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rabbi's message

       

 

 

Dear Friends,

What motivates us to do the right thing? It’s a philosophical question that has been debated for many centuries – but it also has a huge impact on the concrete decisions that we make every day – about how we live as individuals and how we conduct ourselves as a community. And it’s a question that has been particularly on my mind as I’ve thought about our shul’s upcoming renovation.
 
Midrash Bereshit Rabbah records a dispute that took place between two important sages almost 2,000 years ago. They asked: what is the klal gadol ba-torah – the most important principle of the Torah? Rabbi Akiva proposed the verse in Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. His colleague Shimon Ben Azzai argued that the more important principle was “God created humanity in the likeness of God”, from the Book of Genesis.
 
Akiva’s choice is famously compelling. However, individual preferences and perceptions of what brings happiness and pain are very different. For this reason, the notion of rooting decisions about how to treat others in one’s own feelings or attitudes was troubling to Ben Azzai. His choice, by contrast, mandates that we treat others with respect, not because we understand their needs to be like our own but rather because, like us, they were created in God’s image.
 
“Our Narayever forebears made sure that
we have a building... Now it’s our turn to
make that building live up to our highest
values and aspirations.”
 
What bearing does this have on our plans for our shul building? Let’s look at the issue of accessibility. If we are “Akiva people”, we put ourselves in the place of those with a physical disability and we say: if that were me (and of course, it could be any of us since we are all, at best, “temporarily-abled”), I would be pained by being excluded from the community – so I must do something about it. If we are “Ben Azzai people”, we would acknowledge that every human being is created in God’s image and would say: they deserve to have access to the shul every bit as much as I do.
 
Both ways of thinking lead to the same conclusion: we have a Jewish responsibility to ensure that there are no physical barriers to entering our shul.
 
Of course, this project is not just about accessibility. So much of Jewish culture and ritual is about the transmission of our ancient heritage to the next generation: L’dor va-dor. Every generation has the obligation to ensure that it is a strong link in the Jewish chain and that it is doing the best it can to make that transmission happen. It is a responsibility that falls not just on parents, but on the community as a whole. Right now, our lack of discrete spaces for our kids’ programs is impeding our ability to fulfill this obligation.
 
Finally, I want to say a few words about the lack of a rabbi’s study. For me, the personal meetings I have are one of the most important aspect of my work. However, the solarium and the back of the sanctuary lack the privacy required for the kinds of personal and sensitive conversations I regularly conduct. The Narayever has grown to the point where the shul’s rabbi cannot do his or her work without a proper study.
 
Everyone has different means – that diversity is one of the strengths of our community. However, I hope I can count on all shul members to give as generously as they feel able in order to make this renovation a reality. Our Narayever forebears made sure that we have a shul building, and we’re thankful to them for that. Now it’s our turn to make that building live up to our highest values and aspirations.
 
Thank you.
Rabbi Ed Elkin
 
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Wed, September 18 2019 18 Elul 5779