A rabbi passed by a Macdonald’s and was shocked to see a congregant sitting in the restaurant eating lunch. The rabbi stood there watching and formulated a rebuke. When the congregant came out the rabbi confronted him.
“Why were you eating in this place? Don’t you know it’s not kosher! And to top it off, you saw me standing outside watching while you munched away without a care in the world!”
The congregant smiled and replied, “I figured that if you were standing and watching, then it was under rabbinic supervision!”
We are entering the Jewish month of Elul, the preseason to the High Holiday season. For the Jewish people, it is a time of great self-introspection when we take stock of the previous year and try to fashion a plan for growth and change in the New Year. It is a time to reconnect with family and friends, to mend relationships and build new ones as we prepare to stand before God on the holiest of days.
There are some, however, who do not fully understand or appreciate the opportunities that Judaism in general affords us, and what the High Holiday season in particular, has to offer. With the recent Olympics, permit me the following imagery:
For some reason, there’s an impression that Judaism is a spectator sport, and this is often seen during the High Holidays, when clergy and synagogue staff are busy preparing for the big events, while the average person simply purchases tickets to come and watch. Like the Olympics, we’ll judge the rabbi’s sermons, the cantor’s liturgical compositions, and how the synagogue performed over the High Holidays. We’ll go home either satisfied or looking for a new synagogue. That’s it. The real growth potential available through the High Holiday experience is totally lost.
I will never forget the time I served as an assistant cantor on Rosh Hashanah. Before the blowing of the shofar, the rabbi reviewed the rules associated with it. He mentioned that, from the first sound of the shofar until the last blast, it is prohibited to make idle chatter. As when doing any mitzvah, one must complete the mitzvah without interruption.
After the rabbi finished, the shofar was blown and the Torah scrolls were being returned to the ark. As the procession made its way back to the ark, scrolls first, then the rabbi, the cantor and myself, a congregant wished the rabbi “Shana Tova” and the rabbi only responded with a nod of his head, not verbally, as he could not.
The congregant was insulted. How dare the rabbi not respond to his greeting? Fortunately, his seatmate calmed him down, reminding him, “Fool! Don’t you remember what the rabbi just said in his review of the shofar rules? Clergy are not allowed to talk until the last blast of the shofar!”
The High Holidays, like the rest of Judaism, is not just for rabbis, cantors and synagogue staff. It’s a gift to all members of the Jewish nation to treasure and actively use. This year, let’s not just show up with our tickets, let’s use the month of Elul to train, so that we can get in the game and be active players in the High Holiday games.