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Shachen Tov

12/11/2023 03:54:09 PM


Rav Yosef

When Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai asked his disciples to “go forth and observe what is the best way for a person to live”, they returned with numerous sound answers,

 רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר, עַיִן טוֹבָה. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אוֹמֵר, חָבֵר טוֹב. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר, לֵב טוֹב

Rabbi Eliezer said, “the path of living with a generous eye”; Rabbi Joshua said, “the path of living as a good friend”. Rabbi Elazar said, “the path of living with a good heart”.

The response that I have always found the most intriguing, because it is the least intuitive, is that of R. Yose

רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר, שָׁכֵן טוֹב

Rabbi Yose said, “the path of being a good neighbor”.  What exactly R. Yose had in mind in choosing a path that at first blush seems considerably less substantial and demanding than those chosen by his colleagues, is worthy of discussion and further thought. For this morning, I’m going to interpret R. Yose through the lens of the story of Chanukah, and then apply his teaching to an exhilarating opportunity that we have during the second half of December.

To the Chanukah story:

A person could be forgiven for identifying the Maccabees’ crowning achievement as being the establishment - after fifteen years of struggle - of Jewish political sovereignty in Judea for the first time since Babylonia’s conquest 400 years earlier.  The Maccabees themselves likely didn’t imagine that they’d achieve such a thing such a thing when they first decided to take up arms.

Yet, every indication we have points to the conclusion that it was not sovereignty that was regarded as the crowning achievement, rather the purification and rededication of the Beit HaMikdash that took place in year 3 of the revolt. That’s certainly the impression conveyed by the narrative that we recite in Al HaNisim; this is the presumed symbolism of lighting the Chanukiya as the central ritual of the holiday which commemorates the Maccabees’ achievements, and this is what’s communicated by the name of the holiday itself. The second book of Maccabees actually gets even more specific, calling the holiday, “the day of the purification of the Temple”.  

The inescapable conclusion provided by the evidence is that it was re-establishing the integrity of the Beit HaMikdash that was the Maccabees’ central driver, with all of the subsequent battles simply intended to ensure and to safeguard that achievement. Why did this mean so much to them? To be sure it was because the worship carried out in the Beit haMikdash  epitomized the uniqueness of Jewish religion,  theology, and identity. But more viscerally, more primally, it was because the Maccabees and their loyalists walked the path that R. Yose, two centuries later, would speak of, the path of being a shachen tov. The Beit HaMikdash, well beyond being the venue for the worship of the God of Isarel, was the HOME of the God of Isarel. It was the place אשר בחר ה' לשכן שמו שם, the place where God dwelt, where God was our shachen, which in turn rendered us God’s scheynim. And good scheynim don’t stand idly by when their neighbor is forced from His home, supplanted therein by Zeus at the hand of a foreign king. They instead move heaven and earth to restore things as they had been, both because they are aroused by their neighbor’s plight, and because they long and they yearn for the return of their neighbor’s intimate company.

And now, on to the second half of December:

150 years after R. Yose taught, R. Shimon ben Lakish brings the shachen motif full circle. Said Resh Lakish, “A person who has a bet k’nesset in his city but doesn’t frequent that bet k’nesset is called a shachen ra, a bad neighbor.  It’s a fascinating and deliberate choice of phrase. And I think that if we take the small liberty of flipping Resh Lakish’s teaching to the positive, his words become the most compelling articulation of what coming often to shul is ultimately spiritually about. Resh Lakish, like his Talmudic colleagues, believed and experienced that God dwells in shul, that God is our shachen. And that as God’s neighbors, we should, in the spirit of R. Yose, be dropping in regularly. To check in, to say hello, to have coffee. To be in God’s company, to share in God’s life, to open our own lives to God and to allow our lives to be touched, to be impacted, to be changed by the time we’ve spent in our neighbor’s home. What Resh Lakish is intending to convey through choosing the words that he chooses, is that while the activity that we do in shul is prayer, the purpose of coming in, the reason we do it, is that God sings out to us from in here, “Won't you please, won't you please? Please, won't you be my neighbor?”

R. Yose’s teaching, rooted back to the Maccabees, and applied by Resh Lakish.

If you’ve been here a few years already, you know that it’s time for the bi-annual-ish call to start a new healthy habit. To be part of the neighborhood with your friends who make it over to weekday minyan once or twice or more each week. I’m calling on you to join the neighborhood NOT BECAUSE we sometimes struggle to get minyan. Thank God, in Leon we trust. But because YOU need this. For your heart, for your soul, for your character, for your life. Daven as much or as little as you want. This call is about recognizing the goodness of being God’s good neighbor, about the blessing of being able to be sit, and to contemplate and to think and to pray and to cry in God’s company. I can tell you that it really grows on you. That it makes you a different person.  

So be sure to see the special offer arriving in your email  inbox in a day or two and sign up just to come during the last two weeks of December, no obligation to purchase.  

What is the best way for a person to live?

רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר, שָׁכֵן טוֹב

Mon, June 17 2024 11 Sivan 5784