I have always appreciated and valued the trait of loyalty in my friends. I truly think that it is one of the ties that bind you to life-long friends, and one trait that I hope others find in me. With loyalty though, often comes the giving of one’s time; whether one is comfortable with doing so or not. It is not just the keeping of confidences, or “having someone’s back” as they say, or picking your friend’s child up in the middle of the night, or caring for a sick friend, or helping out in a shiva home, it is truly being there for someone during both the good times and the bad.
This past Shabbos, with joy for my dear friend whose son was celebrating his bar mitzva, I put aside any discomfort I had and went to celebrate their simcha inside of the shul that had excluded me as a member. I had not set foot in that shul for Shabbos prayers in over two years. But for me, friendship comes first, not the opinion of others or that of rabbis who have failed me and my family.
As I listened to her son reading the Torah, I thought of how her husband and sons make my minyan Friday nights, how beautifully her older son davens for that minyan, how she visited me or sent food during each of my surgeries, our shared love of Indian food, and the times we have spent together. To see her truly happy that my partner, my daughter and I were there, made me know it was where I belonged on that day. Because I believe that actions speak louder than words, I entered that shul. I can call someone friend, but being there for that friend, who has been there for you, even at a small expense to one’s own self, is what strengthens the ties of friendship. In fact, it is how I believe friends become family.
In that shul, I davened beside my partner and daughter, I listened to the Torah reading, and enjoyed a beautiful kiddush with many friends. I also heard the words of the rabbi as he spoke about the weekly Torah portion, Parashat Nitzavim; a parasha that tells of Moshe Rabbeinu gathering all of the Jews before Hashem, as they prepare to enter the Land of Israel. But when this rabbi spoke I was saddened, because his words to me were hypocritical, empty and impotent. He spoke about a community coming together, a community gathering everyone. But I knew that was not the reality of his actions. His actions spoke louder than his words. While Moshe Rabbeinu gathered all of the Jews, men, women, children, and even the stranger, just outside of our homeland so long ago, I sat there, in that shul, the stranger, different from the others, knowing I was not truly welcome; not part of the shul community this rabbi wished to gather.
Delving further into Nitzavim, according to Rashi, Moshe even speaks to the Jews who are not actually present “whoever is not here with us today” (Artscroll Nitzavim 29:14); to the generations not yet even in existence, the generations to come. Moshe Rabbeinu spoke to all of us, even to me. At the end of the parasha, Moshe tells the gathered Jews to choose life through Hashem’s mitzvot and to love Hashem. I do both. But for some people that is not enough. It is as if the fit versus the unfit are chosen to enter this shul, like a process of selection, one I know Hashem wants no part of; for Hashem calls to and wants every Jew, even the stranger, to come home to Him. It is right there in the parasha.
But despite my being different, I choose to be a frum Jew. I choose to live in a frum world, to keep Shabbat, and to keep Hashem’s mitzvot. I choose to be a part of simchas, because it brings joy to me and my friends. These I choose to do, because actions speak louder than words. For me, doing mitzvot and being frum, participating in acts of Ahavat Yisrael, are a sanctification of G-d’s name. Indeed, I found such a sentiment expressed in the Koren Noe Edition’s introduction to Bava Metzia (now being studied in the Daf Yomi cycle), which discusses matters of civil law. The scholars there wrote: “A basic element in Jewish civil law is the integration of compassion with justice. To a large extent, the halakha goes beyond the requirements of justice. The obligation to relate to others with compassion and generosity is not merely a supererogatory addition to one’s legal obligations; it is normative halakha that is derived from the conception of the Jewish people as one family.” (Introduction, Koren Talmud Bavli, 2016)
As I davened this Rosh Hashana, in a different shul, one in which my friends made us their honorary family and obtained seats for us, so we too could hear the sounds of the Shofar, and welcome in the New Year with hope in our hearts, I noticed that right before the chazzan gathers the congregation for Birkat Kohanim (the Priestly Blessing), much like Moshe Rabeinu gathered the children of Israel, the last thing we ask of Hashem is that He remove “baseless hatred from upon us and from all members of Your covenant” (Artscroll, Machzor Rosh Hashana).
It is as if right before Hashem inscribes us all for a good life, and the Kohanim bless us with their three blessings, it is there that Hashem wants us to recognize that we must not hate each other, we must integrate compassion with justice, and we must treat others with generosity. Our actions must be louder than our words. It is only then that we are fit for Hashem’s many blessings. May we all be zoche to achieve these goals, may we all look into our hearts and beyond our egos to eradicate harm and hatred, to make amends, and to repair the damage we have caused each other. Wishing you all a Shana Tova, an easy fast and may we all be inscribed together in the Book of Life. I am certain it is what Moshe Rabeinu would have wanted for all of us, his family – the children of Israel.