We are coming close to the end of the yearly cycle of reading the Torah. We will finish it, but can we complete it?
תּוֹרָ֥ה צִוָּה־לָ֖נוּ מֹשֶׁ֑ה מוֹרָשָׁ֖ה קְהִלַּ֥ת יַעֲקֹֽב׃
Moses commanded a law for us, A heritage of the congregation of Jacob.
It is impossible to fulfill all of the Mitzvot of the Torah! This is not a complaint, it is a fact! The reason for this reality is that there are Mitzvot that only apply to people in specific categories. There are Mitzvot that apply only to women, mitzvot for men only, and mitzvot for only Kohanim. There are Mitzvot that only apply to the King and some Mitzvot that only apply to those living in the Land of Israel.
However, despite this, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer claims that there is a way (we can call it a “hack”) to get credit for doing all of the Mitzvot. He says that when the Jewish people are unified and love each other then they are as one body. If so, a Mitzvah that is performed by one person (or part of the body) is “credited” to the rest of the body - the rest of the Jewish people.
He teaches that this lesson is embedded in the verse quoted above. God, through Moses, commanded the Torah to the Jewish people. However, it cannot be a heritage (Morasha) and cannot be fully fulfilled unless there is a “congregation of Jacob”, a unified and loving nation.
This idea is reminiscent of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s explanation of the benefit of communal prayer. ”Common prayer has many advantages...an individual rarely accomplishes their prayer without slips and errors. It has been laid down, therefore, that the individual recites the prayers of a community, and if possible in a community of not less than ten people, so that one makes up for the forgetfulness or error of the other. In this way [a complete prayer is gained, read with pure devotion. Its blessing rests on everyone] each receiving their portion. For the Divine Influence is as the rain which waters an area (if deserving of it), and includes some smaller portion which does not deserve it, but shares the general abundance…”(Kuzari 3:19)
Both of these ideas are profound and remind us of our interdependence. We need each other to be able to fulfill the mitzvot and to offer up a complete prayer. Thinking this way can change the way we view our fellow community members.
The deeper beauty of this rests in the notion that we never really know which of our fellow faith travellers are completing us.
As we get ready to complete the Torah (and start it again!) we should take some time to consider those who help us live more complete spiritual lives. Indeed, we should take time to realize that we need others and benefit from their presence in every facet of our life.
I will leave you with these uplifting words of Rabbi Dov Singer from his touching book of Prayer - “Prepare My Prayer: Recipes To Awaken The Soul.” (Pg. 134-135)
Communal prayer is not an individual's prayer said amongst others .
Rather it has a character and quality all its own .
The key offering of communal prayer is the ability to open our hearts to see ourselves not as private people but rather as part of an entire organism. To release us from the hold we have on ourselves , on our needs.
It is not by chance that our prayer is worded in the plural.
Because prayer's main tenant is the inner ability to rise above our solitude and be part of a whole , one with the community . The first gate of connection to the community of which we are part is to fill our heart with love.
Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the ERJCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of Judaism.