Thursday, October 25, 2018
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Rabbi David Walk
Did you ever find yourself sitting in a shul reciting ASHREI YOSHVEI VEITCHA (happy is the one who sits in Your house) with great devotion and bliss, only to have a late-comer come over and inform you that you're sitting in his MAKOM KAVUA, personal seat? Pretty upsetting isn't it? I often feel like asking to see a deed or bill of sale, but I just meekly wander around looking for a new place. But, of course, by then there aren't so many seats to choose from. Shul isn't a good place to get into a fight. In spite of all the fights that have taken place there. This week let's explore this custom which is used to abuse guests to our holy sanctuaries, which of course has its source in this week's Torah reading.
The Shulchan ( Chaim 90:19) says, 'One should have a set place to pray and shouldn't change it without a good reason. Not only that but you should have a set place within the synagogue as well.' It seems that everyone knows this law buried 19 layers down in this section of the Code of Jewish Law, but do they know the other laws in the section? Like being amongst the first 10 to arrive in shul, or always praying with a minyan or that it's okay to spit in shul (my personal favorite). No, they only know that they have the right to harass people sitting in their regular seat. But we're not done, the commentaries (Be'er and others) explain that this rule means within a radius of 4 cubits about 2 meters or close to 7 feet for the metrically illiterate. That means that your MAKOM KAVUA isn't that seat, but any seat nearby in front, back or sides. The adds that it's impossible to diminish that area of 16 square cubits or 8 square meters. That's about 49 standard Israeli tiles, probably about half a dozen seats.
So, where does this custom (not obligation) come from? Well, in our , Avraham pleads for the people of , and then later he returns to check on their fate. The verse states, 'And he arose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord ( 19:27).' From this incident, the Talmud ( 6b) concludes that anyone who establishes a set place for prayer will receive support from the God of Avraham. How do you think Avraham would feel if he knew that people were pestering guests in his name? Please, remember welcoming guests is a mitzva from the Torah, having a set area in which to pray is a custom, an advised aid to better prayer.
And another thing! How do you put on your ? There's a great story about a newly married who went to his to inquire about what deep thoughts he should have while enwrapping himself in his new . The held him firmly in his gaze and said, 'Don't hit anyone with your tzitzit while enwrapping yourself! That should be your KAVANA (intent).' I love that story. Partially because I've gotten clobbered by flying tzitzit many times, but mostly because it really means that my mitzvot should never in any possible way disturb or, God forbid, hurt any other individual. While we're on the topic, look out with those LULAVIM, too. Thank God I wear glasses. Mitzvot should bring Jews together, never tear us apart.
But there's more! The holy Ari (Reb Yitzchak Luria, 1534-1572), was quoted as saying: Before a person begins to pray, one should accept the mitzva of V'AHAVTA L'REI'ACHA KAMOCHA (love your fellow like yourself). And have in mind to love every Jew as much they love themselves. Because through this, one's prayers will rise to heaven, included in the body of all Jews' prayers, and in this way the prayers will bear fruit. This led many of his followers to recite: HAREINI AL ATZMI MITZVAT V'AHAVTA L'REI'ACHA KAMOCHA, before davening. I say it before BARUCH SHE'AMAR. I don't know why this hasn't gotten into our prayer books. This custom is in the Shulchan commentary of the Magen Avraham ( Avraham , 1635-1682), who said, 'Before praying one should accept the mitzvah of loving others (introduction to Chaim, section 46).'
How do we accomplish this? I believe in two ways. First, and most famously, pray for others. We must include the needs of others in our prayers. Our Sages wrote the SHMONEH ESREH in the first-person plural for this reason. And, secondly, don't bother anyone else who's praying. Don't be too loud or overly active in a shul where everyone's quiet and still. Don't walk in front of people reciting the SHMONEH ESREH, wait for them to finish. And the biggest of them all: Don't talk while others are praying or reciting Kaddish. The rabbis have ranted about this for centuries. Nothing seems to work. If you really must share something, go outside.
Then there's the story about this Jew on LONGISLAND (that's one word). His son asked him why he goes to shul every Shabbat, even though he doesn't seem to pray. His father responded, 'You know my good friend, Mr. Schwartz? Well, he goes to shul to talk to God. I go to talk to Schwartz.' How many of us are like the father? Let's be like Mr. Schwartz.
Our Sages have raised communal prayer to the highest of Jewish principles. These prayers have replaced the holy offerings in the Beit . Sadly, not all the congregants have gotten the memo. When we invoke the names of our Patriarchs in our , let's also try to emulate them. We should try to picture how Avraham, Yitzchak and prayed, and attempt to replicate that image. Then we can model this behavior for our progeny. Imagine your grandchildren saying, 'I'd like to daven like .' Would that make you proud? Or embarrassed?
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