When the pandemic first started and shuls shut down, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, there is something refreshing about waking up whenever you choose, throwing on a pair of tzitzit, and praying at your own leisure. It’s no small convenience, which would explain why many Modern Orthodox Jews, particularly younger ones, are having such a hard time making their way back to shul.
Many shuls now require masks and standing apart from one another, which means shul is no longer the fun social experience it used to be, filled with singing, divrei Torah, dancing, and kiddushing. Many are resisting returning to shul until everything is “back to normal.”
One of my friends said he didn’t want his children to have a negative shul experience, so they daven at home. Another admitted that he was never a “shul guy” to begin with, and not being able to hang out for Kiddush was a deal breaker for him. Another said shul isn’t fun, and he loves to serve G-d with happiness. Yet another hates wearing a mask and stays home for that reason. (Now, that I get.)
I might have felt a bit of all these sentiments at one time or another, yet for some reason I still pushed myself. The first time I returned to shul was back in June when the mosquitoes in Florida were out in full force in our temporary shul tent. On my walk home, I remember thinking, “What’s the point of coming to shul under such uncomfortable circumstances?”
And then I thought about Noah and Abraham. We know – as the Torah tells us – that Noah walked with G-d while Abraham walked before G-d. Noah was told that G-d was going to destroy the world and followed G-d’s directive to build an ark. He never begged G-d to change His mind nor did he save anyone other than his family and the animals he was told to bring into the ark.
In contrast, Abraham, when told about Sodom’s imminent destruction, pleaded repeatedly with G-d to spare it despite the evil nature of its people. And as a result of going before G-d, as opposed to simply going along with G-d, Abraham was catapulted into the pantheons of greatness. He is the father of monotheism and our very first forefather.
Many of us have legitimate reasons for not wanting to run back to shul (and obviously, health comes first). But Hashem loves us and misses us and wants to see us come out for Him, especially when it’s inconvenient. When it’s 20 below zero and the bleachers are empty, the arrival of 20 loyal fans to cheer on the home team from this crucial section says something to the players.
Think about it another way: Imagine going every week to the palace of the king to sing his praises. Soon lavish trays of food and the finest scotches become a staple – along with a growing number of visitors. One night, the king and queen get into a discussion on the true nature of people. They wonder: Are the crowds coming to pay homage to the king or to enjoy the food and drinks?
So they decide to stop serving all food and drinks and wait to see if anything would change. Unfortunately, things do change. Within two weeks, the size of the crowd decreases by 80 percent. The king is disappointed, but at least he’s gained insight on who’s truly loyal to the kingdom.
Going to shul today is tough, but when the going gets tough, the tough… become Avraham Avinus! Avraham could have followed Noah’s example and not defended the people of Sodom. But Hashem was looking for a different type of leader for the Jewish people. One who would go beyond the call of duty.
So let us come to the king’s castle, masks and all, and continue to sing His praises. Let us show G-d that we will be there, rain or shine, even when it’s not so fun. (And before you know it, cholent, kishka, and maybe some overnight potato kugel will be available for your Shabbos delight once again.)