Once Rabbi Lev Yitzchak of Bereditchev went to the marketplace in the middle of a busy weekday. There he stood and proclaimed lessons from the Torah. One of the men in the market said, “Rabbi, with all due respect, we are trying to conduct business here.” “I’m sorry,” replied the Bereditchever. “I just thought that since you always talk business in the synagogue, I could talk Torah in the marketplace.”
In theory worshippers speak of different matters in the shul than in the street. But all too often we do not adjust our attitudes at all. Even on Shabbat morning people will strike deals and gossip just as freely with a prayer book in hand.
The synagogue is, at its best, a true sanctuary, even from one’s own work. It should provide a break from the getting and spending and grasping that characterizes the market. The doors open to a place for safety and spirit. The Berditchever was right of course — there is room for Torah in the marketplace. But it serves us all well if in the shul there is a chance to retire from the rigors of work and renew one’s soul.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press), has recently been published.