Yaakov Jaffe
Rabbi, Maimonides Kehillah; Dean, Maimonides School

The morning we returned to shul

This morning we returned to shul, for the first time in months. With Davening outside – in the interest of safety – you could not envision a day with better weather. The deep green leaves of the trees radiated across the clear, crystal-blue sky. The yellow rising-sun stood due east as we davened, contrasting with the deep red brick in the courtyard where we prayed. Though not a formal synagogue, our outdoor davening space was imbued with the kedusha and holiness of having been named for one of the kedoshim who passed away Al Kiddush Hashem. And 19 of us men and women returned to daven together, after not having had enjoyed minyan and communal prayers for weeks.

We were joined happily by the chirping birds outside and somewhat more disruptively by the breaking trucks on the nearby Worcester Turnpike (a few times, we paused during kaddish for truck noise), and also by a few ants, the industrious heroes of the book of Mishlei which I have been reading recently. When we recited Kedusha and proclaimed, now with a minyan “Melo Kol Ha-Aretz Kevodo” the entire world is filled with His Glory – my spiritual side truly felt a Divine glory now being brought down to a new prayer space, a new outdoor (well ventilated) shul which will hopefully be our new prayer home for the next few months.

Our Chazzan, now beginning his year of Kaddish recitation two and a half months after the loss of his father, projected loudly over the space of more than 70 socially-distanced feet “Yisgadal ve-yiskadash” may the Name become great and holy – signaling that in this difficult time in our community, in our country, and for the planet at large, we so desperately yearn that G-d’s Great Name and presence expand even more widely and bring Its goodness to the world that so desperately needs it.

The morning was bittersweet for all of us. We had not yet worked out the logistics for Torah reading so we missed communal Kriyat Ha-Torah this morning.  We davened in masks, unable to fully appreciate each other’s faces. Some of our eldest minyan attendees, especially our two stalwarts in their 90s, were unable to attend. And when we recited Tachnaun we were reminded of our terrible pandemic with the words ‘remove from us the plague of death’ and of our national unrest with the words ‘And may tumult and fury not prevail over us.’  Whatever small step forward this morning represented, there are many more steps still needed.

But I am comforted by the words of Zecharya “Mi Baz Le-Yom Ketanot” who would despise a day of small beginnings, that small starts signal greater growth and brighter futures.  Today’s return to shul will hopefully herald many more opportunities to resume prayer, resume community, and resume communal prayer in the weeks and months to come.

As our shuls continue to fill and as healing overwhelms sickness, may we soon truly feel again that the whole word is full with G-d’s Glory – in each and every way.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Jaffe is the Rabbi of the Maimonides Kehillah, and the Dean of Judaic Studies at the Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass.
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