From: ________ ___________

Sent: Thursday, 22 September 2016 1:24 PM

To: Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

Subject: Why I won't be in shul next week

Rabbi, thanks for the phone call, but I’m going to say no.

You know how much I love you and how much _____ and I admire what you and Leah have managed to accomplish in the community, but I don’t think I’ll be coming to shul this year.

It’s not you, it’s me. ;-)

I just don’t enjoy the crowds.

It is so much easier to pray at home. I have the time and space to read the prayerbook at my own pace, and I’m guaranteed a comfortable chair. I don’t have to get all dressed up, and I don’t have to worry about finding a seat.

I know that it makes me sound so petty, but I have an even better reason for not wanting to come to shul on Rosh Hashanah. Praying at home is not just more comfortable, it also feels more spiritual to me. When I daven at home, it’s just me and G‑d. I can pick the bits of prayer that speak to me, and I can focus on what I need to work on.

Admit it, Rabbi, when you give your sermons, you’re not (just) talking to me. I don’t blame you. I know you have to worry about everyone there, but it’s just not the same as hearing a message tailored to me, like when we speak during the year. It’s not that I don’t care about the other people in shul, I just think that I have to prioritize, and this year my priority is going to be me.

Please, please don’t take it personally. I do appreciate all you do for me, and I will see you during the year—just not in shul on the busy days.

From : Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

Sent: Thursday, 22 September 2016 11:54 PM

To: ________ ___________

Subject: RE: Why I won't be in shul next week

Mate, I never take anything personally. If anything, I’m grateful that you took the time to respond and didn’t just drop out of sight, leaving me wondering what was wrong.

I get you. In a way, you make a lot of sense. Sometimes, when I’m going to shul in the morning, I also wonder if I’m walking in the right direction. It is sometimes easier to worry only about oneself, and I do accept that as the shul is, thank G‑d, getting more crowded, I just can’t pay as much individual attention to each person as I used to. (My biggest quibble is with your description of my speeches. Believe me, every sermon I’ve ever given has been addressed directly at you, my friend.)

There are parts of Judaism you can only do with a crowd. For example, we can only read the Torah with a minyan of 10 men. (And just who do you expect to walk to your house to blow shofar for you . . . ?) But I believe that on the High Holidays it is even more crucial to join together and cast your lot with the community.

You want proof? We’ll read in the Torah this week, “To make you high above all nations that He has made . . . that you may be a holy nation to the L‑rd your G‑d, as He has spoken.”1Rashi comments that the reference to where “G‑d spoke” is in the Torah portion of Kedoshim, where we are instructed, “Be holy to me and I will separate you as a nation, for me.”2

The Rebbe points out that there are a number of instances in the Torah where we are commanded to be holy, but these two are special. All the other times we’re told to be holy, the verse is written in the singular: you, the individual, should commit to G‑d and work at becoming spiritual. Here, though, the verse is addressing the collective nation. Because, though it’s important to work on yourself and achieve individual mastery, there are heights you can only ever achieve when you’re part of a collective, a “holy nation”working together to get closer to G‑d.

Why this is so, I’m not sure. I could speculate that the very fact that we’re all squashed together, squeezing ourselves into crowded pews, sharing a machzor with the guy in the next seat, listening to a broad-based sermon from a rabbi who loves the congregation all equally, means that we’ve got less time and space to think about our own needs, desires and comforts and are almost forced to concentrate on G‑d.

Whatever the reason, we know that we only achieve true holiness when we achieve it together. There is no better place for you to daven and achieve spirituality this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur than in a crowded shul, and that’s precisely where Leah and I are expecting to see you this Yom Tov.

P.S. I love you, too.