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Loneliness & Community

Friday, 8 February, 2019 - 6:48 pm

According to a 2018 large-scale survey from a major health care provider, a huge chunk of Americans suffer from strong feelings of loneliness and a lack of significance in their relationships. Almost half say they sometimes or always feel alone or “left out”, and 13% of Americans say that zero people know them well. The survey points out that loneliness seems to be getting worse in each successive generation even though we live in a world that is more interconnected than ever before.

Judaism has always placed a huge emphasis on building community and building institutions that will cultivate community. Yet in the end of the day, buildings alone to do not create community, instead they can merely facilitate and stimulate community when people they serve or who live nearby are ready to engage and build community.

Many people might be very productive and busy and running successful lives, yet at the same time might suffer from lack of friendships and the sense of being a part of a caring community. Just because we live in a generation where social networks allow us all to be connected and be “friends” with so many people, this does not mean that we have true and meaningful relationships that are healthy and wholesome.

Valuable relationships are ones that you have a shoulder to lean on when you need one, a hand to hold when you require one, friends who will be there for you for the joyous moments and challenging moments through thick and thin, and a common sense of shared meaning and purpose, that leads you to work together or be there for each other for a greater good.

Building Community

Creating a shared common goal for a higher pursuit is expressed so well in this week’s Torah Portion, where the instructions are being shared for how to build a Tabernacle, and a central place of worship for G-d, which was known as the Mishkan. As the instructions are given it is clear that every single person was to have a part at gifting something or donating a talent or contribution so that the Tabernacle could be built and in a sense be a full expression of the entire Jewish community.

While on the one hand, this new edifice was to be a place of worship to G-d and a place that would draw down the Shechina, the Divine presence into the Jewish Camp. On the other hand, it channeled and connected the people together for a higher altruistic cause and shared purpose.

Likewise, by extension this commandment is understood to mean, that in our personal lives, we need to tune in and fine tune our innermost selves so that they are expressive and reminders of the G-dly purpose of our existence. At the same time, on a communal level, this commandment extends to all synagogues that they continue to be the place on a smaller scale, where we welcome G-d into our presence and our lives, as a community, yet at the same time by doing so, we are creating community through our shared common goals and spiritual practice.

The Ban on Talking

Two hundred years ago, there lived a famous Chassidic Master who was known as Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov. His synagogue's elders were greatly disturbed by the many conversations that were happening during services and felt that they had to do something about it.

After a great deal of discussion, they established a new rule for the synagogue and posted it on all the walls: "From now on, no more trivial talk in this holy place. You come to worship, to study or to celebrate – and you go home. This is not a chicken market!"

But a few weeks later, Rabbi Moshe Leib got up and declared: "I am hereby revoking the new rule." The elders were stunned. "Why, Rebbe?" "The synagogue is so much quieter, so it seems to be working!"

Reb Moshe Leib answered: "Before this rule, people would come to shul and they would hear who needs a job, who is sick, and who has a cause for celebration. They would open their hearts to others people's lives, and they would end by helping by each other. Now people come to synagogue, do their spiritual thing and pray, and then they leave. They come as individuals and they leave as individuals; we've lost the communal connection. The talking ban is lifted! Talk among yourselves -- and motivate each other to be of help to those who need it!"

The saintly Reb Moshe Leib didn't mean that people should disrupt the sanctity of prayer and what we try and accomplish in a synagogue. Rather he meant that a Jewish community is inherently a place where people always think and care about each other.

Praying and attending services may be a good spiritual pursuit as you tune in to your inner self and contemplate your life and how you are doing. At the same time, it also has another huge plus, and that is building community and relationships, where attendance and connecting with people who come there, helps build real caring and connected friendships and relationships, breaking the trends of loneliness and more which are all too often on the rise.

Shabbat Shalom



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