I am writing in response to the article by Toby Klein Greenwald on page 40 of the March 13 issue of the 5TJT, titled “Reaching Across the Aisles,”. This is a very well-written and moving article about how Shulamit Aloni, who became a leader of the left-wing Meretz party, and Geula Cohen, head of the (now defunct) Tehiya party in the Knesset, crossed the aisles and formed a caucus to help Jonathan Pollard (and then-wife Anne) to get more humane treatment in prison and to help them eventually make aliyah. This is a beautiful story, and it is sad that Pollard was treated so badly. (He was freed after 30 years in prison, and has harsh parole conditions; even now he is not free to make aliyah with his wife, Esther.)
The late Joseph Alster, in his book The Alster Files, writes on pages 234–235 that in 1988, Rabbi Meir Kahane was running for the Knesset as head of the Kach party. Alster writes that Rabbi Kahane’s popularity was rising sharply, with polls predicting 8 to 10 seats going to Kach. Alster writes that “Knesset member Geula Cohen and her Tehiya party felt threatened. Cohen successfully got a bill passed to outlaw the Kach party and its leader Rabbi Kahane, on the dual citizenship issue. In 1988, Rabbi Kahane was on trial in the court in Jerusalem, in the Russian compound, for a final decision on this bill. Rabbi Kahane lost, and was not allowed to run in the ‘88 elections.”
Ms. Greenwald writes a nice article, and Pollard deserves to be able to make aliyah with his wife. But how can Israel be a democracy when its most popular party and leader (Kach and Rabbi Kahane in 1988, and Dr. Ben Ari and Baruch Merzel of Otzmah Yehudit today) are banned from running?
How We Can Reopen Our Shuls
No one has the right to speculate why we are going through this terrible, unprecedented matzav in our history. Is there anything we can do spiritually to reverse the gezeirah that has been placed on all of us?
We know that hakol b’yedei Shamayim — everything is in the hands of Hashem — so let’s look at a major loss we are now experiencing at the hands of the Boreh Olam. Let’s look at our conduct and relationship with Hashem during davening.
Poskim say tefilah is omed lifnei HaMelech — standing before the King. Let me ask you: If you had an audience with a king, when would you arrive — before the designated time, or after? Take other time-related appointments: job interviews, plane rides, doctor visits, theater tickets, restaurant reservations, sporting events, and Black Friday sales. Would you come late, even by a few minutes? Of course not! Yet to greet and be in the company of the Melech, which certainly has greater kedushah, coming on time is just not that important. Our tardiness in arrival is basically telling Hashem “I will get to you when it’s convenient for ME. You’ll just have to wait for my tefillos.” Sadly we don’t have this issue now because perhaps Hashem is saying “I kept waiting for you every morning but you are nowhere to be found. Goodbye.”
Let’s look at other aspects of what goes on during davening in shul. People bring their cellphones and keep them on as if to show that connecting to their phone is more important than connecting to Hashem. People have no qualms about talking to their friends at any point during davening. People think davening time is a good time to ask their rav a she’eilah, which by doing so is telling Hashem, “While my tefillos are important, I am putting you on hold. Will be back soon.”
What about chazaras ha’shatz? Instead of listening to each berachah and answering Amen, some people are reviewing daf yomi; learning from sefarim; perusing the sefarim shrank for a sefer; reading Torah sheets; ma’aver sedra; playing games or checking sports scores or news on their cellphone; reading and answering emails, or walking around and schmoozing with their friends or the rav.
What about Shabbos? People come late to davening, daveners gloat about how fast davening took, people are relieved when there is no derashah or insist that the rabbi adhere to strict minimal time limits when a derashah is given, tallis comes off well before davening is over, focusing more on the upcoming Kiddush rather than answering the last Kaddish at the end of davening. Proper dress for shul on Shabbos has been reduced to business casual or worse.
When it starts getting dark, people keep checking their watches and counting down the minutes until Shabbos is over. Ma’ariv can’t start soon enough.
We are upset and disappointed when it continuously rains on the first night of Sukkos as we can’t be me’kayeim the mitzvah of leisheiv ba’sukkah. But commentaries have suggested that perhaps this is a sign that Hashem is unhappy with us and our tefillos.
As mentioned above, it is totally wrong to speculate and question Hashem’s ways, so let’s review the actual facts as they are right now.
Hashem wants: tefillah b’tzibbur stopped, krias haTorah stopped, shiurim in their proper venue stopped, proper shivah environment stopped, well-attended seudos mitzvah stopped, bikur cholim stopped, hachnasas orchim stopped, parnassah for many who need it stopped, numerous other opportunities bein adam laMakom and bein adam la’chaveiro stopped, and shuls and yeshivos closed.
What happens now? There is a story about the people in a small town with a bridge that connected one island to another island. The problem was that people were falling off the dangerous bridge and getting hurt. The administration of the town came up with a solution — build a hospital on one of the islands. Did that prevent the problem from continuing? Of course not. We cannot make the same mistake now. Saying Tehillim, while important and should continue, is not showing the Boreh Olam that we are aware of our shortcomings and we are eager to improve our shul behavior immediately. Perhaps this was the message at krias Yam Suf when Hashem said to Moshe: now is not the time for tefillah; now is the time for action.
The time is now for the klei kodesh of every shul to review all areas of their shul and davening that needs an overhaul and improvement. The time to “pick your battles” is over. The time to be politically correct is over. The time for holding back mussar is over. In the secular world, the new phrase is, “If you see something, say something.” That should refer to every shul rav and members. Proper decorum is not an option; it is an absolute requirement.
Rabbis, rabbinical organizations, yeshivos, shuls, etc., must review and insist on the following with their congregants and students:
Talking during davening will no longer be tolerated. Davening will stop until there is total quiet.
Cellphone use will no longer be tolerated. While it’s best not to bring the phone into shul, if you have it with you, it must be off. Keeping it on vibrate is another word for keeping the phone on. Off means off. Period.
Use of cellphone as a siddur will no longer be allowed. Siddurim were successfully used for many generations. Using a phone as a Siddur is guaranteed to lead to further distractions.
Respect Hashem by being ready to daven when davening starts.
Listening to the chazzan during chazaras ha’shatz and answering Amen is everyone’s responsibility. Think about how beautiful the davening would be if everyone answered Amen in unison to the berachos of chazaras ha’shatz. More importantly, what would Hashem’s reaction be to beautiful, loud sounds of Amen coming from everyone present at the minyan.
Congregants must also be reminded that rushing out of shul, especially before davening is over, shows a lack of derech eretz. If talking to Hashem is important to you, why would you want to quickly end the conversation? Guaranteed Hashem will not end the conversation before you if you remain in shul to daven.
Teaching of the importance of listening to Kaddish and answering Amen cannot be emphasized enough.
The goal must be that no Jew should ever experience such a Shabbos as this past Shabbos and the many days since. G-d willing, the crisis we are now experiencing will end soon. We cannot, however, miss this immediate opportunity to now show and tell Hashem how much we miss Him and to ask mechilah for how we treated Him these past years.
A few weeks ago we read the pasuk “V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’socham.” Perhaps loosely translated “When your mikdash is made to my satisfaction I will be there.” Our shuls, our mikdashei me’at, are empty now. Let’s do what it takes to bring Hashem back without delay. Let’s assure Him that our respect and hakaras ha’tov know no bounds as we are ready to unlock all the doors that are now closed.
Hashem please come back to our shuls and our yeshivos quickly — we miss You!
How we can reopen our shuls now
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