For the week ending 25 February 2012 / 1 Adar I 5772

Shul I or Shul I Not

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Josh

Dear Rabbi,

I was wondering, with all the dangers and threats against Jews nowadays, whether it’s worth going to shul, which is a place that is more likely to be targeted? Would it not be better to pray at home, or to organize unofficial minyans that would be less conspicuous?

Dear Josh,

I am sympathetic to your concerns. Thank G-d, in the vast majority of countries in which Jews reside, the situation does not warrant such precaution.

Of course, safety and security is not to be taken lightly, and every measure within reason should be taken to ensure the safety of Jews on their way to and from shul and while within. Depending on the location and local conditions, this might involve police and/or civilian surveillance and patrol teams, security cameras, and armed shul-goers, even on Shabbat.

But to close the shul doors, thereby capitulating to our enemies’ threats, would ultimately undermine our strength and security by putting us on the run. Rather, all communities should cultivate strong and close relationships with governmental and law-enforcement bodies in order to devise strategies to put our pursuers on the run.

The Talmud teaches, “One who fixes a regular place for prayer, his enemies fall before him” (Berachot 8a). On a simple level, this means that to one who expresses a regular commitment to maintain his connection with G-d despite the many obstacles in doing so, G-d will give special aid to overcome his adversaries who desire to trip him up.

However, based on your question, perhaps the teaching can be understood in an additional way. Lest one think that regularly going to shul exposes one to danger because of its being Jewishly conspicuous, the teaching emphasizes that this is not so. Rather, G-d will extend His Providential Divine protection over those who regularly go to shul, despite the designs of our enemies, and it is rather they who G-d will cause to fall in our stead.

This reminds me of a teaching regarding the verse, “Praise the L-rd, all nations; Laud Him, all peoples! For His lovingkindness is great toward us, and the truth of the L-rd is everlasting” (Ps. 117:1-2). The question is raised, “Because His kindness is great to us, the nations should praise Him?”. Rather, the idea is that only our enemies know all they plan against us, and how much of that is foiled by G-d. This forces them to praise G-d for His protection of us despite their evil intentions.

This can be understood by an analogy: There was a certain Jew who left his house for shul everyday at the same time, traveling the same path. A certain anti-Semite decided he would lay in wait for the Jew and drop a huge stone upon him from the roof of his house as the Jew passed below. Just as the Jew approached the appointed spot, a sudden gust of wind blew off his hat, forcing him off course, into the street, and out of harm’s way, just as the stone shattered on the path he would otherwise have passed. After picking up and dusting off his hat, unaware of what occurred, the Jew continued on to shul, and only the anti-Semite was forced to admit the providential protection of G-d over the Jew.

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