Every once in a while, one receives special Assistance from Above in learning, however, for me it happens only during weird occasions.
In the afternoon, I’m learning a Gemara that deals a lot with the holidays. The Rosh Kollel, who sits behind me and is learning the same Gemara, leaned over and said, “They say that the aggadatah (non-halachic parts of the Gemara) in a specific tractate are all somehow connected to the theme of the tractate itself. So, how does the aggadatah you are currently learning, apply to the holidays?”
So, what was the particular piece? The Gemara (Beitza 32b) says that there are three people whose lives aren’t considered lives: 1) a person who is totally dependent on another for his income, 2) a person whose whole body is in pain, and 3) a person whose wife rules over him.
Somehow, I received my Heavenly Assistance, and was able to answer him on the spot: “Simple! The Gemara is speaking of a husband on Erev Pesach! 1) He has no more money, 2) his whole body is in pain, and 3) his wife rules over him.
I got a big smile for that one.
“And I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel” (Shemos 29:45).
The Gemara (Megillah 29a) says that even when the Jewish nation went into exile, G-d's presence went with them, dwelling in shuls and study halls. The Gemara in Berachos (8a) relates that Hashem has no place in this world outside the “four cubits of the law, ” being houses of study.
The shul and beis medrash have always held a central role in Jewish life. There are many different halachos that go into how to respect such buildings; what you are allowed to do inside and what you are not allowed to do; where you can build it and how you can build it, etc. However, there is another aspect of respect which, unfortunately, is a worldwide problem (perhaps not for the Sphardim, to their credit), which is the concept of coming on time to davening and learning.
It’s known (and I don’t have the source on me), that the first ten people of a minyan get the credit for the entire minyan. I also saw in the Pela Yoetz, that it’s a segula for long life to be the first person to come. I saw somewhere (sorry…don’t have that source either), that the reason for this is that when the second person comes, he sees the first and it gives him inner strength to stay and start davening himself. And as the minyan grows, the strength of each individual grows, which all is credited to the first person.
Unfortunately, my choices of minyamim are rather limited. And every Ashkenazi minyan suffers from this problem here. Half the year I end up davening at a sphardi minyan because of this issue (the other half I cannot, since they daven before sunrise, which in itself is a problem halachically, if you have no pressing need to).
When one walks into a shul that begins at 7:30 a.m., for example, and it’s full of people already with their tallis and tefillin, it brings honor not only to the members of the minyan, but also to the shul itself. It shows that we care about it. And the opposite is true as well. When one walks in and sees only 4 people davening, and the rest will show up in another 5-10 minutes…
What’s even worse is what it teaches the younger generation. It’s a known rule in Jewish education: What you consider to be “b’dieved” (not ideal), they consider to be “lechatchilla” (ideal). So when you come late every day to davening, don’t expect them to come on time or even at the same time as you. They will come even later! I have witnessed this way too many times for my liking.
So, perhaps, starting this Shabbos, if we feel that we are being a bit negligent in this area, we can get up a bit earlier and come to davening on time. Not only will it be good for you and your children, but it will bring real honor to the entire community.
As a note, and a possible suggestion: I have only one chavrusa (study partner); that’s my 10-year-old son. He’s not a “Mr. Learner," who likes to sit and read books, but he’s doing well, and I consider him to be an normal kid, with a good head on his shoulders. For the past year, he has been waking up Shabbos morning nice and early to come learn with me in shul 30 minutes before davening. He gets a cup of coffee (decaf) as his "reward" to make him feel like a "big man," and we go over what he learned that week. Then, he’s there from the beginning of davening to the end. What will be in his future, when he’s on his own? That will be up to him. At least, I can honestly say that I’m doing my job trying to educate him in this way. And with this setup, not only is he being trained, but we’re spending time together, and he knows and feels that he’s doing something special, since nobody else is doing what he’s doing.
Have a great Shabbos!