August 16, 2012
Erev Tov. Good evening.
Pirkei Avot records that 2,000 years ago:
“Rabbi Shimon taught: Shloshah k’tarim hein. There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. Yet the crown of a shem tov, the crown of a good name surpasses them all.” (Chapters of our Ancestors 4:17)
I suspect Rabbi Shimon was commenting on the kinds of crowns an individual person can wear, but his wisdom can be extended to a congregation as well.
KETER TORAH/the crown of sacred learning — An individual can devote a life to study and earn for himself, for herself a “Keter Torah” and crown of wisdom. And so can a congregation earn for itself a crown of Torah. It can be known by its fine Rabbis, its excellent Religious School, its rigorous Adult Education programs, its congregants who are Jewishly literate and thirsty for learning.
KETER KEHUNAH/the crown of priesthood – An individual can be born into the line of Aaron and wear the metaphorical crown, the honour of a Kohen. And so can a congregation earn for itself a “crown of priesthood” by its collective deeds of piety, its accumulation of mitzvot of generosity and kindness, its deeds of justice. This was the very first prayer for our congregation afterall. It is the origin of our very namesake. In 1856, just in time for Rosh HaShanah, a Torah was sent by the Asher family of Montreal and on it was a silver yad inscribed with the prayer that this young congregation of just a few families should flourish to become Pirchei Kodesh, Blossoms of Holiness, as the Kohanim were called.
KETER MALCHUT/the crown of ROYALTY — An individual can be born into the line of David and wear the crown of royalty. An individual can work hard and accumulate wealth, be “as rich as a king.” A person can be a leader in the community and wear the crown of authority, walk with the stature and status of what we call a “pillar in the community.” Such people wear the crown of royalty. And so can a congregation such as ours emerge as a leading congregation. One with prominence on Bathurst Street. One with stature in this city and beyond. A leading institution for the Toronto Jewish Community and the Jewish World beyond.
BUT! Rabbi Shimon says all this – the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and piety, the crown of royalty and leadership – all these pale in comparison to the crown of a shem tov. The crown of a good name surpasses them all.
What does the crown of a shem tov look like? It’s usually easy to recognize. A person with a good name is like a magnet. Others gravitate toward that person, because he or she is a pleasure to be with, a trust-worthy friend, one who knows what really matters in this life. So it is for a congregation. When a synagogue has a shem tov it’s easy to recognize. It’s the kind of place people want to be part of and its doors are open wide to receive them. A synagogue with a shem tov is a magnet that draws people in by the words spoken there, by the actions taken there. A synagogue earns a shem tov when it provides sanctuary from the harshness of the world out there, when it takes time for the sacred in here.
The crown of the shem tov of Holy Blossom Temple has been shaken. And we want it back. I believe that is why each of us has come tonight. We have come because we care deeply about the Temple and we want to secure its good name. I believe we have come to seek reassurance about the future of our congregation.
So friends, good people, when we speak with one other tonight, let it be out of love and concern for the shem tov of Holy Blossom Temple. When we speak with one another tonight, let us choose our words carefully and with care for the shem tov of those present as well as the shem tov of those who are not present.
The shem tov of Rabbi Moscowitz is precious to us, because HE is precious to us. The shem tov of our lay leaders is important to us. They volunteer countless hours they could more easily spend on work or pleasure, but instead they devote themselves to this place and to what they believe is best for the congregation. And that is admirable. The shem tov of each and every member of our congregation must also be acknowledged tonight. Whether a newcomer or a long-standing member, whether here weekly or just once in a blue moon – each is a part of this place; each has emotional ties that are complex and deeply personal; each has a contribution to make, a role to play in strengthening the life of our congregation. Each of us here tonight and the hundreds more who may not be in this room, but are still very much with us, has a stake in the future of Holy Blossom Temple. And there is only one Holy Blossom Temple.
I’ll conclude with a prayer originally written for another congregation, but intended for us as well. It describes the beautiful and delicate crown of a congregation’s shem tov.
May the door of this synagogue be wide enough to receive all who hunger for belonging, all who are lonely for companionship.
May it welcome all who have cares to unburden, thanks to express, hopes to nurture.
May the door of this synagogue be narrow enough to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and emnity.
May its threshold be no stumbling block to young or straying feet.
May it be too high to admit complacency, selfishness, and harshness.
May this synagogue be, for all who enter, the doorway to a richer and more meaningful life.
(Congregational prayer by Rabbi Sidney Greenberg. Slightly adapted here, but the original may be found on p. 149 of Siddur Pirchei Kodesh.)