Teachings on Community
Rabbi Uhrbach’s Writings on Community
COMMUNITY AND MINYAN
Community occupies a particularly lofty perch in the hierarchy of Jewish values. Hillel taught: al tifros min ha-tzibbur — do not separate yourself from the community (Pirkei Avot 2:4). We learn in the Talmud (Shevuot 39a) that “all Israel are sureties one for another.” Perhaps most saliently, we are taught that prayer ideally takes place in the context of community, in a minyan of at least ten Jewish adults. From a technical perspective, the requirement of minyan dictates which prayers may be recited by the lone individual, and which prayers (i.e., those relating to holiness) may only be included in public worship. But the concept of minyan has far-reaching implications, well beyond the context of prayer.
The notion of minyan is grounded in the idea that the Presence of God rests only within the context of community (Berakhot 21b; Zohar II 129b). It points to the inherent interdependence of our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. Judaism is suspicious of the isolated individual spiritual quest, of the desire to look upward in search of God without looking outward and truly seeing each other. The requirement of minyan reflects the paradox that the only way to fulfill our potential as individuals is to sacrifice some of our individuality for the sake of the community. As Rav Joseph Soloveitchik says, “In a word, man, in order to realize himself, must be alone, but, at the same time, he must be a member of a community.” Judaism sees community as not only a practical but a spiritual and even existential necessity. Continue reading this teaching.
FAITH IN GOD, FAITH IN OURSELVES
One of the most compelling features of Judaism is the insight that our relationship with God and our relationships with other people are interdependent. The most frequently cited example of this is probably Leviticus 19, the “holiness code.” There, we find mitzvot bein adam l’makom (commandments addressed to the relationship between a person and God) intermingled with mitzvot bein adam l’havero (commandments addressed to the relationship between two people). The mixing of the two, we are taught, reminds us that ritual Judaism (rectitude in the vertical relationship with God) and the ethical Judaism (rectitude in the horizontal relationships with each other) are not two separate realms, but inextricably linked.
The same is true of faith. Most of us, when we think about faith, think about our belief (or doubt or lack of belief) in the Divine or a higher power of some sort — what many of us call God. But there is another aspect of faith, inexplicably intertwined with our faith in God: faith in human beings and in human nature. As Jews, we are called to have faith in both God and in Israel (and by extension all humanity). One cannot exist without the other. Continue reading this teaching
COMMUNITY AND COMFORT
Our tradition places tremendous emphasis on the importance of community, and most of us intuitively feel some desire for it. We know that we need other people, and that having a place “where everybody knows your name” can be deeply comforting. In difficult times, even those of us who are very private, or have deep ambivalence about communal activities, may find ourselves wanting more connection with some kind of community.
But what is community really, and Jewish community in particular? Continue reading this teaching