each Wednesday.  Perhaps most important, Oheb Shalom’s daily minyan is not a closed group at all.  Any person who attends is instantly drawn into the club and quickly feels at home.

For those who are not sure they can recite the prayers, don’t worry.  Our minyan is not a judgmental place where people’s knowledge is scrutinized or critiqued.  Whether you choose to pray in Hebrew or in English, whether you wish to follow the order of prayers or do your own thing, you will feel at home at our minyan.  You will be called to the Torah for an honor regularly and assisted in reciting the blessings if you are not familiar with them.

Aside from all the personal benefits of attending minyan, your presence will fill an important need for our congregation.  One of the signs of a healthy synagogue is a reliable daily minyan that serves the needs of its members and the community, whether for prayer and introspection or the fulfillment of a mourners’ Kaddish obligation.  There are few things more disheartening than a mourner seeking comfort and wishing to say Kaddish for their loved one but being unable to do so because there is no minyan.

So, I ask you to support Oheb Shalom’s daily minyan.  Perhaps you wish to pick a day of the week to attend the minyan, or perhaps you are inclined to attend every day.  Either way, your presence will make a significant difference in the lives of fellow members.  The idea of starting each day with prayer and reflection, in the company of others, will also make a difference in your personal life by enabling you to start each day in a positive manner.  That is why our tradition urges that we start each day with the experience of prayer.

The minyan meets every Sunday-Friday at 8:00 AM (7:45 AM on Rosh Chodesh and certain Jewish holidays), and at 9:00 AM on Sundays and national holidays.  I hope to see you there!

Shabbat Shalom,

RABBI COOPER

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We Need the Torah…and the Torah Needs Us Too

Shavuot, the second of the three pilgrimage festivals, commemorates God’s revelation to the Jewish People at Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Torah.  Several commentaries note that the Ten Commandments, which are at the heart of the revelation, are addressed in the singular.  Why?  Two reasons are given.  First, so that each person should think that he is personally responsible for upholding the Torah’s teachings.  Second, because each person can and should hear God’s voice in a personal way and craft a unique relationship with the Divine.  The Kabbalists taught that there was no spoken Revelation at all.  Rather than proclaiming the Ten Commandments in a booming voice, the ancient mystics said that God spoke only the first letter of the first word of the first commandment.  That was the letter “aleph,” which produces no sound at all.  Standing at the foot of the mountain, the Kabbalists said, each of the Israelites heard God’s voice in their head.  So it is with each of us—we each hear and understand God in a deeply private and individual way.

Taking this idea a step further, Rabbi Yitzchak ben Yaakov Alfasi (1013-1103, Morocco) taught that not only must each person cultivate a personal relationship with the Divine, but the Torah only reaches its potential when it is received and interpreted by many different types of people.  He wrote:

Our rabbis said:  Had only one of the Israelites been absent, the Torah would not have been given.  It is for this reason that the Torah was given to 600,000 people.  It was the will of the Holy Blessed One that the Torah be accepted by all factions, and the 600,000 people who stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai included all factions and opinions.

Rabbi Alfasi remarkably taught that the Revelation could not have taken place had even a single person from the community of Israelites been absent.  That is because every single person’s opinion was necessary to make the Torah into a living, relevant document.

I understand Rabbi Alfasi’s teaching to be innovative and urgent.  Not only is each person free to craft a personal understanding of God, but the Torah itself, which reflects Divine wisdom and insight, becomes stronger and more authentic when its passages are subject to many different interpretations and opinions.

Those who arrogantly believe that they alone know God’s truth, those who claim to exclusively hear the authentic voice of God, and especially all those who seek to impose their views on others because they think they have special knowledge of how God wants human beings to behave, should carefully read the words of Rabbi Alfasi.  The voice of God is heard differently by every human being, and God’s Torah thrives only when it is interpreted by many factions and subject to many opinions.  No one has a monopoly on God’s truth.

Judaism holds that we need the Torah.  But Rabbi Alfasi cleverly reminds us that the Torah needs us too.

I hope that you will join us for our Shavuot celebrations.

  • SATURDAY, JUNE 8
  • 8:30 PM. One Text…Three Faiths: “A Triangle of Love: How Jews, Muslims and Christians View Abraham, Sarah and Hagar.”  On Shavuot eve, learn a text revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The evening will begin with refreshments and worship. Rabbi Cooper, Pastor Brenda Wheeler Ehlers from Morrow Memorial Methodist Church, and Imam Daud Haqq of the National Islamic Association Masjid will teach and lead a discussion on what their respective faith groups learn from these sacred texts.
  • SUNDAY, JUNE 9
    • 9:45 AM Morning Service for the First Day of Shavuot.  We will celebrate as Jason Vaidman (the grandson of Nancy Lorre) becomes a Bar Mitzvah.
    • 11:15 AM Shavuot Katan/Gadol (with Miss Vivian). For kids ages 0-8.
    • 9:00 PM Evening Service for the Second Day of Shavuot
  • MONDAY, JUNE 10
    • 9:45 AM Morning Service for the Second Day of Shavuot.  Our Yizkor service will be accompanied by a professional violinist to create a moving and beautiful tribute to our lost loved ones.