Power of the Community
by Suzanne Wayland
Shavuot is when the entire Jewish people received the Torah and the point when we became a nation. Rabbi Miller writes “Hashem gave His Torah to a tzibbur, a community and it is only as a community that the Torah can be fully lived.” Sometimes the Jewish community is thought of only as its institutions, schools, shuls, or chesed organisations.
However, the community is not simply the institutions, and is not just functional. We need community because our souls need community. Our souls need to be part of the bigger picture, to live, work and share with others.
To someone who wanted to convert but live without a community. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, said you cannot, as living in a community is an integral part of being Jewish.
I am going to focus on three reasons to explain why this is so.
1. Firstly, there is a need to be in a community in order for us to have the network of emotional and spiritual support. In Avos it says “Make for yourself a teacher and acquire for yourself a friend.” In Parshat Yitro, immediately before the giving of the Torah we are told how Moshe set up an extensive system of officers and leaders for Israel. Leaders for every 1000 people, for every 100, every 50 and every 10. It was a complete structure, each Jew belonging to a little platoon which was part of a larger group and every 10 Jews had their own leader, someone for whom they could turn to with their personal problems or ask for Halachic guidance.
It is not impossible but it is extremely hard to remain observant and have a positive, forward looking approach about Judaism without practising it within the framework of the community. We are all interconnected, our religion is based around the community interacting and supporting each other.
2. Secondly, Emuna Braverman in an article entitled “Using social pressure to your advantage” says that one of the secrets to Jewish survival is that community life reinforces community goals and standards and helps keep destructive values at bay. If we are surrounded by people who are for example honest, compassionate, giving and loyal it makes it a lot easier for everyone to strive to be this way. A community that shares our values allows us to grow and thrive. We aspire to live up to the standards it sets.
3. Finally, it is significant that no single person can actually fulfil all of the 613 mitzvos. Only dayonim can do the mitzvah of judging. Only a Yisrael can do the mitzvah of honouring a Kohen and only a firstborn son can have a pidyon haben.
In an article by Rabbi Boruch Leff, he writes “it has been suggested that the word “team” stands for Together Everyone Accomplishes More.” Teamwork and working as a community are not simply ways to combine individual achievements. By being a part of the Jewish nation the mitzvos of all Jews are a collective accomplishment and we receive some credit for all the good deeds of Israel. So even though I can never fulfil the mitzvah of redeeming my firstborn son since I am the daughter of a Kohen, my soul is closer to Hashem because other members of my community have done so.
As the Jewish people were camping around Sinai, we were described as ‘ish echad b’lev echad’ – like one person, with one heart. We accepted the Torah as one person, because that is the way it is meant to be lived – as all of us recognising we are parts of something greater. We need the community because from it we gain spiritual support and guidance, and it provides an arena to give to others. We are influenced by our surroundings, and they can help us grow greater and greater. And finally, our souls need one another.