The rabbi of our synagogue is always exhorting the members to come to services. Come for selichot, for shacharit every morning, for mincha/maariv on Shabbat afternoon. Honestly, Iím busy, I have work and family, and I donít find prayer services particularly meaningful. Why should I go to shul? Whatís in it for me?
Many believe that synagogue attendance is required only for rabbis and perhaps other seriously religious people. This is a mistaken impression.
Unbeknownst to many, Judaism is a religion without a priesthood or ordained clergy, at least not in the, let’s say “catholic” sense. Rabbinic Judaism or the Judaism of the Rabbis that is practiced in most all of today’s world is a religion of the people. The ancient caste known as Kohanim (priests) and along with them the Levi’im (Levites) maintain an honored but severely restricted role in our own day.
Try as you may, you will not find an explicit reference in the Torah to the position of ‘Rabbi.’ I will avoid at this juncture mentioning the Rabbinic source material that shows by means of select Torah verses that there are allusions in the Torah to the Rabbis, Sages and Teachers.
Suffice it to say that Rabbis are merely Jews that have devoted themselves to greater study of Torah than many others and have devoted themselves, perhaps in an exemplary fashion to the Jewish community.
That being said, religious practice, including the mitzvah (commandment) for tefillah (prayer) and public prayer (tefillah b’tzibur) is an individual and communal requirement. Without this, there can be no true concept of Jewish community or kehillah.
Busy-ness and other excuses are excuses and nothing more. Everyone is busy, including the Rabbi. Everyone has something else they can be doing.
Let us look at it this way; the Rabbi of the congregation is helping the congregants to fulfill themselves through the practice of Torah and mitzvot. It is your responsibility to help the Rabbi help you and others like you.
It is your mazal that you have a Rabbi so devoted to your community that the Rabbi seeks you out and the other synagogue members to fulfill these important mitzvot.
One of Judaism’s fundamental insights about the human condition is that we need community to be full human beings. In the story of Creation, the first thing that God labeled as “not good” was loneliness—lo tov heyot ha’adam levado—it’s not good for human beings to be alone.
Our Tradition requires that a minyan, a quorum of ten Jewish adults, be present both for the saying of the Wedding Blessings and for the Mourner Kaddish—because life’s sweet moments are more joyful when shared with others and life’s inevitable tragedies are easier to bear when we have one another to lean on. In between those peak moments, our day to day prayers also require a minyan, so that we continue to build deeper and deeper lines of connection with the members of our community.
The blessing of being an active participant in your synagogue is the ongoing presence of caring community that can support you, share with you, challenge you, and help you to continue to grow toward a life of greater meaning, purpose, and holiness. In our alienating, disconnected modern world—what could be more essential than that?
That said, not every part of the synagogue experience will be right for every person at every time in their lives. Some will be drawn to participate in prayer, others in learning, others in volunteer work, and others in the pursuit of social justice. If prayer services are not the right way for your connect with your community, I invite you to think broadly about what might be your route in. A world of blessing awaits.
No doubt, prayer and worship are difficult activities for many of us. Without practice, it is difficult to acquire either skill or understanding for the activity. That is highlighted especially in the framing of this query. "What's in it for me?" I "pray" the inquirer will forgive me, but this is such an American perspective on so many activities and/or skills that don't seem to have a practical application. The language suggests that we are consumers of Judaism rather than its practitioners. As opposed to what one may get from attendance at services (by the way, I think regular participation does have substantial benefit for our growth in spirit and character), I would prefer the focus be on what a person may bring, share or give to those who assemble with us. As a friend once suggested to another congregant, "I come to synagogue because you are here." I understand that to mean that we help create a community, enrich other lives and in so doing grow our selves and souls. One other thought: try another Shul.
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