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"We Are B'Nei Yisrael!"

11/15/2018 11:45:26 AM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

There is a verse from Sefer Yeshayahu (the Book of Isaiah) that says there will come the time when all nations of the world will declare "Lekhu ve-na'aleh...." --- "Come let us go up to the Mountain of HaShem, to the House of the G-d of Yaakov." (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 2:3)  [That time will be when the Mashiach arrives, may it come soon, speedily, in our time!]  Masekhet Pesachim of the Talmud Bavli explains that the verse does not say the House of Avraham or the House of Yitzchak; it says the House of Yaakov.  Why?  Because, as we see in this week's parashah, Parashat VaYeitzei, Yaakov is the first person to refer to the place at which he prayed to Hashem as a  "Beit El" - "a House of G-d."  This is the spot where he dreamed the dream of the "soolam," the ladder or, more correctly, the ramp connecting Heaven to the earth.  Our tradition teaches that this location is the Temple Mount.  But why did Yaakov feel compelled to build a "Beit El?"

The Torah tells us that Avraham prayed to Hashem on a mountain (i.e.- Mount Moriyah), and Yitzchak prayed to HaShem in a field.  But it was Yaakov who recognized the power of praying to Hashem in a house, a house dedicated to HaShem.  In other words, one can say that Yaakov built the first Synagogue.  But the question still remains: why did Yaakov feel compelled to build a "Beit El?"  Perhaps Yaakov needed a "Beit El" because he had spent so much time far from home.  During his life, Yaakov had spent 20 years working for the wicked Lavan, and at the end of his life he was living in Eretz Mitzrayim, the Land of Egypt.  Additionally, Yaakov is the only Patriarch who spends time with his children outside of Eretz Kena'an, the Land of Canaan.  The fact is that Yaakov needed a "Beit El" to strengthen, to reinforce his spirituality, to reinforce his link with HaShem.  And the rest, as they say, is a major part of our people's history.

It is not surprising that the Synagogue has been part and parcel of the Diaspora since its beginning.  While Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, has magnificent Synagogues, it is outside of Eretz Yisrael, in the Diaspora, where the People Israel feels the need for a Synagogue.  We need the Synagogue to be the location of of our spirituality, to be the focus of our relationship with HaShem.  In America, the Synagogue became the center of American Jewish life.  While this still holds true for the American Orthodox Jewish Community, it is fast disappearing in the rest of the American Jewish Community.  Because it was believed for the longest time that everything Jewish had to occur in the Synagogue, non-Orthodox Jews did just that: they confined their Judaism exclusively to the Synagogue.  And after the kids grew up, for far too many Jewish families the Judaism they practiced stopped dead in its tracks simply because they stopped going to Synagogue.

It is now that we see how this is a distortion of Yaakov's dream.  For Yaakov, and for us as well, the Synagogue was and is the center of Judaism when we leave our homes and go out into the outside world to become part of the outside world.  And most importantly, for both the American Jewish Community and the American non-Jewish Community the Synagogue is the physical representation of both Judaism and Jewish life to the outside world.  The Synagogue is the center of our religious life, for it is the center of our life pertaining to Jewish rituals, especially prayer.  But most important of all, the Synagogue is the catalyst for living life as a Jew wherever we may find ourselves, either at home or away from home.  Yaakov knew this to be true, and so should we!         


Wed, August 21 2019 20 Av 5779