Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

>Shabbat Naso 5771

We sometimes feel a tremendous weight on our shoulders. What is it that we are feeling? The sons of Kehat, Levi’s grandchildren, had enough already on their shoulders, so Moshe didn’t make them schlep anything more to the Mishkan Dedication Ceremony. While the Gershonites and Merarites had plenty of animals and carts to bring, their cousins were spared: “Since theirs was the service of the [most] sacred objects, their porterage was by shoulder” (Numbers 7:9).

The Kotzker Rebbe, the great Hasidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendl, notes that from these words we learn a serious message about “avodat kodesh,” holy work. We will always feel the burden of sacred responsibility resting on our shoulders. Not a moment passes without our awareness of its weightiness upon us, for it is so crucial to our existence. For as the Talmud says, “If someone tells you, ‘I found it without an exhaustive search,’ don’t believe it; but if they say, ‘It took an exhaustive search, and I found it,’ believe it!” (Bavli Megillah 6b)

I don’t know much Yiddish, but this phrase is common: “Shvertz azayan Yid–it’s hard to be a Jew.” That’s one way to read the Kotzker’s message. But after a an experience I had this week, I prefer to understand the metaphor of “weight on my shoulders” as a blessing, not a burden.

Now that I’ve passed Shloshim, the first 30 days of mourning, I decided that I was ready to go to a baseball game (I consider this more “current events” than entertainment, especially Mets games). But that meant creative ways to find a minyan for both Minhah and Ma’ariv. When Elie, one of his friends, Jack Cohen and I arrived, we immediately went to one of the kosher hot dog stands–not to eat, but to inquire about minyan times. We learned that Ma’ariv happens spontaneously during the 7th-inning stretch, but that Minhah wasn’t scheduled (contrary to the information on www.godaven.com). So Jack found two men with kippot, and we went back to the hot dog stand, and started to ask anyone who looked eligible and interested. It took a while, but eventually, we got our 10, and I was able to daven and say kaddish. Sure enough, after the top of the 7th, people knew where to congregate, and we made a minyan for Ma’ariv as well. But I have to say that Minhah was more satisfying, because I felt the gravity of the occasion on my shoulders. It took an exhaustive search, but we found it, and that was a blessing, not a burden.

This year, my commitment to saying Kaddish is the avodat kodesh, the sacred labor, that I feel on my shoulders with every step. The Kotzker’s message is that if it’s important, we’ll feel its weight upon us. After all, the only things worth carrying are the important ones.