Having been selected by my recently re opened shul’s pandemic lottery to attend Shabbat morning services, I davened pesukei zimrah at home per the shul’s pandemic guidelines, walked to shul in my tallit, donned my mask, and entered the main sanctuary. I sat in one of the “designated seats” along with 15 or so other worshipers in the sanctuary that normally would have been filed with several hundred worshipers on a Shabbat morning. This was not my first time in shul since it “reopened” two weeks ago. I have attended early morning weekday services in the synagogue’s social hall. But this was my first Shabbat in shul in three months and the first time I was able to daven in the main sanctuary.
As I sat in shul, masked and separated from everyone else, I could not help but take note of how very different (and to me depressing) the scene was from a normal Shabbat morning. No singing. No Rabbi’s speech. No children running up and down the isles in search of the candy men. No greetings of Shabbat Shalom from one to the other. No distribution of aliyot. And most notable of all – no talking.
It made me think of the great Rabbinic scholar, known as the Tosfot Yom Tov, Rabbi Yom Tov Lippman Heller who served as the Chief Rabbi of Vienna and then of Prague in the early 1600s. In 1643 he became the Chief Rabbi of Krakow succeeding the famed Rabbi Yoel Sirkus, known as the Bach. During 1648-1649 many Jews were killed in the Chmielnicki Massacres. In response, after a dream in which it was revealed to him that the massacres were a punishment for talking in the synagogue, he wrote a special prayer for those who refrain from talking during davening. In many synagogues today this blessing is recited.
It dawned on me, perhaps, the limited welcome which the Almighty has afforded us after our synagogues were shuttered for three months is a Divinely inspired teaching moment. It is as if the Almighty is saying to us all, “You want to return to shul, then conduct yourselves with dignity and respect. Control yourselves. Concentrate on your prayers. Don’t talk in shul.”