In the Mishnah, our third century code of Jewish law, Rabbi Shammai asserts, “Greet every person with a cheerful countenance.” [Avot 1:15]
It is great advice, not really novel (my late mother gave the same advice, and it is unlikely she had read the Mishnah!), and it is the task before us at Temple Beth Torah.
As I come to TBT as your Interim Rabbi, and as we continue a series of congregational transitions and change over the next year, Shammai’s admonition should prove to be a vital and worthy teaching. There will be new faces in our beautiful synagogue – including mine, and as I get to know each of you, we will transform new faces into new friends – and our ancient sage has offered this single and simple, yet profound directive with which to engage each other and our congregational changes.
In the spirit of Shammai’s message, I appreciate that our Transition Committee, so ably chaired by Ellen Holtzman, is preparing a number of get-together events for us to meet, to get to know one another, and to talk about our Temple. I am very eager to meet each of you, as I trust you are equally eager to introduce yourselves to me. Please watch for invitations or for notices of events, and I hope that you will come to many get-togethers – not just one. Getting to know one another takes a little time, and there is much cheerful countenance to spread forth!
Yet, if we look a little deeper, we see that Shammai is teaching us a far more profound lesson than merely to greet one another warmly. That is good, but there is more. Shammai teaches that the essence of community is found in how we treat one another. It doesn’t really matter much how many classes are offered, how spiritual the worship may be, or the schedule when a program begins or ends, if we haven’t genuinely made caring for each other our chief obligation, and our most genuine devotion. Ultimately, Temple is about Greeting every person with a cheerful countenance.
Moreover, Shammai taught that we should greet every person – not just those with whom we are familiar or intimate, which means taking a little risk to extend ourselves. Thus, our Transition Committee is looking to cast a very wide net, with multiple meeting opportunities, so that we do our very best to include as much if not all of the TBT community in meeting not only me, but more importantly, in meeting one another. There is no face nor any voice which is unimportant – to me – or to the future of our Temple. “Greet every person,” taught our Mishnaic teacher.
So, I’ll start…
Thus, in conclusion, “I’m Rabbi Doug Kohn, I’m your new Interim Rabbi at TBT, and I am very eager to know you!” With Shalom,
Rabbi Doug Kohn