The Minyan


Below is an edited version of the letter Rabbi Levitin sent out to Congregation Shaarei Tefilla-Lubavitch Synagogue community where he’s been the Rabbi for over 35 years:

The Minyan
Communal Prayer


To Our Beloved Community,

I write this letter with enormous feelings of sorrow and pain. The responsibility of the decision to temporarily discontinue daily Minyanim, the learning of Torah, and community Simchas (celebrations) in our beautiful warm Synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Tefilla-Lubavitch, has been one of the most difficult decisions in my 47 years as a Rabbi.

Images of my childhood:  as a young child of eight, my beloved father, Harav Binyomin Ben Harav Shmuel, of blessed memory, took me at 6:30 AM to the corner Synagogue where we lived, “The Kasterer – Shul & Mikvah”.  This took place in the early 1950’s.  The Shul membership was almost 100% Survivors of the Holocaust – mostly young men from Hungary and Romania.

I remember the Satmar Yeshiva students visiting the Shul, in their late teens, with hands out-stretched requesting financial support for the Satmar Instititions, which were destroyed during the Holocaust in Europe, and were being rebuilt in Williamsburg, Brooklyn under the leadership of the renowned, Holy Reb Yolish - Satmar Ruv, of blessed memory. Looking back, most of those teens were themselves Survivors.

Every week the famous Reb Chaim Gelb would visit the Synagogue raising funds for the support of numerous families who he personally assisted. He elicited great respect from everyone in the Shul.

I’ve mentioned many times to my family that I have no recollection at all of growing up seeing my father, of blessed memory, EVER davening (praying) with Tallis and Tefillin (phylacteries) at home. Regardless of the climatic conditions he always went to Shul to join a Minyan (Unfortunately, I can not say the same about myself).

Later in life, my late grandfather, renowned senior Chassid and Mashpia of Chabad, known as Reb Shmuel, of blessed memory:  In the early 1960’s, already in his 80’s, during a ferocious snow storm, with over a foot of snow, he walked back to Shul to Daven Mincha with a Minyan. He slipped and dislocated his shoulder. My father and I took him to the hospital. He was in tremendous pain. Our beloved Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of blessed memory (Rebbetzin of our Holy Rebbe, of blessed memory) checked with my father daily on how my grandfather was feeling.

When I married, and came to Los Angeles, my late father-in-law, Reb Yisocher Dov Ben Yona of blessed memory’s Shul was composed mostly of Survivors from the war (he himself was a Survivor of Auschwitz). One of his very close friends, Reb Mottel Kornwasser, obm, shared with me an incident that happened while he was also at Auschwitz:  Close to 60 Yeshiva students were Davening (praying) together as a Minyan when the German guards suddenly came in and began to machine gun them. They continued to Daven. About 30 were killed instantly. He was one of the 30 or so that survived.

Rambam Hilchot Tefilah – Chapter 8: 1

“Communal prayer is always heard [on high]. Even when there are transgressors among [the congregation], the Holy One, blessed be He, does not reject the prayers of the many. Therefore, a person should include himself in the community and should not pray alone whenever he is able to pray with the community.”

The centrality of the daily Minyan: Shacharis, Mincha, Maariv (Morning, Afternoon, Evening Prayer) is the underpinning of every Jewish community.

This morning, Tuesday, 21 Adar, Davening with my fellow Mispallim:  Reb Shimon, Reb Moshe, Reb Naftali, Reb Yitzchak, and Reb Pinchas, G-d Bless them, I opened the Ark and lead them, with tears in my eyes, with the words of the 20th Chapter of the Book of Psalms: “For the choirmaster, a psalm from David. May the Lord answer you on the day of distress; may the Name of the G-d of Jacob fortify you. May He send your name from the Sanctuary, and support you from Zion. May He remember all your offerings, and always accept favorably your sacrifices. May He grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill your every counsel. We will rejoice in your deliverance, and raise our banners in the name of our G-d; May the Lord fulfill all your wishes. Now I know that the Lord has delivered His anointed one, answering him from His holy heavens with the mighty saving power of His right hand. Some [rely] upon chariots and some upon horses, but we [rely upon and] invoke the Name of the Lord our G-d. They bend and fall, but we rise and stand firm. Lord, deliver us; may the King answer us on the day we call.”

With all of the above, and more, twirling through my heart and mind, yet also weighing the advice from the professionals, considering that King County has suffered the most, and the composition of our daily Minyan, where a sizable percentage of the daily participants are in the age group that is of higher risk, etc., I have made the decision to temporarily close our Synagogue.

In the meantime, let us devote and focus ourselves, during the three times of Tefillah, to the quality of the meaning of the words of Tefillah. Gather around members of the family, especially the children, and share with them what Tefillah represents - Communicating our acknowledgement of the greatness of G-d, and petitioning Him for one’s personal and communal needs, etc. Utilize these times for reflection and rededication on the priorities and purpose of life.

In closing, a Torah Thought:

The most often quoted Rambam that our Holy Rebbe, of blessed memory, shares with us is the Rambam Hilchot Teshuvah Chapter 3:4:

“Even though the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a decree, it contains an allusion. It is as if [the shofar’s call] is saying:

Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise…

Accordingly, throughout the entire year, a person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and sin and the world as equally balanced between merit and sin. If he performs one sin, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the sided of guilt and brings destruction upon himself. [On the other hand,] if he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others. This is implied by [Proverbs 10:25]: “A righteous man is the foundation of the world,” i.e., he who acted righteously, tipped the balance of the entire world to merit and saved it.”

The Holy Rebbe adds to this Rambam: Not only an “act” but even an “utterance” or even a “thought” tips the balance of the entire world to merit and, saves it and brings salvation.

So, my friends, in these challenging times, call a friend. Yes, call, not just text or email. Call and see how they are doing. Especially the elderly - Especially the lonely - Especially those with special needs - People who you haven’t spoken to in years – Tell them that G-d loves them. See if there is anything they need. Give them quality of your time. Strengthen their Emunah (trust) in G-d, that we will come through this challenge, and we all commit to a more reflective, more dedicated, and more appreciative focus on life’s priorities. Lift their spirits. Lift your own spirits. Lift your family’s spirits. G-d willing we will return to our Synagogue in the very near future with Simcha-joy and a deeper commitment to participate daily in our services and the learning of our Holy Torah.

A special thanks to our Board, lead by our dedicated and devoted President, Dr. Yossie Greenberg, for their tireless efforts in service of our community. In addition, special thanks to Dr. Shimon Rudnick who has been our medical advisor.

Have a Good Shabbos.

G-d Bless You All.

With Love,

Rabbi Levitin

In memory of the second Yahrtzeit of my beloved sister,
Freida Henya Bas Harav Binyomin, OBM
This Shabbos: Parsha Vayak’hel-Pekudei, 25 Adar