Sign In Forgot Password

Rabbi Wes Kalmar's Message Parshat Ki Tisa / Shabbat Parah - March 5/6, 2021

"The ‘Back to Shul’ Dilemma and Why Purim (and You)  Inspired Me This Year"

Rabbi Kalmar

As I mentioned in my in-person drasha at Shul last week, I have been receiving via email invitations to discussions about a problem that is affecting the Jewish world right now: “How to get the Jews back to Shul”.  After almost a full year of COVID related shutdowns to our world, many people are grappling with the idea of coming back to some form of their former lives and having a degree of difficulty with it.  For many Jews, one form of this difficulty is the idea of coming back to shul.  Many people have not been in shul in a year and the idea of coming back frightens them for health reasons.   But for others, it’s more complicated.  They might be ready to come back to shul, but they haven’t been there for so long, they’ve gotten used to not going.  And for others, it has become comfortable to do what they have gotten used to.  I have friends who have been going to backyard minyanim for a long time and they tell me that they don’t ever want to go back.   They tell me “I can go to a Shabbos minyan that starts at 8:30 and is done at 10, no speeches, no wasting time, no chazzanus, I love it!  Why would I ever want to change?”  Jewish communal organizations like the OU and the RCA are grappling with the question – will the Jews ever come back to shul?

In last week’s parsha of Tetzaveh, the Torah says -   ViAtah Titzaveh es Benei Yisrael, and you shall command the children of Israel, veyikchu eilecha, shemen zayis zach, and you shall take to yourselves, pure olive oil.

  Says Rav Shmuel Bar Nachmeini in the gemara in Menachos 86b, God is stating to the Jews -  ailecha vilo li, for you and not for me, lo li-orah ani tzarich – I do not need the light.  The verse tells us that you shall take to yourselves the light because God doesn’t need the light. 

Says the Torah Temimah (Rav Baruch HaLevi Epstein, 1860-1941) that we find in the Sefer Hachinuch that the purpose of the lights from the menorah was the glory and the honor of the house of God.  When the house is well lit – then it is a place of honor and glory for the Jewish people who are serving God there.  The same is true of the ketores – the incense – which was done for the honor of the house – just like the palaces of kings, which were perfumed with nice smelling incense and spices, it was done to honor the house.  So too, when its aroma filled the temple it was done for the honor of those who would be coming there – not for God – for the Jewish people. 

And I thought that as well we could include the clothes of the Kohein Gadol, the clothes of the high priest, which are mentioned in last week’s parsha, which I would argue are also done to honor the Jewish people.  It is fitting that their head kohein, who is the chief representative of the people in their service to God, be in regal clothing.  It is done to honor the Jewish people.  God does not need any of this – the light, the smell or the regal clothing.  It is for us.

Speaking of clothing – we have been thinking about costumes and clothing on Purim.  And actually, in the Megillah reading, one of the four verses which we all read together is one that concerns Mordechai – when he is dressed in the vestments of royalty.

וּמָרְדֳּכַ֞י יָצָ֣א | מִלִּפְנֵ֣י הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ בִּלְב֤וּשׁ מַלְכוּת֙ תְּכֵ֣לֶת וָח֔וּר וַֽעֲטֶ֤רֶת זָהָב֙ גְּדוֹלָ֔ה וְתַכְרִ֥יךְ בּ֖וּץ וְאַרְגָּמָ֑ן וְהָעִ֣יר שׁוּשָׁ֔ן צָֽהֲלָ֖ה וְשָׂמֵֽחָה

And Mordechai left the king's presence with royal raiment, blue and white and a huge golden crown and a wrap of linen and purple, and the city of Shushan shouted and rejoiced.

So Mordechai gets dressed up in the clothes.  And then what happens?

ליְּהוּדִ֕ים הָֽיְתָ֥ה אוֹרָ֖ה וְשִׂמְחָ֑ה וְשָׂשׂ֖ן וִיקָֽר

To the Jews there was light and joy and gladness and honor.

  Light to the Jews.  We understand that they had joy and gladness and honor. What does it mean that they had light?

In Gemara Megillah (16b) it states - Orah zu Torah – the light refers to Torah.

The Megillah (9:27) says ‘Kimu ViKiblu Hayehudim’ – “the Jews ordained and took upon themselves”   The Talmud (Shavuos 39a) tells us – ‘kimu mah shekiblu kvar’ - that they confirmed what they had accepted already.  The Jews had a reacceptance of the Torah at the time of story of Purim.  They decided once again to accept upon themselves to keep all the Torah and mitzvos – the Torah Shebaal Peh (oral Torah) and the Torah Shebichsav (the written Torah).

God didn’t need this reacceptance – we did. 

Our parsha this week begins by saying VeChi Sisa es Rosh Benei Yisrael – when you shall lift up (count) the head of the children of Israel.   Says the Avnei Eizel, (Rav Alexander Zusha Friedman, 1897-1943, a great leader of Polish Orthodox Jewry and the Agudas Yisroel, who died in in the Holocaust) that when an individual stays by themselves, they cannot influence others and cannot grow.  But when one is counted with others, when one is part of the group, their importance and significance makes them an influencer for good.  Therefore, when the Jews were counted as part of the census in this week’s parsha, they are considered a part of a greater whole.  They are elevated.  Hence, they are called the head – when you shall count the head of the children of Israel.  Each individual becomes a leader and a head and lifts everyone else up with them.

So to review – the point of the light in last week’s parsha – is for our honor, not God’s.  And in the Purim story, Mordechai gets dressed up in the clothes and is honored for his position and the Jews are happy and glad and honored and they also have light – they have Torah.  They re-accept the Torah on Purim – they come together as a community – they are counted as part of the greater whole – and they raise each other up by doing so.  Everyone lifted up their fellow in a reacceptance of the light of Torah that was for the sake of the Jewish people.

I was lifted up by all of you during Purim.   After almost a year of enduring all that you have endured.  You showed up for Purim.   Many people showed up to shul for the first time in a year.  Many people came to one or two of our six Megillah readings.  Some of you showed up for the drive by costume party.  Many of you attended one or more readings via zoom.  Many people told me they watched on zoom and realized how much they miss being in shul and want to be back.  Many of you delivered Mishloach Manos and Purim Seudas to Go for the shul.  If you count up all the people who participated in one way or another our participation over Purim was really fantastic.   And I was lifted up and inspired by seeing that our community is working its way towards the Back to Shul problem.   We haven’t figured it all out, and there are health issues to still be concerned about and other issues as well.  But we are a big family who have each other’s backs.  And we are all trying to repair the breaches that this Covid year has caused.   On Purim – the Jews of ASKT had Orah, Simcha, Sasson, Viyikar.  There was joy and gladness and honor and there was light. 

Kol HaKavod (Great Job) to all of you – for helping to inspire each other.

Wed, May 18 2022 17 Iyyar 5782