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    Histrionics or holiness? – B’midbar

    In the Haftarah, the prophet Hosea arraigns Israel for faithlessness to God and warns that the people will first have to be punished before God’s blessing is restored to them.

    The punishment includes laying waste the vines and fig trees. But there is another deprivation: “I will cause all her (the nation’s) joy to cease: her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed seasons” (Hosea 2:13).

    The people will suffer materially, but spiritually and emotionally too. God’s gift of Shabbat and the festivals will be withdrawn, and their lives will be drab and empty.

    We modern Jews might also have caused Hosea anguish. Not because God has withdrawn Shabbat from us, but because in so many cases we have withdrawn ourselves from Shabbat.

    We think we can manage quite well without the weekly day of holiness, and we do not realise how much we are missing. Life works so much better if you have a Shabbat. If you change into the Shabbat mode, calm your spirits, enjoy family, friends, Judaism, and just being alive ­- what a blessing it is!

    It’s also a blessing to have a shule to come to on Shabbat, not only for the sake of the service, but also because of the warm feeling of being part of the Jewish people, and for the opportunity of sitting quietly and finding peace.

    There are those who say that what will bring Jews back to the synagogue is more exciting services, and though it is true that in some shules the service really is a mess, that is not the only consideration.

    What we don’t need is illustrated by Rabbi Stephen Wise’s Friday evening services at Carnegie Hall, New York:

    “That Friday evening service was as much a theatrical revue as a prayer meeting. The dramatic lighting up of the pulpit, which was in fact a stage; the soldier-like arrangement of the mixed choir which carried out evolutions to suit each part of the service; the studied raising and lowering of the voices of the choristers, the sound of the organ and Wise’s own oration ­ all these imparted a curious artificiality to the proceedings…” (A. Abrahams, South African Jewish Herald, 20 July, 1951).

    There is a place for histrionics, but not necessarily in the synagogue. (As a student I went to hear one of the great Christian preachers in London, and the sheer theatrics sent a thrill through me -­ but that’s not what the synagogue should be on Shabbat.)

    Jews need Shabbat, and they need the synagogue: but what should bring them there is not theatrics but the search for holiness.

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