Sign In Forgot Password

Developing a community in Pomona

12/22/2013 11:54:30 PM


The phrase Bnei Yisroel can refer either to the children of Yaakov or to the People of Israel.

There is one place where it even has ramifications for a halachah.  When the rationale for the prohibition to eat the sciatic nerve is presented (Bereishis 32:33), the pasuk says, “Therefore, Bnei Yisroel shall not eat the sciatic nerve...”.  The Mishnah in Chullin (7:6) records a dispute if the term Bnei Yisroel in this pasuk refers to the children of Yaakov or to the people of Israel.  If the phrase refers to the sons of Yaakov, then the prohibition of eating the sciatic nerve applies to anything they were permitted to eat, including non-kosher animals.  If the term refers to the People of Israel, then the prohibition of consuming the nerve applies only to kosher animals.

At what point in the Chumash does the phrase cease to refer to the children of Yaakov and refer to the People of Israel instead?

The first pasuk in this week’s parshah begins, “And these are the names of Bnei Yisroel,” and proceeds to enumerate the children and grandchildren of Yaakov.  However, in verse 9, we find Pharaoh declaring that, “the nation Bnei Yisroel is more numerous than us.”  The children of Yaakov have become a nation; they have become a community; they have become a tzibbur.

In Devarim (4:20), Egypt is deemed the “kur habarzel”, the iron crucible in which the Jewish People; the Nation of Israel, was purified and formed.


Simultaneous to the formation of this tzibbur, the Torah spotlights an individual, namely Moshe Rabbeinu.  The Torah tells us that he “grew up” (Shmos 1:10), and his mother gave him back to the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then, the Torah again says that Moshe “grew up” (ibid 1:11) and went out to his brethren.  Rashi explains that the first growth refers to physical maturity, while the second relates to authority.  Moshe was, after all, a Prince of Egypt, being raised by Pharaoh’s own daughter.

However, in the manner of drush, there is another form of maturity being hinted to here as well.

When Moshe goes out to his brethren and sees their suffering, he encounters an Egyptian beating an Ivri from his brethren.  Remember, Moshe was an Ivri, but at the same time an Egyptian.  This situation pushes Moshe to decide with whom his lot belongs.  Is he in essence an Egyptian, and the oppressor, or is he a victimized, enslaved Ivri.  The Torah therefore tells us that he “looked this way and that way,” meaning that, in the manner of drush, he looked inside of himself in both directions, at the Egyptian within him and the Ivri within him - “and he saw that there was no man,” meaning he saw that he could not continue undefined.  Moshe needed to define his identity.  Deciding that he was an Ivri, he smote the Egyptian within him, and buried him in the proverbial sand.

The next day, Moshe sees an Ivri harassing another Ivri.  Even under the umbrella of Ivri, there are subsets.  There are various modes of serving Hashem, and one must choose the one that resonates with his personality and allows him to fulfill his potential as a servant of God.


In this episode we find challenges of an individual vis a vis the community, and challenges of the community itself.


Identity: Moshe struggles to identify himself.  The Jewish People also struggled with this.  The Midrash tells us that they maintained their names and their language, but these are rather superficial elements.  The Zohar HaKadosh comments that even at the moment the Jews crossed the Red Sea, the angels looked at them and commented, “These and these are both idolators, why are these drowning and these being saved?”  The superficial cultural distinction notwithstanding, the angels could not distinguish between the Jews and the Egyptians due to philosophical assimilation.

(The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim explains basically all the chukim as designed to root out false beliefs from within us due to this type of assimilation.  Take, for example, the mitzvah to cover blood after shechitah.  The world used to believe that when one killed an animal and pooled its blood, the demons would come and tell him the future.  Therefore, the Torah commands us to either pour the blood on the altar or cover it, depending on the type of animal involved.  An animal that could be sacrificed would have its blood sprinkled on the altar, while the blood of an animal that was not sacrificed would have to be covered.  This accounts for the distinction between beheimah and chayah.  When one is forced to cover the blood it leads to a rejection of the value of pooling it, and in this way the false belief can be uprooted.)

A tzibbur needs to define itself.  What makes us unique?  Klal Yisroel is a tzibbur, but within it are many smaller subsets.


The individual vs. the tzibbur: Everyone has the challenge of how to balance his commitment to the community with his family, his work and himself.  There is a limited amount of time.  When Moshe Rabbeinu decided to kill the Egyptian, did he think that the next day his life would go back to normal?  Obviously, this decision to identify with the Ivriim, in a total way, was going to have major consequences.  This was a serious sacrifice for the tzibbur.  Ultimately, Moshe would be exiled for his act, but to him it was worth it; it was necessary; it was what he had to do.  This was a sacrifice for the community he identified with.


Interpersonal struggles: Moshe Rabbeinu sees two Jews fighting - can you believe it?  A community has challenges; people will not always agree.  Compromise is necessary for a community to function and progress.  Disputes arise and have to be addressed.  This is a healthy reality of a community, not something to despair over.


External pressures: Every community has external pressures and issues.  How to deal with the oppressors, with a Pharaoh, with outside pressures, is a challenge for every tzibbur.


A tzibbur is more than a collection of individuals.  In Halachah, this is expressed in the daily sacrifice, the korban tamid.  The tamid was a communal sacrifice, it was for all of the Jewish People.  It was not a sacrifice of individuals; it was not a sacrifice of individual partners.  That would have caused some serious problems.  The tamid was a sacrifice of the tzibbur.  An entity that is larger than the sum of its parts.  A tzibbur takes on a life of its own.  It has values, a culture, inside jokes, even social pressures, be they positive or negative.


I am not speaking about next week, or next month.  But down the road, in the future, what is our for the shul?  Is it merely a convenient Shabbos minyan or is it a focal point of a tzibbur?

We could be satisfied with a comfortable, pleasant place to daven on Shabbos.  Or, we could have a shul that is the focal point of our lives, where we go to daven shacharis before we start work and finish the day with maariv and then satisfy our soul’s need for Torah.

Where we all know each other and gain chizuk and inspiration from one another.

Where we never feel alone, because we know others are looking out for us and care.

In good times and, God forbid, the opposite, we can have a community that is excited when there is a simchah, and prepared with open arms and hearts when there is, God forbid the opposite.  We could be many individuals all living in the same area, engaged in a type of parallel play, or we can become an interactive community.


How do we get there from here?

My family moved around a lot when I was a child.  When we would arrive in a new community I felt like an outsider.  After a while though, it seemed like I had always been there (it always seemed like that’s when we moved...).  After having enough shared experiences, I had become part of the community, to the extent that it became hard to remember what it had been like before I had arrived.

What defines a community is its shared values and visions, but what creates the sense of community is shared experiences and relationships.

I want to share three opportunities with you:

A member of our community, Reb Baruch, is making a kiddush this Shabbos; a seudas hodaah - I will let him explain.  This is an opportunity to come together as a community, to share in his simchah; in his yeshuah.

Sunday, January 12th is an opportunity to create a sense of community with the upcoming Pomona Family Fun day.  The heiliger Balooner Rebbe will be there.  Make sure to register so that your children get balloons!  It is not davening, it is not a shiur, it is an opportunity for the community to come together; to share experiences; to show that we are united, and to demonstrate that we are a community shul.  We are not merely a convenient place to daven on Shabbos, but we have groups for children; we have family events; we are prepared to create a community in Pomona.  Please spread the word and bring your family.

Finally, my Rebbitzen and I are hoping to meet with the members of our community, to get to know everyone personally.  Please let us know when you are available, we will be sending out emails and making phone calls.


Until now, my family has lived in Washington Heights.  In Washington Heights, the “community,” is whatever is left of the Yekes.  Everyone else is transient.  In Pomona, people are here to stay (at least until moshiach becomes clear - then maybe we can create a Pomona community together somewhere in Eretz Yisroel).  We need a community.  We need the support of a community, the structure of a community, the opportunities that only a community can provide.


Imagine, one day, b’ezras Hashem, we will look back from our community’s edifice (wherever it may be) and remember our humble beginnings in the basement of 12 Beaver Dam Rd.

  21 Sivan 5783