Closing shuls is a big deal

Shockwaves reverberated through our community after our chief rabbi announced that we would close our shuls in the face of the global spread of coronavirus (BH not yet rampant in SA, we pray that it remains this way).

“In 175 years of South African Jewry,” Chief Rabbi Goldstein reminded us, “we have never closed our Shuls.” South African Jews were brought up on a staple diet of Friday night Shul. In the 80’s, our Shuls had massive overflows over Yom Tov, and people stood in the aisles on most Friday nights.

As SA Jews began to emigrate, Shul life picked up in Perth, Boca and Irvine. Every year, at the international Chabad Kinus, at least one American or Australian rabbi reminds me how South African Jewry either saved or built their Shul.

Shul is and has always been integral to South African Jewry.

To close our Shuls is a big deal. I heard that in the stream of lump-in-throat messages i (and most of my colleagues) received straight after that heavy-hearted announcement.

It. Is. A. Big. Deal.

Shabbos will be eerily quiet. We will celebrate with only our immediate families; even our own grandparents will have to sit this one out.

Some may find it disheartening, even depressing. Some itch to defy the ban and run clandestine Shabbos Shuls. I don’t blame them. Stalin could not close every minyan in the USSR, it defies reason that we should do so here, in the Rainbow Nation.

We need not be despondent. This should be a Shabbos of joy. It is the final Shabbos of Adar, the most joyous Jewish month, and it blesses the supernatural month of Nissan.

A friend of mine shared a story this week of an Israeli officer who had asked the Rebbe a painful question during a personal audience,

“Rebbe, I was fighting for Israel and found myself in a battle that I was certain we would lose. We were outnumbered and outgunned and had no way to overcome the enemy. In that critical time, I promised Hashem that, if I would survive, I would put on Tefillin every single day!

“Miraculously, we overcome the enemy force and my whole unit survived. But, in the battle, I lost my left arm. Now, I will never wear Tefillin, as I had promised to do.

“Why, Rebbe? Why did Hashem take away the one way in which I had undertaken to say thank you to Him?”

The Rebbe paused before his reply,”Hashem wants you to know that He loves you even without you putting on Tefillin!”

This Shabbos, know that Hashem loves you, even without being at Shul.

The same G-d Who mandated davening and who calls us to Shul every day, also places the highest premium on human life. Everyone knows that we break Shabbos or kosher or even Yom Kippur to save a life.

G-d loves His Torah. He loves His Shul services. But, He loves us more.

If coming to Shul might endanger just one of us, He expects us to shut it all down to protect that one person.

You have a choice this Shabbos. You could fret over the bizarre fact that none of us will attend Shul. Or, you could marvel over how valuable each of us is to Hashem. He loves you and I more than tens of the thousands of prayers that He will miss this week.

And that is a big deal.

Stay safe and have a good Shabbos!

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler together with his wife, Naomi and their eight children, runs Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group.
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