How Do Increasing Security Measures Reflect Commitment to Core Judaic Values?
As most B’nai Israel members know, there are new security measures in place around and in our building, and life at our synagogue has become more complicated. Given the inconvenience of having to be more mindful of who enters the building, along with glitches that have been common as we institute these changes, I am reminded of the rabbinic teaching: “All beginnings are difficult”. It is noteworthy that the statement does not say “many beginnings”, nor “most beginnings”, but “all beginnings”. And that is what we face as we work with these challenges of making CBI accessible while inconveniencing folks in the process. It is something that over time will become smoother, as we move beyond the beginning of this new protocol.
Regarding “security”, it is interesting that a key word describing accessing God, instead of “faith or belief”, is “Bitachon”, i.e. “Bitchu b’Adonai b’Simcha!” “Be Secure with God, with Joy”! The teaching is that connecting with HaShem reflects doing so with “security/trust”, and “certainty”. Partnership with God, reflected in relationships with people, is about developing “trust, security, and certainty”, in those relationships, and in your acceptance that God exists and is present in your life, when you open to that Presence. And that experience engenders “security”.
When Abram and Sarai went into Egypt, due to famine in the land, and at a later time, after the Covenant was entered and names were changed to Abraham and Sarah, they went to Gerar, due to famine again, and interacted with Avimelech, on both occasions, Abram/Abraham requested of Sarai/Sarah, that she agree to be identified to the king of Egypt and Avimelech, respectively, as his sister (since they each had the same father), rather than his wife. The thought was that, given her beauty, the risk would be that either of those leaders might want to add her to their harems and, in so doing, kill her husband and be rid of him as a threat. Indeed, each leader found himself in trouble with God when they did take Sarah. The natural question was, why didn’t Abraham “trust/be secure in” God to take care of any problems even if he was identified as her husband, given the power of Covenant he had entered with God, especially before connecting with Avimelech? The lesson learned was, and is, that having trust/security in God does not mean God alone would make your life safe and secure, simply in having that trust. The reality is, from Judaism’s point of view, that God works through people, time and circumstances, and you don’t ignore dangerous conditions on the assumption that you are immune to danger because you have God as your Partner.
Another teaching in our tradition indicates: “ein somchin al a nes” “one is not to assume or count on a miracle” to save you. Miracles happen with human participation as much as not. Consider the teaching that the Sea of Reeds only opened for the Israelites to cross, after one person, Nachshon ben Aminadav, stepped into the water all the way to his nostrils, before the Sea parted. The miracle occurred after an act of considerable risk. Nor are we as a people “waiting” for the Messiah/Messianic Age. We are obligated to do our part, and be responsible, i.e. engage mitzvah, to participate in bringing the Messiah/Messianic Age into our world.
I am mindful of these teachings as we move along in our increasingly precarious world with the particular details of our having to use a grant to build up security in and around our facility. That is what we have had to do in order to support safety and wellbeing for all who want to be involved with CBI, even with the inconveniences being generated.
The fence around our property reminds me of another teaching in our system that provides for a “fence around the Torah”, whereby certain activities or behavior that are in themselves permitted may be forbidden because they may lead to an action that is prohibited. Those who choose to not ride a bicycle on Shabbat are aligned with that teaching, in that riding the bike does not in itself reflect a violation of Shabbat, especially in an area with an “eruv” a designated zone beyond your home where traditional folks may carry, as if an extension of your home. However the reason you wouldn’t ride the bike is in acknowledgment of the possibility that it may break down and require repair for you to continue, something not allowed on Shabbat. Metaphorically, we have created a fence around our property to attempt to assure that folks coming to CBI will be safe.
Paradoxically, one act that a traditional Jew would not do on Shabbat, that we, at least at the “beginning” of our taking security measures, may need to have done at times, is to ring the bell when someone inside, keeping an eye on things during services, may not otherwise realize there is an attendee outside waiting to enter. While it is better to not have to ring bells on Shabbat, the higher priority is safety, i.e. security. So until we can work out that “wrinkle”, hopefully the traditionalists among us will understand the need to place the “ritual observance” in second position behind the importance of people staying safe. This is not unlike the principle that on Yom Kippur, if you have any illness that could be a serious threat to your wellbeing, you are “obligated” to eat, at least enough to keep yourself safe.
Living in this increasingly difficult world, we can appreciate teachings from our tradition that can help us negotiate these obstacles and dangerous situations, as we face them. We can certainly take comfort and even a feeling of “security” knowing that we are the carriers of a tradition that has encountered threats to our existence going back to the times of our Ancestors.
God-willing these precarious times will ease up, sooner than later, even as we continue to work with one another, on conditions in our world, and with HaShem’s help, do our part to bring the Age of Shalom into being. That will be the day when we can take down our fences and live in a world where we can trust and be secure, not only with God, and not only with those sharing values that treasure all aspects of life, but also find a world where that is the condition that prevails everywhere.