Nothing Grows in a Vacuum, Guest Post by Rabbi Rael Blumenthal
It’s been just about a year since Aliza and I decided to move our family from Bergenfield to Boca. Aside from conclusively missing winter, and waking up to palm trees every morning, the clear highlight of moving has been the warmth and engagement of the BRS West and BRS communities.
The notion of community is a strange thing. On the one hand, it’s a collective of people bound by common interests. In our case, our community is bound by a passion for Jewish life and learning, and love for Israel and the Jewish Nation.
But on the other hand, a strong community inevitably becomes far more meaningful to the members than simply their shared interests. A community becomes a forum for advice, a platform for friendship, and a place of trust, comfort and safety.
But all of this is true of all communities around the world. That which makes a Jewish community unique is hinted at by Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim. The mitzvos of the parsha, he says, were spoken to the entirety of the nation b’hakhel – as a community.
The Chasam Sofer explains the need for this gathering. It is to educate that by removing oneself from the community one can never achieve holiness, despite the temptation to do so. We might think that other people are distractions, and that kedusha involves seclusion and separation from society.
“On the contrary, we are to live as a community and still live lives of kedusha.”
The Sfas Emes explains further that: It is impossible to achieve holiness without seeing oneself as a part of the Jewish people… For this reason, most of the laws of this parsha are between man and his fellow.
This does not, of course, negate the need for personal time, mediation or reflection. But I do think this concept introduces a radical and nuanced perspective to personal growth – that it is not an individual pursuit, but a collective one. Moreover, every Jew is a life coach for every other.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that he knew of brilliant young men who were destined for greatness, yet as soon as they rose to the tops of the respective schools, they ceased to grow. With no-one that could challenge or relate to them, they rapidly reached their ceiling.
Through my experience this year, I can truly relate. Aliza and I have grown as people by engaging with our community. We are honed by our friends, and challenged by our colleagues. And each new addition to a community multiplies the power and effect of everyone they encounter.
This year at BRS West, we’ve been fortunate to welcome 18 new families and each new addition enhances the community exponentially. We are also so fortunate to davening in the Katz Hillel Day School, where so many of our kids are students. But most importantly, we are part of the greater BRS community.
We’ve also introduced an array of shiurim, from the weekly Rashi shiur, to our Contemporary Halacha Chabura, the newly introduced Pre-Shabbos Chassidus Chabura and of course our seasonal shiurim on Kashrus and the Yamim Tovim. Our members have planned and run community BBQ’s, Purim and Channuka parties, and have hosted dozens of guest families, for simchas and to check out our amazing community.
In many ways, the program I’m most proud of is our weekly Parsha in the Park. It’s a special opportunity for parents to learn the parsha with their children, and spend a part of Shabbat afternoon simply getting nachas, while hanging out with other parents at the Katz Hillel playground. BRS West provides our families with a warm, close community, and we’re so excited to see the homes in the neighborhood filling up with passionate and engaged families.
As a Rabbi, the ability to learn from and with Rabbi Goldberg, Rabbi Moskowitz and the rest of the team has propelled my own growth forward in immeasurable ways. For every member of the BRS and BRS West community, the opportunities for connections and relationships are so readily available, and thus the chances to achieve kedusha are that much greater. I’m looking forward to many years of growth, learning and building together.
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