This week we read Parshas Vayakhel, which refers to a “gathering.” The Torah stresses the importance of a kahal in many different places throughout the Torah. We are told that there is a concept of “Berov am hadras melech – in a large gathering we glorify the king.” We in Providence have been fortunate to witness two such gatherings over the past weekend: at the Karp bar mitzva and at the Jewish Unity Live event, where so many people from a broad-based community gathered in celebration. Providence Hebrew Day School is happy to have been able to host and or participate in many of these community events that enhance the sense of community and growth. I recently read an interesting article by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck on the topic of community that I found interesting and I share some of his ideas in my letter this week.
Parenting and building community often means setting aside our personal feelings and preferences for the betterment of the community. Ideally, people need to be constantly mindful of whether they are wearing the “hat” of an individual, parent, child, or, in this case, of a person who is planting a seed that will, in a short time, build adults from children, and a community from a handful of families. Your presence and your subtle actions will shape your children’s future, as well as those of your community.
An example of the difference between an individual builder and a parent/community builder might be conforming to a certain mode of dress, such as a school or shul dress code. This represents an affiliation and makes a statement that you identify with the values of the school/shul. A member of a shul this week explained to me that his family had slightly modified their mode of dress to proclaim their sense of community and their identity to the school or shul they belong to.
Many people may consider these multiple, communal adjustments, even if only minor, to be unfair burdens. Nevertheless, seeing communal growth as “additional” burdens, and not as something personal, should not cause people to consider those burdens as optional. Communal growth is often more important than personal growth. This statement is worth additional discussion.
What if people had to choose between personal or communal growth, at the expense of their personal growth? What if people had to decide whether to compromise on their personal goals, or those of their families or communities? These questions are complex and, ultimately, must be decided on an individual basis. Nevertheless, in most cases, sacrificing personal growth for the growth of the family or community will result in an increase of personal growth in unanticipated ways.
What does a community need? It needs pretty much the same things that a family with young children need. They both require public statements. I know that, for many individuals, public statements are not inherently important, since they will not change the way they act. Giving importance to public statements is only a diversion for them. Nevertheless, for others, statements will motivate them to act, and they generally can have a positive effect on other people who observe them.
We live in a community that has created a culture of warmth and caring, one focused on middos, interpersonal relationships, ahavas haTorah and personal growth, which have all developed a community culture that any visitor rapidly taps into and feels.
A decision that is made when a person wears the parent or community member “hat” has “legs” that, upon completion, keep “walking” by themselves. Those are actions that take on a “life of their own.”
Raising children requires a lot of effort and many years of investment. Nevertheless, those years have legs on them, and will “walk around” for many generations. “Statements” made by parents/community members have legs, shaping the character and value system of their children/community for years to come.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman