These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PCJE] Nitzavim, or On Being #9

Posted on September 17, 2014 by Geo Poor

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Geo PoorParshat Nitzavim starts with the children of Israel nitzavim – standing – before God and community, ready to enter into covenant, a covenant with rights and responsibilities, in order to become established as a people. At first glance, this seemed to me like a perfectly logical entrance to a covenant, but then it occurred to me: was the covenant not established with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and at the Exodus, and at Sinai…? Were the people of Israel not referred to as “am,” as a nation? Why this strong image of the entire people standing together before not just God, but each other? Why does the Torah point out that it is not just the elders and leaders, but everyone “from woodchopper to water bearer”?

Since the beginning of Pardes, I have been doing something unusual for me – something I have resisted strongly for the past decade – going to services twice almost every day. Sometimes I feel a deep spiritual fulfillment from the prayer, sometimes I do not. Recently, I was going through some intense personal issues. While I attended minyan, surrounded by my newfound community, I found myself breaking down in tears during every service (perhaps I will write more about this experience later). Pardes has different minyanim throughout the week: “creative,” egalitarian, and mechitza. I, having the ability to be counted in all three minyanim, have rotated among the three.

Last week there was one morning in which I was #9 in both minyanim. Both wanted me to be in their room to bring them closer to the required 10, but alas, I was not enough. As I popped from room to room to see if I was finally #10, I thought of the other 80ish people here at Pardes. Daily each minyan asks me if I am going to be there tomorrow. Often I am asked to lead or play another part in the service.

We have a tendency in the [non-Orthodox] Jewish community to focus on the same small group of lay leaders. We, the leaders, need those 10 people to step up because we can’t get the rest of the community to do so. We rely, foolishly, on the same 10, so much so that when one takes a well-deserved break, we cannot function.

The people of Israel stand together, ready to re-enter a covenant, not just with God, but with each other. They do so because entering a covenant, entering a community, is not a one time event. It is not enough just to join. When one is a part of a community, one must stand ready to fulfill his or her responsibility to every other member of the community. This covenant is what grants members of a community the rights of being part of that community. More importantly perhaps, it is this shared responsibility, this renewed commitment, that creates the community. Everyone has his or her own ways of serving the community, and that is what it is about – service, not necessarily services.

One does not have to stand every day.

One does not have to stand in every way.

But one must stand.

You might find yourself to be #10.