“Rav Helbo, in the name of Rav Huna, says When a [person] leaves the Synagogue, he [or she] should not take large steps.”
-Talmud Bavli Berachot 6b
In perusing the Talmud earlier this week, I stumbled upon this quote. The context of the quote comes from a discussion of whether or not it is permissible to “run” towards the synagogue for worship, or if that would be viewed as disrespectful. The rabbis agreed that it was perfectly fine to take large steps—to run—to synagogue, and that when one leaves, they should take small steps, perhaps implying that one should not be in a hurry to walk away from synagogue. However, like most concepts and quotes from our sages from the 5th century and before, this quote is open to interpretation as we address our own world view in the 21st century.
When I read the quote, I thought not about our physical steps, but about the metaphorical steps we take away from the synagogue and into the larger community. Knowing the history of the Jewish people, its history of oppression, discrimination, and forced isolationism, it makes sense that when we leave the synagogue, when we venture out into the rest of the word, we should do so at a slow pace. Some might view this as an interpretation to tread carefully and cautiously, but I do not necessarily see it that way. I believe that we should, slowly but surely, pull ourselves out of our schtetl’s, the isolated villages we have created for ourselves, either literally or figuratively, and enter through the doors of other houses of worship, other organizations, so that we, Jews, can be a part of the world reality. I realize, of course, that there is good reason why many might be hesitant to show their vulnerability to outside parties, considering our history. But what I always try to remind people, including myself, is that even when we were the most isolated, by choice or my force, living in only Jewish villages, working only with Jewish businesses, refusing entry to non-Jews into our houses of worship, there were still those that would enter our gates and destroy us. The true deterrent against our oppressors, then, isn’t isolation, but our public persona, our humanity. When you see someone as a human, as a brother or sister, you begin to deconstruct antisemitic views and stereotypes.
This is why Temple Israel’s connection with other houses of worship through interfaith councils, meetings, and events, as well as our partnering with non-denominational or secular organizations whose missions echo the thoughts of our own, is so important. In the time I have been here, I have seen Temple Israel’s connection with Lafayette Transitional Housing, Lafayette Urban Ministry, the United Way, Interfaith Leaders of Greater Lafayette, Downtown Ministers, and so many other organizations. And these are only the organizations I’ve personally been able to work with. I know that there are countless other ways that so many of our members also take metaphorical “small steps” away from the synagogue and into our community. It is through this work that we all ensure that Temple Israel, rather than being an unknown building with mysterious worship, continue to stand as a Temple, a synagogue, with open doors where those inside who want to end poverty, violence, and hunger.
As my first year at Temple Israel is swiftly coming to a close, I hope that we can all continue to take those small steps, making those moves that help illuminate the beauty, sincerity, and compassion of the Jews of the Greater Lafayette Area. I would also encourage you all to remember that in order to take small steps away from the synagogue, it can help to take those large ones to us as well. Indeed, if you want to be Talmudic, please, run our way! Wishing everyone a Happy Pesach!