Personal Growth & Self-Perfection
Putting Holiness Into:
Bais Knessess (Shul, Synagogue), Prayer - And Yourself






















"You are children to are a holy people to the L-rd your G-d and He has chosen you to be His own people from all of the nations that are on the earth" [Deuteronomy 14:1-2].

A king had a daughter whom he loved very much. When she was small, he showered his love upon her freely. When she became more mature, it was no longer appropriate for him to show affection towards her in public. So, he built a special chamber for her and, in there, discussed the secrets of his kingdom. Then, the king was able to show his love for his daughter appropriately.

This is an analogy to G-d's commanding the building of the sanctuary. G-d is the king and the child whom He loves is the Jewish people. G-d showered them with love when, as a people, they were young. The Jewish people were taken out of Egypt, saw miracles and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Then, they became more mature. It was no longer appropriate for G-d to show His love publicly. He commanded the building of the sanctuary [which later became the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which later was destroyed and was replaced by local synagogues wherever there are ten or more adult Jews]. In the sanctuary, G-d, the ultimate King, still engages in His fatherly love with his beloved child, the people Israel [Me'am Loez, Parashas Truma].

Let us examine how holy and important the shul is, how that holiness can and should impact us and how shul is where a Jew and G-d give their love to one another.



The Torah commands us to build a sanctuary, at the beginning of Parashas Truma. G-d said, "And they shall make for Me a mikdosh [sanctuary] and I will dwell within them. According to everything that I will show you, the form of the mishkon [dwelling] and the form of all of its implements, and this way you shall make it [Exodus 25:8-9]."

First and foremost, keep in mind that this is Hashem talking! He said, "Make for ME." The sanctuary is for Him, His name, His divine presence, His glorification and His service. The sanctuary has a very exalted purpose. This is an underlying foundation and purpose from the start.

When the Torah tells us, to build a sanctuary, its language is, "And they shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell within them [Exodus 25:8]."

The Talmud's famous question is: why does the Torah say "WITHIN THEM?" Isn't Hashem saying that, when the Jewish people build for Him a sanctuary, that He will dwell "WITHIN IT?" The beginning of the verse speaks in the singular [sanctuary] and the end of the verse is plural [them]. Isn't the language in the verse inconsistent? Shouldn't the Torah say "dwell within it?"

The answer is that the Torah wants the sanctuary to be a model of holiness to be followed by every Jew. The sanctuary is a means, not an end itself. Each Jew must make himself a sanctuary! Every part of the sanctuary described in the Torah represents a trait or aspect of holiness that can - and should - be a part of each Jew. The point of the Torah's commandments and descriptions regarding the sanctuary is for us to learn from and internalize them! The point is to use the model of the sanctuary and the lessons to be obtained by in-depth study of the sanctuary TO ENABLE EACH JEW TO MAKE HIMSELF A HOLY SANCTUARY WITHIN WHOM G-D CAN DWELL!

Therefore, there is profound and important meaning in the SEEMING grammar "mistake" or "inconsistency" when the Torah switches from singular language [at the beginning of the verse] to the plural [at the end of the verse]. It is very important, intentional and purposeful. It is the Torah's concise way of speaking, telling us to make ourselves holy so that Hashem can dwell within every Jew, "within them," within each of them.

By deeply studying the building of the sanctuary, we learn how to spiritually "build," to develop and perfect ourselves.

The sanctuary had to be built to very specific, detailed and difficult instructions. The materials and measurements had to be exacting and precise. The instruction for building the menora was so difficult that Moshe could not comprehend what it was to look like. The Torah says that Moshe was commanded "You will make" the menorah (Vi'oseeso) and, in the same sentence [Exodus 25:31], Moshe was told "and it will be made (Tay'oseh)," a seeming redundancy. One of my rovs, Rabbi Avrohom Asher Zimmerman, z'l, said that we learn from this that the menorah was actually impossible for a human to comprehend or make. We are commanded to DO ALL THAT WE CAN TO ACHIEVE SPIRITUAL GOALS. By acting to the extent of our powers, with sincere, total and devoted effort, we will merit that G-d will bring our work to success and completion.

The Torah says (Numbers 8:4) of the menorah, "It is like the way Hashem showed Moshe, that is how he made the menora." Rashi says on this, bringing a midrash, that the menora was made through Hashem by itself.

Similarly, the gemora in tractate "Megila" says that if one genuinely toils in a spiritual endeavor, it can be believed that he will find the result. In Parshas Pikuday, all of the parts of the Mishkan were completed but the people could not set it up. It was too heavy. It took miraculous aid from G-d, which was merited due to each Jew putting his complete heart into the work.

The Jew has to use the sanctuary and all of the components that are in it as a model. The main importance is not in the wood and metal and structure and vessels of the sanctuary itself. The main goal is that every Jew purify and sanctify himself, be spiritual and holy, do mitzvos and be loyal to G-d, and to be engaged in nonstop spiritual elevation, so that Hashem will dwell among each of the Jews.

So, in the same way that the sanctuary was composed of various elements, and had various implements that were part of its contents, and these had to be sanctified and holy for Hashem to dwell there; likewise, each Jew is composed of different elements: different midos [character traits] and different body parts that are the implements and elements that have to be exalted, spiritual and elevated, and used for service of G-d, so that they can be holy and a place in which G-d can dwell.

We Jewish people have a commandment to be holy. It is not "merely a nice ideal." Being holy, and elevating everything we do, is a Jewish imperative. The Torah says [Leviticus 19:2], "You shall be holy because I am holy, the L-rd your G-d." It is an actual commandment in the Torah for each Jew to be holy.

The Zohar tells us that Israel, the Torah and G-d are all one. There is something similar to this in the purpose of the sanctuary.

Sanctuary [mikdosh] is from the same root word [kuf, dalet, shin] as holy [kadosh]. We are commanded to be holy BECAUSE HASHEM IS HOLY. It is as if there are three parts [G-d, the sanctuary and the Jew] of one great entity, and each part has to be holy and attached to the other. When attached, the main place where the divine presence would rest is inside the Jew; not the sanctuary's wood, metal or implements. These are secondary to the heart and soul of each Jew being holy, for Hashem to dwell within them.

The reason that the physical building was commanded to be built was to motivate the people spiritually; and to provide a model for constantly building spiritual traits such as love and fear of G-d, humility, devotion, discipline, zeal, perseverance, purity, holiness, peace and the setting of highest standards.

When a person entered the sanctuary, or later the holy Temple, OR A SYNAGOGUE - WHICH IS A MINIATURE VERSION OF THE SANCTUARY OR HOLY TEMPLE - that act, in and of itself, is not sufficient. The synagogue building, remember, is made of wood and metal and stone. Even with its being holy, the building itself is lifeless. It is not itself an end. It is not so much itself of intrinsic value relative to it being a means for the Jew, to whom it is directed, achieving holiness and human perfection.

The main thing is the people who are in the building, who must be immersed in holiness, who must be connected to the divine presence and who must be committed to absolute service of G-d. People in shul must be sanctifying their heart and soul while standing with reverence for Hashem, not doing anything that violates His will and living with a holy spiritual orientation "across the board" in all facets of "real life."

The structure is called a sanctuary but it does not depend on the lumber or metal that it is made from. It depends upon the hearts, behavior, spirituality and holiness of the people who congregate in this building. The goal is to direct people's consciousness, behavior and midos towards Hashem.

In shul, the person is in a holy place where the divine presence dwells. He has to have awe and reverence and has to behave, correspondingly, in a holy manner. He does not engage in idle or secular chatter, he does not make jokes, he does not scoff, he does not engage in personal business nor talk about worldly matters. There is no lightheadedness, laughing, arguing, drunkenness or disparaging talk against anyone. This way, the people themselves make themselves into a sanctuary. They fulfill Hashem's command to "Make for Me a sanctuary that I dwell within THEM."

Remember, in the next verse, the Torah says, "This is the way you shall make it." This tells us that we are commanded to work on ourselves to make ourselves into a sanctuary, accomplishing this by purifying our hearts and souls, making ourselves holy. If any of the furnishings or any of the implements of the sanctuary were lost in subsequent generations, they must be re-made according to the form that we were shown, when commanded by Hashem through Moshe; so that there would be no changes in the form, dimensions or content of the sanctuary.

This also signals to us that in all future generations, the commandment for making this holy place is an inspiration, guide and obligation for elevation within ourselves. "This is the way you shall make it." Through our behavior, we make shul a holy entity. We are to view the shul as a place where the divine presence dwells and as a model for making ourselves holy. This is a commandment incumbent upon us.

This is such a strong and central issue that the Torah empowers the community to force all of its members to participate in the building of the synagogue. Similarly, the community has the obligation to purchase Torah scrolls, prayer books and other necessities for a synagogue. Among the highest priorities for a new community are a mikva, synagogue and a school for learning Torah.

Therefore, Hashem told the Jews that we must build a sanctuary [mikdosh]. The shul is called a "miniature sanctuary [mikdosh mi'at]." This teaches us that in every generation there is an obligation to build synagogues where there are Jewish communities with ten or more Jews over the age of bar mitzva.

Shul is a "model" for holiness that must be internalized and applied throughout life, at every moment and in every situation. Shul is a significant part of the Jew achieving his personal potential as an individual, achieving personal holiness and fulfilling the mission for which G-d created him as a unique human being alive on earth.

Every Jew must conduct himself at all times in accordance with holiness, by separating himself from sins and physical excesses, by going beyond the strict or technical letter of the law, by constantly elevating his spiritual level, by behaving in ways that are commendable and honorable to all other people, by treating people with kindness and respect, by being pleasant and sweet in disposition, by doing tshuva [repentance, correction] regularly for deeds and shortcomings, by maintaining peace with others at all times and by sanctifying himself in all which is permissible to him. The obligation to be holy has ramifications in all aspects of life. The halachic obligation for the Jew to be holy is brought in the Shulchan Aruch [Code Of Jewish Law, in the laws of Yom Tov].



In Parashas Truma, the Torah tells us that Hashem commanded Moshe to have the Jewish people build a sanctuary, so that Hashem's holiness can have a place to reside on earth. When that sanctuary was built, it became the basis for what later developed into the Bais HaMikdosh [Holy Temple in Jerusalem]. After the Holy Temple was destroyed, the sanctity and service that were in the Holy Temple, were transferred to the batay knessess [shuls, synagogues] and the worship activities therein.

With the shul being such a central part of Jewish life and Torah practice, the sanctity which has to be prevalent in the shul, and in the Jew's behavior in shul, is of profound importance.

The Torah commands us, "Be holy [Leviticus 19:2]" and "You shall fear My sanctuary [Leviticus 19:30]." A significant part of the Jew's attaining to holiness comes from one's conduct in shul and his internalizing the holiness built into the shul by the Torah. Besides this, fear of G-d is one of the mitzvos that applies at all times - in and out of shul. Outside of shul, there might be worldly distractions or undertakings. In shul, there should be nothing but service of G-d.

The shul is a very holy place. Accordingly, conduct in shul must be holy. Secular, personal or purposeless talk and activity is forbidden. Shul is exclusively for the holy activities of praying, learning Torah, doing mitzvos and saying Tehilim [Psalms]. The sanctity and reverence necessary in the bais knessess are of profound and central importance to our relationship with and attachment to G-d.

Every day, the practicing Jew reads "Shma" and, within it, says the verse, "Lima'an yirbu yemaichem... [In order that your lifetime be extended]." The gemora tells us that Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi says that the meaning of this phrase is that the holiness of the land of Israel, living there and doing mitzvos there, increases one's lifespan. The gemora says that the holiness of the land of Israel is in every bais knessess [shul] and bais midrash [yeshiva]. Since the Torah says that living a "mitzva rich" life in the land of Israel increases life, then the more time and more mitzvos [such as praying properly, learning Torah, saying Tehilim and doing acts of kindness] in a shul or in a yeshiva could increase your life span.

In the gemora, the sages say that a person's prayers are not listened to by Hashem except in a shul. It is the place of "singing and prayer." The gemora cites a verse [from the book of Kings 1 as its source] which says that Hashem should hear "the singing and the prayer" that His servant says. The gemora there [Brachos 6a] says, "In the place of singing, there is the place of prayer," which means: shul [Rashi]. This is where the congregation sings and praises Hashem. "Singing" refers here to "Tehilim [Psalms]." This teaches clearly 1. that the synagogue is the place for prayer and for singing to Hashem and 2. that when you pray, this is where your prayer is heard. If you pray somewhere else when it is the time to pray, you do not have the assurance that your prayer is heard. You are obligated to pray at the appointed times, regardless of whether a shul is accessible or not. When you pray in a place that is not a bais knessess [shul] or bais midrash [yeshiva], you are discharging your duty to pray at that time; but, you are not assured that your prayer is heard. When it is the time to pray the formal order of prayer, or if there is a need that warrants individual prayer, if you want those prayers to be most assuredly heard, go to a shul. This is where Hashem hears prayers.

The gemora continues by asking where we learn that the place where Hashem is found is in the synagogue? "Hashem stands in the congregation of G-d [Tehilim 82:1]." Hashem is found in the place where the people congregate to serve G-d.

The gemora continues by asking how we know that when ten people come together the Divine Presence is with them? The same verse tells us that Hashem stands in the CONGREGATION of G-d. Hashem is found in the place where the congregation comes for the service of G-d.

The Kessef Mishna, one of the most esteemed commentaries on Rambam, asks why the Torah, at the beginning of Parashas Truma [where the commandment to make the sanctuary is first stated], states "Make for Me a Mikdosh [Sanctuary]." Why does the Torah not say "Make for me a Mishkon [Dwelling]," since the Torah thereafter refers to it as the "Mishkon" throughout the Torah? It seems inconsistent, a contradiction.

The Kessef Mishna tells us that the Torah is teaching us that the Sanctuary is not only for that time in history. Rather, this teaches that it is a commandment for all times to build a sanctuary for Hashem. Anywhere and any time that there are ten adult male Jews in a community, they have the obligation to build a structure dedicated to the service of Hashem and, in particular, prayer. Even when we do not have the Mishkon [Holy Temple], we must have a sanctuary [shul] in all generations.

This structure is known as a bais knessess, the "house of congregation," since this is the place where adult men assemble each morning and evening to worship and to pray.

The gemora says that if one day someone does not come to shul the way he is supposed to every day, Hashem asks, "Where is this individual? Where is this person who is required to have reverence for Me? If he is not here because of a mitzva, then I will accept that. If it is because of his own personal business, I will not accept that, because he should have trusted in Me, that I will take care of his needs when he cannot take care of his business."

The gemora continues, "Rabbi Yochanon said, 'At the time when the Holy One blessed be He comes to the shul [to meet the people who come to pray], and he does not find that there is a minyan [quorum of ten men], He immediately becomes angry.'"

The gemora says, "Rabbi Helbo said, quoting Rabbi Huna, 'Everyone who establishes a steady place for himself in shul will have the G-d of Abraham help him.'"

The above sources clearly and powerfully demonstrate that shul is not a light matter. It is a foundation of Torah and is central to one's truly being a servant of G-d. It is one of the holiest elements of Jewish life.

By stringing these sources together, we get some picture of the power, holiness and value that the bais knessess has. We also see how central to Jewish life it is.

Further, many of these sources come right at the beginning of the Talmud - at the beginning of its first tractate. Chazal [the Talmudic sages] wanted to teach us early in the oral Torah the importance of shul. It is so fundamental that these lessons could not wait...they come right away. We see that we have to apply this all to life at all times.

The Jew must congregate for the three prayer services of shacharis [morning], mincha [afternoon] and ma'ariv [evening]. We must always have the sanctuary with us, which we do in the form of the shul.

There are laws governing the building of a shul. The shul has holiness, if it is built according to halacha [law] by G-d-fearing and Torah-loyal Jews, for the sake of Heaven. The land of Israel is so holy that the gemora says that if one walks four amos [about eight feet or two meters] there, he is guaranteed eternal life. The holiness of the land of Israel is in every shul that is build according to Torah.

Hashem wants the Jew to come to minyan steadily, wants him to have a steady place in shul, wants to help him when he prays there, He objects when he doesn't come [if for personal business] and He gets angry when a minyan that should show up does not show up for its prayer service.

What, then, is shul? What do we have to do to take advantage of what it offers and to approach it with the reverence and holiness that it stands for and requires from us?

Building a synagogue is considered by Hashem to be a great act. The prayers offered each day in the synagogue are comparable to the avoda [sacrifices, service] done in the Holy Temple. Now our service is in the form of prayer services, taking the place of the sacrifices and other services [e.g. lighting the menora] performed by the Kohanim in the Holy Temple.

In the Torah portion of Mishpatim, the Torah tells us "vi'avaditem es Hashem [and you shall serve G-d, Exodus 23:25]."

When we do not have the service of the Holy Temple, this means that we must serve Hashem with prayer and worship. The synagogue today parallels the Holy Temple and the service we perform today parallels the role of the service of the Kohanim who served in the Holy Temple as representatives for the entire Jewish people. Therefore, a shul should be built as nicely as possible and used to its full purpose and potential, every day.

A shul causes enormous merit for the Jewish people, because people come into it day in and day out, generally three times every day. There could potentially be millions of mitzvos accomplished in a shul over the years. You have an entire congregation getting together in unity to praise and worship Hashem. People generously give of themselves to build, operate, administrate, maintain and support the shul. It causes the divine presence to dwell among the Jewish people and it brings merit to the community.

It says in Psalms [16:8], "I place Hashem before me always." When a person is in the shul, he must stand with awe and reverence, realizing that the divine presence with him. If one must always live with consciousness of G-d in general, how much moreso in shul!

If a person lives in a neighborhood where there is a shul, and he does not attend, he is called "a bad neighbor" by G-d. If there were a person in one's neighborhood, who was a good person who it would be good and normal for him to visit, and he did not visit, that would be insulting. Similarly, when there is a synagogue in the neighborhood, and one does not attend, G-d designates him a "bad neighbor" because of his not attending shul. If it is improper etiquette to not visit one's neighbor of flesh and blood, how much moreso when he does not attend the House of G-d! When one does not go, except in the event of sickness, important mitzva, emergency or mishap beyond one's control, it appears as if the person is denying the existence of G-d.

The ramifications of conduct in shul are very serious. You can play a part in the extent to which the divine presence can be brought into the shul and dwells within the people Israel.

In 1648-9, a cossack named Chmielniki led an army across the Ukraine and Poland and slaughtered approximately 700,000 Jews. The Tosfos Yom Tov, a major commentator on the Mishna and a holy man who was alive at the time of this "mini holocaust," said that the reason for this decree of catastrophe was because of talking in shul.

Punishment is serious for talking in shul; especially when talking diverts anyone from saying required things, such as "amen," "yehai shmay raba," "kedusha," "Borchu" and when one is required to be quiet such as from the beginning of Pesukai Dezimra [Psalms of Praise] through "Tachanun" and during reading of the Torah and during Kadish and during the reading of the Megila. During all such times, it is mandatory to be quiet.

The Chafetz Chayim says that talking which causes one to miss even one word of the reading of the Torah is an overwhelming sin. Rav Moshe Feinstein says that we must be quiet during the reading of the Torah scroll because it is somewhat a replication of receiving the Torah. The same way that no one would dare to speak at Mount Sinai, when we were receiving the Torah, we cannot ever dare to speak during the reading of the Torah.

Punishments for talking in shul are severe. These could include premature death, loss of one's livelihood, loss of one's children and the shul being burned down by fire.

The positive side of this is that people should be encouraged to know and obey the laws of, and be sensitive to the reverence necessary for, the holy place "shul" in actual practice.

Because the laws of establishing a bais knessess [shul] are so severe, many shuls are technically established as a bais midrash [study house or yeshiva] because the laws are much more lenient. For example, it is forbidden to demolish a bais knessess. If a shul wanted to move, close or expand, this would be a serious halachic problem. In a shul, one generally may not eat or drink. If one wanted to be in shul for some extended period for any purpose and would want to eat or drink there, he could have a halachic question. So great is the obligation to have fear and awe for G-d and His sanctuary that many of the practical laws for a shul are very severe and restrictive. One should find out if his shul was indeed technically established as a shul and, if so, learn the laws necessary to properly conduct himself there. If one is planning on starting a shul, he should investigate with a talmid chochom [Torah authority] what his options are under the circumstances, and how he is best advised to proceed. The laws should not be viewed as a burden. They should be viewed as a measure, in a context understandable to finite humans, of the infinite greatness of Hashem Yisborach.



The midrash [Vayikra Raba] says that derech eretz comes before Torah. Derech eretz is a phrase that refers to polite, civil, thoughtful behavior. One must "have manners" and behave in socially acceptable ways, particularly so as to be thoughtful of and pleasant to other people. This is a prerequisite of Torah. Without derech eretz, one cannot claim to be a genuine Torah person and one cannot behave as he must. This applies everywhere, including in shul.

One of the rabbis from whom I learned Torah is Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman, a posaik (decider of Jewish law) and Talmid Chacham (accomplished scholar). There are parts of the prayer services during which it is strictly prohibited in Jewish law to speak. Rabbi Zimmerman told me that even during parts of the prayer services during which it is not strictly forbidden to speak, one should not speak. He said that derech eretz requires that one not disturb anyone else in the shul by speaking at any time during the services.

During prayer, one may not say Shmoneh Esray (the silent prayer) with one's voice because your voice will bother other people (Orech Chayim, Hilchos T'fillah 101:2) - not even with a low voice (Mishna Brura 10).

It is forbidden to walk within four amos (approximately eight feet) in front of one who is praying Shmoneh Esray (Orech Chayim, Hilchos T'fillah 102:4). One of the reasons is that this undoes the concentration of the one praying (Mishna Brurah 15). Don't hang your tallis in a way in which it can yank someone's property to the floor. In one morning alone I saw one young man in shul with his jacket dangling (because his tefillin was on his arm). He walked by one desk and the hanging garment pulled someone's tefillin bag off onto the floor, and when he got to the desk in front of it, the hanging coat pulled a pushka (charity box) onto the floor. At the same minyan I saw someone walk by the first desk and his dangling tallis pulled a sidur off. When you put on tzitzis in shul, make sure you are far enough away from the next fellow so that, while putting them on, you don't whip him in the face with the strings (I've seen all of these occur in shuls dozens of times).

One who causes damage of any kind is fully responsible. Shul is not a place where one should come to do any kind of damage or harm, ever! Shul should never be destructive, shul should only be constructive.

A certain rabbi customarily prayed a long "Shmoneh Esray" (the standing silent prayer), taking 20 or 30 minutes, in contrast with the more usual 3 - 5 minutes. He took his prayer very seriously. One time he prayed mincha (afternoon prayer) in a kollel (yeshiva specifically for married men) and, on that afternoon, there were exactly ten men (a minyan - quorum - the minimum necessary for the service) present. One of the worshippers had an important appointment. Immediately before the service started, the visiting rabbi happened to have heard the man in a hurry say that he would have to leave the moment prayer was over. This meant that if he were to pray his customarily long Shmoneh Esray, he could possibly cause the service to take longer than the usual time, inconveniencing the person who was in a hurry. He prayed the same Shmoneh Esray, at the more common speed, taking just as long as the rest of the minyan, out of consideration for the person in a hurry. After the service ended, I overheard the Rosh Kollel (who knew this rabbi, and who knew that he normally takes much, much longer than usual to pray Shmoneh Esray) say, "Till now I knew that you are a Talmid Chochom. Now I know that you are a Talmid Chochom AND A MENTSH."

About two years later, I witnessed another event with this same rabbi. He often prayed weekday shacharis (morning prayers) in a shul which has about 6 minyans (scheduled services), spanning about four hours from dawn and on. This rabbi came to one of the minyans with some regularity, generally not coming to any of the minyans at other times. A person should adopt a "makom kevua (regular place)" in shul and steadily pray there. The rabbi found a certain place which he took for his makom kevua. The congregants for all 5 or 6 weekday minyans accumulate into this shul for one morning service on Shabos or holidays, so the place is packed with 5 or 6 times as many people for a Shabos or holiday morning minyan than for any weekday morning minyan. This rabbi once came to this shul on a holiday and, since he came early, thought nothing of placing himself at his then empty makom kevua. His place was on a pathway which lead to a row of seats along a wall. On weekdays, when the room was relatively empty, this never blocked anyone. By the time that the holiday minyan got to Shmoneh Esray, the shul was crowded like a rush hour subway car, lehavdil, and every seat was occupied. If he would have prayed his long Shmoneh Esray, he would have blocked the coming and going of anyone who might have needed to go by in the jam-packed shul. Again, he prayed Shmoneh Esray of the conventional length of time, without "missing a beat," and without inconveniencing any other person.



It is important to keep peace at all times, especially in the synagogue. I have seen people in shul fight about trivial things (e.g. "That's my seat") and holy things (e.g. should we say Tachanun now or not).

The higher the spiritual level of a thing, the greater the yaitzer hora/evil inclination regarding it is. Since shul is very, very holy, the evil inclination works very hard and intensely there to make sins, often in a "holy guise."

One can feel very indignant about some "holy cause," and it is a pure and total sin! One of the ways this can manifest in a shul is fighting, especially over "holy causes." You are urged to take any thoughts of quarrel or objection to the rav of the shul, or a qualified talmid chochom [wise Torah authority] and obtain instruction on handling the issue.

Causing someone else to sin is a sin itself. This is called "machshol" by the Torah: one who causes another to stumble in sin. There are many occasions in shul where one can cause another to sin (such as by talking to someone who replies to the talker when talking is forbidden, or positioning oneself to pray in a place where people will walk within four amos in front of him while he is in Shmoneh Esray). Therefore, it is not enough to guard against one's own violation of Torah. One must carefully guard against causing any other Jew to do any Torah violation.

When one fights or gets angry in shul, it is highly possible that he will not only sin himself. He may bring others to sin also, Heaven forbid. This is a "double sin." Person #1 has the sin of causing another person to sin, besides the actual sin done by person #2. This is all-the-moreso if a sin-situation spreads to more than two people.

Bringing or maintaining peace is a huge mitzva. One is obligated to exert himself, to spend money or impose upon himself for the sake of peace.

More often than not, a fight or disruption is not justified and will possibly lead to not just one but to many sins, e.g. hurting feelings, embarrassing, slandering, ostracizing, hitting, vengeance, grudge-bearing, disturbing the services, destroying friendships or reputations, causing harm, withholding kindness, lying, vulgarity, instigation, escalation of arguments, contempt and/or the formation of groups who will take sides against one another.

The Torah prohibits fights by its saying [Numbers 17:5] not to be like Korach and his group, who fought against Moshe.

Midrash Beraishis Raba says that the greatest thing between people is peace. Rashi [Leviticus 26:6] says that the blessing of peace is equal to all other blessings combined. One can have every kind of blessing, such as food and wealth, and without peace, one cannot benefit from the other blessings. Without peace, one has nothing. Accordingly, there cannot be the due holiness in a bais knessess without peace.

Once it comes to any arguing, generally anything you can name is not worth it. It is more important to maintain peace and to revere the sanctity of the bais knessess, Hashem's dwelling on earth. A fight is generally NEVER holy. In shul, a fight is "a yaitzer hora with payos" - just a yaitzer hora [evil inclination] that is more subtle than when outside of shul. There is never any mitzva accomplished in a sinful way. In G-d's eyes, a mitzva that comes through a sin remains a sin. If you are ever tempted to do anything belligerent or nasty, ask a rav what to say or do, before you speak or act or get upset. One of the reasons why G-d wants prayer from a minyan more than from an individual alone is that their getting together means that Jews are united and in peace. The concluding prayer of every Shmoneh Esray is for peace. To argue in shul is a contradiction and a hypocrisy!

A story which brings out how crucial it is to extend oneself for peace is told in the name of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the greatest Torah sages of the previous generation.

A man had yahrtzeit (anniversary of decease) for a parent and wanted to lead the prayer service, as is customary. A stranger, who had a very big and strong build, physically pushed this man away from the reader's podium and said in bully fashion that he had yahrtzeit for an in-law who was killed during the holocaust and he was going to pray before the congregation. Albeit the holocaust may arouse sentiment, an in-law does not supersede a parent when it comes to leading the prayer service on the yahrtzeit. And physical abuse is never permissible.

When the man, who was pushed, sadly told Rabbi Feinstein what happened, Rabbi Feinstein replied that because he was peaceful and didn't fight, the merit of the bully's prayer on behalf of the in-law's soul went to the soul of this man's parent. There was nothing for him to feel sad about. He lost nothing by keeping peace. In fact, he gained a mitzva.

One man had makom kevua [steady place] in his shul. A man, who did not know that it was a reserved place, came in and started praying there. A few minutes later, the person for whom that was a steady place came. He started screaming at the man who was praying there and told him angrily never to sit in his steady place. This man's makom kevua was for service of his ego, not service of his Creator.

Another man in another shul took a seat. He did not know it was the steady place of a regular congregant in that shul. When the regular person came and saw the visitor sitting in his steady place, he simply walked further down the aisle several more rows till the next available seat. He silently and calmly, as if nothing unusual was happening, and "without missing a beat," took the first seat available and started putting on his tefillin. This man knew that his purpose in shul is service of G-d, and he had his priorities straight.

An elderly gentleman had been reading the Torah for nearly a half-century. He had a job reading the Torah for a certain shul every Shabos morning. For the other prayer times on Shabos, he dovened at another shul that was closer to his home. On Shabos afternoon, the Torah is also read. In the shul which was closer to the old man's house, the Torah had been read in the afternoons by the same man who reads it Shabos mornings. The old man felt that he should have the honor of reading the Torah on Shabos afternoons and he felt offended that he wasn't invited to read the Torah for mincha. They worked out a peaceful compromise. They each would read the Torah on alternating Shabos afternoons.

If someone does not increase peace in the world, he stands to be very destructive and he probably has no real connection to Torah. Chazal tell us that talmiday chachomim [those wise in Torah] increase peace in the world, and they are the ones who truly build the world.



The Torah also commands, "You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your hearts [Deuteronomy 6:5]." In shul we have the opportunity to practice love for G-d by our prayer and our conduct in shul. Let us also look at the curious plural language in this verse: to love G-d with all our "hearts." Does a person have more than one heart? The sages explain that this means that we are to love G-d with the two inclinations that are in the heart: the good inclination and the evil inclination. One serves G-d by devoting his good AND evil inclinations to Him. To serve G-d with one's good inclination is easy to understand: do mitzvos, do kindnesses, work hard on tshuva [repentance] and mussar [spiritual elevation, self-perfection] and do acts of piety [religious devotion and going beyond the technical law].

How can one serve or love G-d with one's evil inclination? For example, if one is bloodthirsty, instead of getting into physical fights or being a murderer, let one be a mohel who does the mitzva of circumcision, or let him be a shochet [ritual slaughterer of kosher meat] or a kosher butcher, who feeds his neighborhood. Similarly, in shul, one must use both of his inclinations to serve G-d. If, for example, you feel like talking,

* be the reader who leads the prayer for the congregation or

* be the one who reads the Torah for the congregation or

* regularly study Torah in shul about laws of holy conduct in shul or

* silently use your inclination to communicate for good e.g. by silently pointing out that someone's head tefillin [shel rosh] is off position (it must be in the center of the head and not too far forward) or the white of his tefillin straps is facing front (the black side must face front) or warmly greet new visitors by silently doing the kindness of handing them a sidur (prayer book) [and Chumash book, if it is Shabos] with a friendly and welcoming smile.

Channel your inclination exclusively into holiness - and not to talking in shul. This will be a tikun (repair) for your neshama [soul] and midos [character], and it will promote numerous mitzvos. You would apply this principle to all spiritual issues and tests that challenge you. Transform your yaitzer hora into service and love of G-d.

Chazal tell us that "G-d requires the heart" and Chazal also tell us that "serving G-d with the heart is done through prayer and reading 'Shma.'" Shul provides a crucial opportunity to serve G-d with all your heart and to love Him with "both of your hearts," by channeling all of your energies for keeping halacha [law], and for good and for holiness.



The Torah says, "You shall love your fellow Jew as you love yourself, I am G-d [Leviticus 19:18]." Chazal ask why the Torah adds 'I am Hashem' to the commandment to love our fellow Jew? We understand the commandment (to love the next Jew) clearly without the Torah's adding "I am Hashem" to the verse. This is to tell us "I am G-d and the Jew is My creation. If you behave nicely and correctly to people, you love G-d. If you do not behave nicely and correctly with people, you do not love G-d" [Avos DeRebe Noson 16]. This being the case, a meaningful expression of our love for G-d is loving, honest, respectful and correct treatment of each of our fellow Jews. This applies everywhere, but certainly should not be overlooked in shul.

I witnessed the following myself in one of the shuls in which I doven. One of the individuals who prays in the shul is very impoverished, so much so that he wore torn pants. He would come day in and day out. He would pray, go about his business and not bother or burden anyone. One day, a chassidic man went over to this fellow and asked, "I need such a type of pants for my work. How much does a pair like this cost?"

The poor individual answered, "It's been 10 or 12 years since I bought these. If I recall, back then it was between 20 and 30 dollars." The poor individual was of the impression that he was doing the chassid a kindness by providing sought-after information.

The next day, the chassid came to shul and I saw him walk over to the poor fellow, smile lovingly, and place a twenty and a ten dollar bill into his hand. The chassid had essentially bought the fellow a new pair of pants of the kind that the fellow would - in his own taste - like. It was kavod [honor] together with chesed [lovingkindness].

Then, as the tactful chassid was starting to back away, the poor fellow, who evidently knew how to learn, said with a smile, "When you told me yesterday that you want to know the price of the pants for work, you obviously meant for 'avodas hakodesh [holy work]!'" They both smiled warmly. It was a beautiful mitzva.

Another true story shows another kind of consideration. It starts with several Torah concepts.

1. There is a law that when one is praying the Shmoneh Esray [the standing silent prayer], another may not go within four "amos" [about eight feet or two meters] in front of the one who is praying. 2. There is another law that one takes three steps back just before the ending paragraph at the end of Shmoneh Esray. 3. It is proper for a person to pray in a "makom kevua [steady place]." The Talmud [Brachos] says that praying in a makom kevua helps one's prayer to be answered by Hashem.

A man, who prayed slowly and carefully, was about to start praying in his makom kevua. A stranger rushed into the shul at the last minute and positioned himself right in front of the man who was in his steady place. The man moved to his left enough so that the visitor would not be in front of him, reasoning as follows. The visitor would probably pray more quickly and finish sooner. If the visitor was learned, the visitor would have been "trapped" by the man in his regular place, when it would be time to step back, and the visitor would notice the man behind him. Moving anywhere in front of the man praying (in his steady place) would be forbidden. The visitor would have to stand still and he would be unable to finish the prayer or move for quite some time. If the visitor was not learned, he would have sinned by stepping back, in front of the man who would have been praying in his steady place. The man praying slowly in his steady place would have set up a sin, which is also a sin.

Either way, the man in his steady place could have potentially caused a bad consequence in the eyes of the Torah. He would have been selfish and/or sinful. Prayer is a mitzva and a mitzva must be pure good. Even though a prayer in a steady place is normally more acceptable to Hashem, a tainted prayer would be less acceptable to Hashem. He realized the situation just in the nick of time and sacrificed his steady position so that his prayer would be free from any contradiction, would not be at anyone else's expense and would be genuine service of Hashem.

In shul, one must make sure that he balances his conduct between 1. the laws and obligations that govern conduct regarding prayer and shul with 2. the Torah's constant obligations of loving, friendly, respectful, humble, pleasant and peaceful conduct with other people. The Torah was given with two "departments:" bain odom laMakome [mitzvos towards G-d] and bain odom lachavairo [mitzvos towards fellow human]. Neither is license to compromise the other. Both categories of mitzvos are binding and applicable at all times.

Let's look at another aspect of love for fellow Jews for which shul is particularly suited.

In Avos DeRebi Noson, The Talmud tells us that Daniel was beloved by his entire generation. He was a dynamo of chesed [active lovingkindness]. What were the things for which his society loved him? He 1. made weddings for poor brides, 2. made funerals for poor families who lost a member, 3. gave charity to the poor and 4. he faced Jerusalem three times a day.

I can understand the first three items on the list of kindnesses for which Daniel's entire generation loved him - they are very generous and practical kindnesses. What is the last item that the Talmud cites? What does facing Jerusalem three times a day tell us? Why is this appropriate on a list of kindnesses for which his generation loved him?

Remember that the Biblical book of Daniel takes place in Babylonia (modern day Iraq). When Jews pray, we do so facing Jerusalem. We know that Daniel's facing Jerusalem three times a day means praying. But still, what does that have to do with a list of kindnesses for which Daniel was beloved by the entire Jewish population in his time?

Let's say you are performing the kindness of caring for a sick person. You sweep his room, you feed him, you go to the drug store and buy medicine. You take him to the doctor and even pay the doctor bill. The doctor says hope is very dim. You have done all that is humanly possible. There is nothing more that any human can do.

Now that all human effort is exhausted, you pour your heart out in prayer to G-d. You say, "Hashem, I have done all that is in my power. I have gladly expended all the resources at my disposal. The doctor says there is next to no hope. Only You can save this person. This person has many merits. Many people love this person. There are many good things that this person can do for other people. This person has not wronged others. Have mercy and heal this person with a speedy and full recovery."

Once human power has been exhausted - in other words, human chesed has been exhausted - and a person still needs more chesed, you achieve chesed when you pray to G-d that He pick up where human chesed leaves off. By praying that G-d give chesed to one whose need exceeds what humans can do, and you have done all the practical deeds that you possibly can - your prayer is chesed! Daniel prayed three times a day for those who he could do no more chesed for. WHEN HE DID ALL THAT HE COULD AND THEN PRAYED TO G-D ON BEHALF OF THESE PEOPLE, FOR THE NEEDS THAT WERE BEYOND HUMAN CONTROL - THIS WAS CHESED and his entire generation loved him!

Daniel's chesed was thorough. It included prayer to G-d on behalf of others for that which was beyond Daniel's doing. HIS PERSONAL LIMITATION DID NOT IMPOSE LIMITATION ON HIS CHESED! Consider: G-d is infinite. To the extent that we bring G-d into our approach to chesed, OUR CHESED CAN SOMEWHAT APPROACH INFINITE.

Chesed means doing everything that you can do with your actions, powers and resources to help a person and be kind to a person. When you have done all that you can and all that is in your power and control, chesed also means praying to Hashem. "Now that I have done all that I can, the rest is up to You. You help the person, You give salvation, You solve the trouble, YOU PICK-UP WHERE HUMAN POWERS LEAVE OFF." If a person is mortally ill, is in need of more financial help than you can give, needs a shidduch, is having a rough pregnancy, is leaving on a dangerous voyage, was kidnapped, is lost or hasn't been heard from, is leaving Yiddishkeit, is in jail in an anti-semitic country, is emotionally depressed over some hardship or disappointment, etc. you plead with Hashem to quickly help in a kind, compassionate, effective, complete and lasting manner. You pray that He picks up where human ability leaves off. "Please, Hashem, take care of so-and-so who needs such-and-such." When the matter "is in Hashem's hands," your regular and repeated praying on behalf of the person/people is chesed. Pick up a Tehilim. Do extra mitzvos, do tshuva for sins or shortcomings, work extra hard to guard against sins. Influence other people to pray, add mitzvos and guard against sins. Encourage others to appreciate and do more chesed. The Chafetz Chaim says to teach other people to value and perform chesed of all kinds. Have kavana (intention) that G-d apply the extra merit on behalf of the person with need, suffering or trouble.

The most important thing in praying is to give G-d your complete heart while having genuine concern and full concentration; and that the prayer be sincere and with complete trust that G-d is the only One in control of the supply of all needs and that He will do what He deems to be for the best.



The word in Hebrew for prayer is "hispalel." Technically, its translation does NOT mean prayer. What is its true meaning? How should we understand what prayer TRULY is?

For starts, it is a word in the "hispa'el" binyan [structure] within Hebrew grammar. In English, the "hispa'el" structure (in grammar) would be called a "reflexive verb." This means it is an action in which the same person simultaneously causes and receives the action. As a simple example, let us take the verb "to feed." A mother CAUSES an action when she FEEDS her baby. The baby RECEIVES the action: he is FED. When the mother FEEDS HERSELF, this is what is called, in grammar, a "reflexive" action: a person is both the CAUSE AND RECIPIENT of the action at the same time. This is the case in the verb "hispalel."

The root verb is peelail [peh, lamed, lamed; to judge or decide]. Being the reflexive structure of the verb peelail, hispalel actually means to judge oneself, to decide about oneself.

When one prays, he is not so much asking for something from Hashem. He is JUDGING AND DECIDING WITHIN HIMSELF WHETHER HE MERITS THAT FOR WHICH HE IS PRAYING! Praying is self-assessment, introspection and deciding what one must do to deserve and merit what he needs, and how to perfect himself. To pray is not to demand, expect or feel entitled. Prayer requires humility and subjugation to G-d's absolute rule and power over all of creation. Pirkei Avos [chapter two], says, "Be careful in the reading of Shma and in prayer, and when you pray do not regard your prayer to be a burden or habit but, rather, to consider prayer a beseeching of mercy and favor from He Who is everywhere."

Prayer is holy, so much so that the gemora tells us that G-d prays to Himself. His prayer is that His mercy should supersede stern judgement when judging the Jewish people. When we pray properly, we fulfill the mitzva of emulating G-d as well as the mitzvos to pray properly, to be holy and to fear G-d's sanctuary.

Even well-intended interruptions, such as someone going around jiggling a coin box to collect charity at a time when silence is required, is prohibited in halacha. It is what the gemora call "a mitzva which comes through a sin" and the Torah prohibits any mitzva which comes through a sin; generally, the act is entirely a sin. One should wait to collect charity until after Tachanun, and if it is a day when the Torah is being read, wait until after the Torah is put back in the ark. Since the verse in Ashray, "Posayach es yodecha... [You open your hand...]" requires concentration, it is recommended that such mitzva interruptions be delayed till after the completion of the second reading of "Ashray;" and that all non-halachic distractions, interruptions or noises be discontinued altogether; especially before services have altogether ended.

During prayer, one is connecting with Hashem. Hashem is evaluating each person's merits relative to his needs and requests. The Jew should constantly keep his conduct blameless and his speech pure, to optimize the holiness - and, therefore, effectiveness - of his prayer.



The Torah refers to a group of ten men as a "congregation" [Numbers 14:27]. The Talmud says that we learn from here that there is no "congregation" with less than ten Jewish men, what we call a "minyan [count or quorum]."

King David tells us [Psalm 69:14], "And, as for me, my prayer is to You, G-d, at an acceptable time, L-rd, in the abundance of Your lovingkindness answer me, in the truth of Your salvation." The gemora says that when the verse says "at an acceptable time," that means the time when the congregation is praying. King David is indicating to us the importance of praying to Hashem at the time when the congregation is praying.

The gemora says that if a person learns or supports Torah, does acts of lovingkindness towards other Jews and prays with the congregation, Hashem will count it as if he has the merit to undo the exile. The reason that Hashem redeemed King David from being endangered by enemies is because he always prayed with the congregation. The synagogue is called a "tower." Just as a tower is high and protective and enables one to fight off an enemy; because there is Torah, prayer and service of G-d in the synagogue; the synagogue is high and protects the generation.

Rabbi Chanina said that, even though Hashem has millions of angels in Heaven who sing His praises every day, G-d only WANTS the prayers of Israel. G-d has unique delight when Jews congregate to pray and sing His praises. King Solomon said [Proverbs 14:28], "Where there is a multitude of people, there is the king's glory." A big congregation is an honor to Hashem, the King. When a congregation comes together to sing Hashem's praise, to pray to Him, to attribute Kingship and Holiness to Him, to thank Him and to serve Him; the larger the crowd that gets together, the more glorification of G-d that is achieved. This makes Hashem happier than millions of angels singing His praise.

At the start of the Amida (standing silent prayer, the principal prayer, also called "Shmoneh Esray") we acknowledge that the individual's merit generally is not sufficient to merit fulfillment of prayer and we appeal to the merit of our forefathers, particularly Avraham.

Further, we petition our Father in Heaven to be willing and merciful in His receipt of our prayers (e.g. vikabail birachamim uviratzon es tefilasainu...raikam al tisheevainu) and that they be granted in a good manner.

The importance of praying with a minyan is incalculable, especially when you consider that, within prayer, we beseech Hashem, for our needs. How our prayers are received affects what we receive from Hashem. Prayer is a fantastic opportunity. We optimize that opportunity by praying regularly, in shul and with a minyan. Proper praying is a serious part of life, and praying in shul with a minyan is a serious part of prayer.



The prophet [Amos 3:12] says, "Prepare yourself to meet your G-d, Israel." The meaning of this is that you should be dressed properly and that you approach prayer fittingly. One must wash the hands and it is proper to give charity before prayer.

Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch [commentary to Torah] says that the word "kadosh" [holy] also means "readiness" for a specific purpose. A significant part of being holy is readiness to separate from the earthly, to be a pure servant of Hashem. Being holy is, itself, a mitzva de'Oraisa [commandment from the Torah]. Since prayer is potentially pure service of Hashem, proper preparation for it is a major facet of a Jew's capacity to be holy - and to use prayer for holiness.

How one prays affects G-d's response to his prayer. When the Jewish people were hungry in the desert, they asked for food. G-d granted the manna every weekday for the 40 years that the Jews were in the desert. When they grew tired of only eating the manna, they contemptuously complained and nastily asked for meat. G-d granted the request by bringing quail birds in quantity by a powerful wind. In essence, G-d "dumped" the quails as if with "a slap in their face" and in such large measure that it made the people sick and disgusted. They asked in a way that wasn't nice and the prayer was answered in a way that wasn't nice. It is vital, therefore, to always pray in a manner of humility, respect, awe and holiness. By praying in a nice way, we increase the chance that G-d will grant the prayer in a nice way. Praying nicely includes the attitude, frame of mind, purity of intention, emotion and tone as well as the words. Always remember that how one dovens determines how that prayer is answered. Part of proper preparation for prayer is becoming able to pray in such a good way that the prayer can be "mirrored" by G-d, so as to be granted in a way that is entirely good.

If possible, one should prepare himself mentally for prayer before starting. This could be accomplished by saying Tehilim or learning Torah that pertains to service of G-d or the holiness of shul or praying. When one prays, his heart should be directed and given entirely to G-d.

I find it effective to say Tehilim on behalf of sick and injured Jews before "official dovening." This combines the benefits of Tehilim and prayer together, creates a prepared and elevated frame of mind for the prayer services and introduces an element of unselfish kindness and compassion, which is how one wants G-d to receive his prayers. I read a two-page list of names, saying a little prayer sincerely asking that Hashem fully heal these and all other Jews who are ill [physically, mentally or emotionally] in the merit of the coming chapters of Tehilim. I generally read five chapters.

On Shabos or Yom Tov (when prayers for individuals are not allowed), I omit the names and just ask that G-d fully heal all the sick in Israel. You might want to ask why we say "Mee Shebairach" on Shabos or Yom Tov for sick people, if prayers for individuals are not allowed? The answer is simple: it is considered a bracha (blessing), not a prayer. We can - and should - make blessings every day! We use this blessing on Shabos and Yom Tov in order to not neglect the seriously ill who need Heaven's help.

During the morning prayer, a particularly appropriate time for separating money to give to charity is towards the end of Pesukai Dezimra, shortly after standing up [in the section which starts, "Vayivorech David..."] while saying the words, "Vi'ata moshail bakol [and You rule over everything]." For example, by taking a coin out of one's usual money pocket and putting the money into an empty pocket, the charity is separated and ready to be given away at the first opportunity. By acknowledging that G-d rules over the allocation of all money, and by willingly separating money for giving just when making that acknowledgement, one is deemed more worthy of receiving money, if his intention is sincere and for the sake of Heaven.

One who shows that he considers worldly resources to be given by G-d, for the purpose of giving them to fellow Jews for G-d's service, and he shows that he is a reliable "administrator" of worldly resources for the service of G-d's will, he is given more worldly resources by G-d to "administer" [Maharal of Prague].

HoRav Shimon Schwab, z'l, wrote, in a letter to me, that one is much more likely to succeed in a thing when he does it entirely for the sake of Heaven.

Similarly, before mincha and ma'ariv, one can put money into the charitable coin boxes or separate money for later distribution. The point is to prepare before praying in a way that introduces into your prayer the fulfillment of the mitzva to love every other Jew as yourself. That brings peace and unity between Jewish people and that brings peace and unity between Hashem and the Jews. And, if you are compassionate to G-d's children, He has more reason to be compassionate to you. He rules the world with the principle of "mida kinegged mida [measure for measure]. The mishna tells us that the way one conducts himself is the way that Heaven conducts Itself with him.



In the choice of which nusach [prayer text variation] to pray, and all matters, one should follow the custom of his ancestors.

The prophet tells us [Hoshea 14:10], "The ways of G-d are correct, tzadikim [the righteous] go in them and the sinners stumble in them." Notice that Hoshea speaks in the plural. The WAYS of G-d are correct. There are several ways to serve G-d e.g. the Litvish way, the Chasidish way, the Sefardic way, the Taimanee [Yemenite] way, the "Yekkish [German]" way. They are all correct. But when is it so that they are all correct? When they are the "WAYS OF G-D." As long as they are kosher traditions, based on the will of G-d, and the Torah that He gave the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and faithfully passed down from fathers to sons through the generations, they are each correct.

Every individual has his good and evil inclinations, and the free choice to go in either inclination. In any tradition, based on the Torah of G-d, one can be righteous and go in the ways of G-d or he can be a sinner and stumble. One can even stumble in the WAY OF G-D. The evil inclination can make someone stumble in a most disgusting sin. The evil inclination can also be very clever and make a person use religion sinfully, such as the person who argues over a "holy cause" in shul, or the person who talks Torah at a time when speaking in shul is totally forbidden, or the person who steals a lulav to use on the holiday of Sukos, or the person who cheats and steals in business to become more charitable (while in G-d's eyes he just remains a disgusting thief).

The "righteous go in them," the ways of G-d; and the sinners stumble in them. Which way one goes depends on the tradition that he comes from and that he use his free-will choice to be a tzadik. THE MAIN THING IS THAT HE BE A TZADIK, THAT HE GOES RIGHTEOUSLY IN THE "WAYS OF G-D."

The Talmud says that when one kosher Torah tradition is at variance with another kosher Torah tradition, "This one and that one are equally the words of the living G-d."



Always keep in mind what we come to shul for: prayer and praising G-d. Keep in mind that G-d is the answerer of prayer. For Him to be the answerer of prayer, we must pray in order for Him to answer prayer! Prayer must be proper. It must have kavana [intention, concentration] and faith, humility, reverence and honor.

Prayer must be with the trust and realization that ONLY He is the One Who gives us all of our needs. He is the Creator, King, Father, First Cause and Director of everything. So, when we pray to Him properly, we are fulfilling a mitzva, we are fulfilling halacha, we are doing His will, we are listening to Him, so we obtain merit that Hashem will be listening to us. An important part of that is dovening without forbidden interruption. Proper dovening spiritually elevates us.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab said that reverent silence in a bais knessess speaks loudly to Hashem. Peace and tranquility in prayer achieve communication with Hashem. Hashem has infinite kindness to answer our prayers and the ultimate power and control with which to answer our prayers. He answers those who honestly and sincerely have faith that prayers are answered by Him. An important part of that is our obedience to His will. Pirkei Avos [chapter two] says to do Hashem's will that He do your will.

Ramban, at the end of Parashas Bo, says that the purpose of existence is to believe in Hashem and that He created us and everything for His honor. The purpose of prayer in the bais knessess is for people to use that capacity for prayer to gather together and to praise Hashem for creating them and all of existence, and for giving them good that is beyond counting or measuring, and to thank Him for the blessings and benefits that He constantly gives to us and to every creature in existence. We all should publicize that we are His creations and that we serve Him. As an extension of that, Evven Ezra says we are obligated to honor the place that is the house of prayer for the honor of Hashem. Hashem gives us kindnesses at every moment. Man has to give time to worldly undertakings, not just spiritual undertakings. Each has to eat, sleep, earn livelihood, raise children, keep a house. We have to specifically establish a time and place for prayer to thank and praise Hashem and to ask for our needs and to give Him reverence and service three times a day.

Each person is obligated to pray that his mouth be guarded [we accomplish this in "Elokai netzur" at the end of Shmoneh Esray]. Each must be careful with what one's mouth says; that he says nothing vile, offensive, slanderous, heretical, false, cruel, harmful, embarrassing or vulgar - nothing that is against G-d, man or Torah. The mouth that prays to Hashem must be pure and free from sins. Each person must realize that he stands in shul before a King with the power of life and death.

It is best not to sit next to someone considered by halacha to be evil, or a person who can be disturbing. Included in this is NOT bringing children to shul before they are at the age where they can be controlled and quiet. Although some people advocate bringing children to shul at early ages, so they will be used to shul, the children often are wild and disturbing to others, and they often do not grow up in regard to their conduct in shul! They talk, disturb and behave childishly in shul for their entire lifetime. Since they never knew any better, they can never be reasoned with about behaving properly, no matter how old they get. When a child grows up to behave improperly, especially if defiant or rigid, this reflects on the parent poorly, showing that such a parent was irresponsible, ignorant, boorish and selfish. In the laws of honoring parents, a great mark of honor for parents is conduct which makes people say that the parents of such a person were exemplary.

The Talmud says that Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said that a person should always come early to the shul, in order that he should be among the first ten to come, even if there will be 100 more people coming after, because the reward is greatest for those ten who constitute the original minyan. The Talmud further says that whoever goes to shul at the times of the prayers, and is there for the proper amount of time, and conducts himself with the holiness that is required, this person's life will be extended!



The Torah says, "You shall fear My sanctuary [Leviticus 19:30]." The bais knessess is the sanctuary of our time. We are therefore warned by the Torah about the sanctity of the synagogue and to fear Hashem Who dwells in there, and to fear His sanctuary. Numerous laws and principles govern behavior in shul and define what is and is not proper in shul.

In the synagogue, it is prohibited to take care of any personal business, to discuss secular things, to gossip or joke. The only things which may be spoken about are those which have to do with the holy purpose that you are required to go there for. At certain times you are not even permitted to speak Torah! At certain times when speaking is allowed, outside of prayer times, you may speak Torah or about doing mitzvos or about tzadaka [charitable] needs, matters of the shul [e.g. counting the money in the charity box or speaking about repairs needed for the Torah scrolls]. During prayers, the laws which limit speaking are very severe and detailed. Between the beginning of Pesukai Dezimra and the conclusion of Tachanun; and especially during the silent Shmoneh Esray, the reader's repetition of the Shmoneh Esray, Torah reading, the Megila and any Kadish; there should be no speaking (even about Torah), other than that which is called for in the prayers and the congregational responses.

You are obligated to use the shul only for its purpose. One must leave personal and worldly purposes outside. If you do use the shul for a personal purpose, such as for a short-cut, you must use it for a holy purpose while in there, such as learning something of Torah [e.g. a Mishna or something from the weekly Torah portion or from TaNaCH] or saying a chapter of Tehilim. Similarly, if you want to call or find someone in the shul, you should find something holy to do, even if for a few moments, so that when you go into the shul, you go in for a holy purpose that the shul is there for, every time.

This applies to every holy thing. For example, if you want to make change from one of the shul's charity containers, you must give some of the money to charity, so that you will not have used the charity fund for a personal purpose. If, for example, you put a dollar in, take out only three, not four, quarter-coins. This way, you've done the holy act of giving tzadaka, instead of the secular act of making change.



The synagogue is a miniature version of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem on the mountain we call "Zion." There are some verses in Psalm 24 that give some insight into the beauty inherent in this subject, keeping in mind that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is really where the service of Hashem is supposed to be. The synagogue is the substitute for the Holy Temple, since we currently do not have it.

"Who is the one who will go up to the mountain of G-d? Who will attain to His holy place? The one whose hands are clean and whose heart is pure. The one who did not use his mouth falsely and who has not sworn deceitfully. This one will obtain blessing from Hashem and generosity from the G-d Who saves him."

We see in this that if one properly uses his faculties, his hands are clean, his heart is pure, and he does not misuse his gift of speech, but uses these for the proper purposes and he is pure, this is the one who Hashem will bless, be generous to and save from trouble.

Since the mouth is a key instrument in prayer, one's mouth should always be of merit; never used to eat anything unkosher, never to speak in a way that harms or shames another person, never speaks apostasy or falsity, etc. The mouth is used for Torah, kindness, encouragement, comfort, blessings, truth and service of G-d. A mouth of merit brings significant merit to one's prayer.

Prayer is substantially duty of the heart. In the heart rests one's midos [character traits], free-will choice and one's essential identity and qualities as a person. One should never think, feel or do sin or evil. One should use his heart to refrain from sin; and for spiritual growth, halacha observance, passing the tests presented by life, mitzvos, holiness and ever-increasing devotion and attachment to Hashem. A heart of merit brings significant merit to one's prayer.

There is a parallel in all of this to what we are discussing since the synagogue is the mini-sanctuary, the substitute for the Holy Temple while we are in exile. In order to really serve Hashem, to be spiritual and holy, to strive to be a true servant, it requires deeds that are clean, a heart that is pure, it requires knowing what to use the mouth for and what to not use the mouth for; to achieve the attachment that this service is supposed to create between the Jew and Hashem, in the spirit of holiness; in the place in which the holiness of Hashem, the Jew and the sanctuary all come together.

In the beginning of this treatise, I brought the analogy given by Me'am Loez wherein the sanctuary is analogous to a chamber in which G-d showers love upon the Jewish people, as a loving father would upon his child. By our being His children, He is able to see Himself as our Father. As a father has love and mercy for his child, G-d has love and mercy for the Jew. But, nothing worthwhile is free. There are rules built into "the system," but when His children obey the Torah, do tshuva and improve themselves steadily, G-d showers His beloved children with His generous kindness. Besides G-d's bestowal of blessing upon us, we benefit from obeying G-d because we grow as human beings,  we make ourselves holier, we connect with the Creator of the universe and we elevate our neshama (eternal soul) and bring to it completion and perfection.

G-d wants to bless the Jewish people and to give us our needs. By conducting ourselves according to the Torah, we earn merit so that G-d can "see His way clear" to giving us kindness and compassion. Two major parts of creating the necessary merit for this are our conduct in daily life, in general, and our conduct in His house, in particular.

The ultimate lesson of the sanctuary, which nowadays is the shul, is to make yourself holy and to behave at all times in life as a Torah Jew - in the synagogue and everywhere else. The Torah beckons us to study the spiritual obligations and standards associated with the sanctuary. That is not enough. You must apply them in the bais knessess three times every day and internalize them so they become a true part of you at all times, in order to bring you to spiritual elevation, perfection and holiness; and in order that you conduct yourself as a child of G-d everywhere and in everything that you do. The one whose deeds are clean, whose heart and speech are pure, he will obtain blessing and salvation from G-d - and will truly arrive at His holy place.