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No Mystery Here

By: Rav Aharon E. Wexler

In the last few weeks, the Torah introduced us to the Mishkan, its vessels, the Kohanim, and the service they would perform. The open public reading of the ‘boring’ technical details of the karbanot, is one of the most important aspects of Judaism and is one of the major differences between it and other religions of the time.

Other religions had what were called “mysteries”. The word comes to us from the Greek via the Latin mysterium which mean ‘secret rites’. These were that were known only to the priests and was forbidden to the masses. What went on in the ancient pagan temples was unknown to the common folk. In Judaism however, everyone not only knew EXACTLY what went on in the Temple, but layman and scholar alike debated the intricacies of the divine worship, leaving nothing mysterious. The reading of these passages serves as the democratization of Judaism which would be even more democratized as we moved from the Temple to the synagogue. No longer would there be only one place of worship, but synagogues were allowed to be built everywhere, thus easily accessible to all.  No longer would the rites be performed by the Kohen or Levite, but any adult male would be able to lead the services.

The word Synagogue, is the English rendering of the Greek word συναγωγή which is a rough translation of the Hebrew term, Beit Knesset, House of Gathering. One would think that the sages would call the institution, a Beit Tefila, but instead chose the word, Beit Knesset, House of Gathering, to inform us that the chief function of a Shul (Yiddish), is to serve as a place for Jews to gather as Jews.

What is it that Jews do, when they gather? Well pray of course! (And talk, schmooze and socialize.) But the very word itself is to remind us that the synagogue is open to all Jews of every stripe! Only when the shul is open to everyone, can we then even think about prayer. Our Prayers are to be communal in both its wording and its form in order to make it clear that we are first and foremost a people, even before we are a theology. Only when we stood at Har Sinai, K’ish Echad B’Lev Echad, were we able to receive the Torah and we will continue to receive it in every generation if we remain firm in that vision that stood us strong 3,326 years ago.

Shabbat Shalom!





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