All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Shul

A sign in a shul in Brooklyn reads: “If you come to shul to talk, where do you go to daven?”

There’s something to be said for that. Or to not be said. Talking during davening is a disorder (double entendre intended). It is also a communicable disease. On the other hand, not — chas v’shalom — to encourage talking during davening, but one of the main reasons for going to shul is to connect with chaveirim. As with much of life, it’s all a question of when and how. Ask your local Orthodox Rabbi. …

Shul is more than a place to catch a minyan. It is a center of Jewish life — from the bris, until the send-off to the beis olam after 120. Not surprisingly, much of life’s fundamental lessons we learn in shul.

Don’t block the way. Charity and safety begin at home and in shul. Don’t stand during Shemoneh Esrei where you block other people from coming in the door or getting to a seat. If you stand a long Shemoneh Esrei, that’s very holy. But daven where you won’t stop other people from getting by or sitting down (in front of you). Don’t be a tzaddik on somebody else’s cheshbon.

Wait your turn. Not everyone gets an ­aliyah every day. Come often enough and you’ll get your calling.

Put things back where you found them. Think of the next person. Shul siddurim and sefarim are for everybody’s use. Put them back after you daven or learn. The gabbai has enough to do.

Speak up. If you’re the shliach tzibbur, remember who sent you. Don’t just daven to the amud. Speak up. Those in the back of the shul need to hear you too. But that doesn’t mean it’s an audition to be chazzan for Yamim Nora’im. Just don’t keep it a secret where you’re up to. The rest of us would like to join in sometimes. On the other hand, if you’re not the person at the amud, don’t complain about the shaliach tzibbur — especially if he’s a young person who may be in the year or have yahrtzeit. He didn’t ask for the opportunity. What he’s dealing with is traumatic enough. Don’t make things harder. Is he davening too low, too slow or too fast? This too shall pass.

Say “antshuldigt” or “slichah” or “excuse me.” Don’t just push your way into a place. It’s good exercise for your muscles, but not for your neshamah. When the Alter Vorker Rebbe, zy”a, saw people pushing and climbing over each other at a tisch, he said “You have to look at the other person like he’s a sefer Torah and treat him with respect.” Someone asked, “But you’re allowed to put a sefer Torah on top of another one.” The Rebbe countered, “Yes, but you should consider yourself like a sefer Torah that’s pasul.

Clean up after yourself. Shul is davening. It’s also coffee before davening … a kiddush, a tikkun, a shalom zachar and more. Mean it when you say l’chaim. Say l’chaim like the other person’s life depends on it. You never know. … And don’t leave cups and crumbs (or spilled coffee) for someone else to clean up. Make yourself at home.

“Rise before the aged; give honor to the elderly.” The Torah teaches us: “Mipnei seivah takum — Rise before the aged.” Many elderly mispallelim walk to shul with difficulty, if not mesirus nefesh. And to find every seat taken, mostly by younger people, is an unnecessary added discomfort. Especially for people too proud to admit they need to sit down because their feet hurt.

Rav means “master.” The Rabbi is more than just a functionary or orator. He is a mentor and guide. In a world without a moral compass, we should treasure our Rabbis and their guidance. Harav Shlomo Twerski, zt”l, told a story about a Rabbi leaving town. One of the townspeople saw the Rabbi and his family packed up and on their way.

“Rabbi,” he asked in shock. “Why are you leaving us?”

“Because,” answered the Rabbi, “that’s the first she’eilah anybody in this town ever asked me.”

The Alter Vorker Rebbe had a fascinating comment on the passuk, “And Pharaoh told his taskmasters, ‘You shall not continue to give straw to the people.’”

The word “sosifun — continue” is spelled differently from everywhere else in the Torah — with an alef instead of a vav. With an alef, the word can be taken to mean “gather.” Pharaoh wanted to stop Bnei Yisrael from joining together. He understood that if they connect with each other they could defeat him.

It’s no accident that a beis haknesses literally means a home to come together.

Welcome home.