I want to share with you a story which took place in Newcastle at a Bar Mitzvah in the Shul hall. I was seated next to a Rabbi from the nearby Gateshead community.
For those people who do not know let me explain; Gateshead is a very frum community, just the other side of the River Tyne. It is described by some as the Jewish University town of the Charedi world, because it is famous for its institutions of Higher Jewish learning. It boasts four Yeshivot and three Kollelim and two girls Seminaries, plus Jewish Primary and Secondary Schools.
Newcastle on the other hand, of which I was the Rabbi, is a mainstream- middle of the road Jewish community. With a mixture of people who are entirely Shomer Shabbat to people who virtually keep nothing at all.
People of all shades.
So I sit next to this Rabbi at this Bar Mitzvah.
This was the gist of the conversation:
“Rabbi Black- at the end of 120 years, you will Please G-d go up above to the pearly gates of heaven where the angels will ask you the following question: Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ben Shemariyahu HaCohen Black- You were the Rabbi of the Newcastle Jewish community for X amount of years. What did you achieve in that time allotted to you? Did you raise the standards of the community? Did you try to encourage people to keep Kosher? Did you make your community Shomer Shabbat? Because at the end of the day, if you did not, then it falls upon you- because you had the power and potential to do something about it and you did not, it is therefore your responsibility.”
I felt I had been attacked, personally challenged for my own shortcomings or for that of my community. My reaction to this Rabbi was as follows;
“Rabbi X – at the end of 120 years you are going up to the pearly gates up above and the angels will ask you the following question: You who lived in Gateshead for so many years- you who lived in a community which is so permeated with a love of Judaism and love of G-d. Did you take that love of Yiddishkeit- that love of Torah- that love of G-d, and did you share it with your fellow Jews who live in Newcastle- because if you did not- why didn’t you? Why was it good for you and not for your fellow Jews outside the daled amot; the four cubits of Torah learning in Gateshead. It’s all very good for the self, but what about the Jews who are outside your community. You spoke about love of Torah – love of Yiddishkeit and love of G-d but what about the love of your fellow Jews? And if it’s not there why not?”
The Rabbi from Gateshead was lost for words- he hadn’t expected such a sharp response.
But on reflection his words – his challenge to me was very real indeed. What he was saying to me and in a very direct way was that the Rabbi is the one who has the power, the potential to change community to transform individual lives, to lead them to the next stage in their religious development, to have the vision and programme for the future, and if he is not doing that and the community lacks growth – then ultimately, he is responsible.
And at the same time I realise that we all have the duty to share what we have with others. If we have some level of learning, if we understand an aspect of Torah in a particular way it’s all too easy to become separatist and not share what we have. It’s so simple to say I’m o.k where I’m at, why do I need to care about a zweiten yid- another Jew? When it’s cold outside it’s easy to wrap oneself up in the fur coat to keep oneself warm but what about other people. How do I warm them up in their Judaism?
We need to be friendly and warm and welcoming. Is there a new face in Shul today? Have we greeted and said Shabbat Shalom and invited them to our homes?
And it’s all got to do with Tisha B’Av-
Listen to this statement from the Gemara in Yoma:
The reason for the destruction of the First temple, says the Gemara was because of three cardinal sins in which they were steeped:
idolatry, bloodshed and immorality-
But what about the second temple- these sins were not rampant during the second Temple period so why was it destroyed?
Answers the Gemara: Sinat Chinam; Baseless hatred .
The nine days is the right time to reflect on our relationships with our fellow Jews.