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Welcoming Everyone

03/30/2017 10:02:22 AM


There are many teachings in Judaism regarding how we should be gracious and  inclusive. Have you ever thought about why the Seder includes four different types of children? We acknowledge the wise child, the simple one, the one who doesn't know how to ask a question, and the wicked child.  Wait a minute…. the wicked child, the one who derisively asks what does this mean to you?  Yes, even this one!

One of the amazing sources for including the wicked as an important part of our people stems from an understanding of incense. In the Torah, we received a mitzvah that was performed in the days of the Tabernacle and the Temple. Eleven different spices were procured and then ground together to make a very pleasing scent.  This incense, ketoret in Hebrew, was offered on the inner altar every day, morning and evening.

What is surprising is that one of the essential ingredients in this ketoret was chelbenah (galbanum). This scent by itself was extremely foul! Yet, when mixed together with the other ten ingredients, the resulting blend was more pleasing than if it were absent!

The great Rav Kook, first chief Rabbi of modern Israel, taught that there was a special lesson. The galbanum was symbolic of the wicked in our midst. Even they are part of our people. They are part of our community, our congregation, our family.

More than this, in Olat R'aya Rav Kook states: “This comes to teach us that when all the forces of Israel unite for the sake of a sanctified goal, the inner merit of the sinners of Israel is revealed, and they too join to aid in the rectification of the Jewish nation and the world.”

This idea of unity can be seen in the Hebrew word for community. Rav Yosef Patzanovski in Pardes Yosef taught: “The word TziBuR (צבור) is an acronym for TZaddikim (righteous people) Beinonim (average people) and Reshaim (wicked people).”

Remember right before Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur eve, we recite a prayer “Al Daat Hamakom”, in which we say that we are allowing ourselves as a community to pray with those who have sinned?  Why? Isn't it because a true community is united with all its members, the righteous, the average and even the “wicked”!

I had the privilege of learning with Rav Shlomo Riskin in my earliest days at Yeshiva University. (He is now the Rabbi of the Efrat community in Israel.) There is a beautiful story about him, showing his love for each of us and in his being inclusive. On one trip to Israel, there was a minyan forming on the El Al flight. One man took it upon himself to find the necessary ten, but he was only interested in those who were wearing tzitzit and kept the Shabbat very strictly. This man, unaware of whom he was waking, was trying to see if Rav Riskin had on tzitzit! When he realized he was wearing them, he invited the Rav to the minyan, saying that they were only interested in true Shabbat observers.

Rabbi Riskin answered him that if that were the case, no thank you, he would wait for a minyan that had ALL Jews welcome to attend. After all, that was what a tzibur, a community really is! How can you cut out someone who wants to be a part of the community, when that individual is sincerely desiring to become actively involved?

This, then, is what we need to internalize, making it an essential part of us. When we truly achieve this elevated thinking and action, may we then be worthy of the time of the Messianic Era, when all will know peace and experience Hashem's presence!

Penny and I wish you and your families Chag Kasher v'Sameach!

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782