My friend, Rabbi Avi Weiss, is the distinguished head of a yeshiva in New York City and a preeminent social activist. He was in town to support the opening of a new Orthodox congregation led by one of his students, Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, whom he wanted me to meet.
R. Darren is an English-born Generation X-er, who is married and has a two-year-old daughter. Not raised in an observant Jewish home, he is a blues guitarist who found his way to Israel, and ultimately to his religious vocation. We were drawn to one another, and he invited my wife and me to join him at a Friday night service. It’s been a while since I’d worshipped in an Orthodox congregation, but I wanted to support him and see him in action, so we attended his tiny store-front synagogue.
The Torah portion for the week had to do with a detailed description about how to build the Tabernacle that would travel with them through the desert. Every member of the tribes of Israel was commanded to contribute half a shekel towards the building of this sanctuary. More specifically, it was written that the money be used to purchase the silver sockets into which the supporting posts fit that held the entire structure together.
R. Darren asked the question: why such detail for a piece of insignificant hardware that was hardly visible? No similar detailed instructions were given about how the ark should be carved, or its materials, or how the scrolls should be covered, even though that’s what most people see. He offered this commentary: it’s not the gilded, most ornately visible trappings that sustain faith, but rather the participation of ordinary, mostly invisible, people who are the heart of the community. What supports a community of faith is a collective soul of nearly imperceptible sockets. One of the most important teachings he learned from his Rabbi, Avi Weiss, was that a community of faith is defined by the support it gives to its most vulnerable members: the invisible sockets that are ordinary people of faith.
Then he told this story . . . he had just gotten a call from a doctor in a hospital who was treating a patient with recurrent tumors. The doctor saw the patient’s wife sitting at his bedside reading the Tehillim, the book of psalms. The doctor asked her who their Rabbi was, because he would call him and ask him to visit. The patient’s wife said they did not have a Rabbi, so the doctor asked if he could call one for them, and he called the new Orthodox Rabbi in town. R. Darren spent time with this man and woman who had no organized affiliation to the Jewish community.
R. Darren said to his congregation, “I’m asking you to make Torah come alive, give your half shekel, be a holy socket and reach out to support our most vulnerable members.” Then he gave them the patient’s name, the hospital he was in, the floor and room number, and told them to live their faith.
In this storefront synagogue, sitting on a hard, uncomfortable, metal folding chair, a young Rabbi kindles my spirit, reminding me that if we can come together in community to heal ourselves, we can heal the world.