The Tenth Man

“Our world is a banquet,” proclaims the Talmud. “Grab and eat, grab and drink.”

Those who arrived during the early hours of the banquet, went about the business of feasting and dinning in a most professional and methodical manner. First, they sampled the appetizers just enough, mind you, to properly whet their appetites. Then, they proceeded up the ladder of courses and wines, carefully negotiating their way to gastronomic satisfaction par excellence.

But what of the group who arrived a few scant minutes before midnight, the hour when the tables were cleared, the chairs stacked and the doors bolted shut? For them to attempt to follow the course outlined by the intricate rules of dinner etiquette would only guarantee that the doors would will slam on their empty stomachs. “Just grab!” we tell them. Grab meat, salads, soup, wine and fish never mind the order and proportion. It’s a race against the clock: Grab and eat, grab and drink….

In earlier generations, there was a well-defined “Standard Operating Procedure” for those who consulted the Torah’s spiritual menu for the banquet of life. No one, for example, would have ventured to sample the esoteric wine of creation’s secrets before filling his belly with the “meat and potatoes” of Talmud and halacha. No one would have been so presumptuous as to believe that he could refine his nature and character before he had perfected his behavior and made his every act, word and thought to utterly conform to Torah’s directives.

All this, however, was a luxury of generations bygone. Today, we are rapidly approaching the climax of history, the day when Moshiach will herald a new era of goodness and perfection, yet will also bring down the curtain on the struggles and attainments that stem of our currently imperfect state. So grab! Grab another mitzvah, master another, yet deeper, facet of Torah. Never mind the “Standard Operating Procedure” – strive for the ultimate, now.

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
Tammuz 21, 5772 * July 11, 2012

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

Luke 14:12-24 (ESV)

At our local Reform/Conservative synagogue in years gone by, they had an annual event called Feast of Torah which, as you can see if you click the link, is a multi-day affair combining food, social gathering, art, and study.

I’m rather taken by the picture of sitting at God’s table; at His banquet, feeding off of His teachings, joining with the other hungry students, consuming the Word, and drinking in wisdom. Of course, that’s all rather poetic and, as I’ve said before, the reality of a life of faith is that it can be rather punishing and even diminishing.

The Talmud refers to the world as our banquet, but Jesus teaches that such is the Kingdom of God. While I would hardly ever be invited to a Talmud study, according to the Master, the Banquet of the King is available to everyone. Don’t think you’re too good for it just because some of the guests are poor, crippled, blind and lame. Remember, the wealthy and powerful; the princes and kings have also been invited. It’s just a matter of who is willing to come and feast and who will decline and end up being locked out.

Inclusion, as it’s used on progressive social and political circles, refers to the concept that all people and groups, especially those who have been marginalized or abused in the past by the larger society, should be mainstreamed with the greater populace so that everyone carries equal value and dignity within the cultural context. That has been applied to all people of color, the LGBT community, and anyone else who has experienced discrimination by the primarily rich, white, male “ruling class” of the western world.

Now let’s take one really giant step backward and try to see the big, big picture.

From this point of view, we are looking at the panorama of the “Grand Canyon” of all eternity and we see that God is the ultimate inclusionist. As least according to this teaching in the Christian Bible, God invites and welcomes absolutely everyone who is willing to come to Him. In fact, He probably welcomes those folks who even the staunchest political leftists would hesitate to invite to their table. Politics and social standing are irrelevant. Wealth or lack thereof is irrelevant. Age, sex, color, nationality, and everything else is irrelevant at this level. All that is required to enter the banquet hall is a willingness to be sensitive and to respond to the voice of God.

While this is something we all should aspire to, most of the world-wide human population currently disdains God and ridicules His people as they represent archaic reminders of a simple, primitive past, and who inappropriately try to apply ancient Jewish tribal customs (in the case of religious Jews and Christians) to the Information Age.

And yet, it should be for us like it is for the recent bar mitzvah, who now finds that nine Jewish men are waiting for him to arrive so they can have a minyan and begin to daven.

Today’s daf continues discussing the halachos of determining when a child attains majority. The Otzar HaYir’ah, zt”l, points out that we see the greatness of being a Jewish man from his ability to combine with nine others and form a minyan. “Imagine nine outstanding tzaddikim who join together to daven. These tzaddikim may be the greatest the world has ever known, yet without a tenth man they may not do anything more than any other nine Jews. They may not recite kaddish or kedushah. Nor can they conduct the repetition of the amidah or read publicly from the Torah. But if the simplest Jew who has emunah joins their group, he makes a minyan. Now they can do all the aforementioned and give God special pleasure— all thanks to that simple Jew!” It is fairly common to find a minyan composed of exactly ten people. It is also all too common to have exactly nine and wait a while for a tenth man.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Taking His Word for It”
Niddah 52

I can only imagine what it must be like, to be a boy of barely thirteen, inexperienced and insecure, being the indispensible man who must arrive before nine august tzaddikim can recite kaddish. Christianity has no such rite of passage that allows the new initiate to be included with such elevated company and to be valued as an integral part of the minyan and ultimately, the community.

Imagine if all God’s children were given such an opportunity.

In Yisroel Cotlar’s article Honor a Holocaust Victim by Tattooing Her Number?, he responds to the question about a Jewish teenager wanting to tattoo her grandmother’s concentration camp number on her arm to honor her. Cotlar states that this may seem a sort of appropriate memorial to some, but also reminds us that inclusiveness can be a memorial, too.

This story…demonstrates that children need to get the message that Judaism is alive and well, and that it is a life of joy (not only a life of oy). Museums and memorials are incredibly important, but children should also be taught to be excited about the future of Judaism; they should feel a sense of purpose and pride as Jews.

A few years after the Holocaust, an influential Jewish leader made a request of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory: “We need your help and cooperation to perpetuate the memory of the millions tragically killed in the Holocaust. We decided it would be most fitting for each family to set aside one empty chair at their Passover festive Seder meal. The chair will commemorate the millions who sadly cannot attend. Rabbi, would you encourage your followers to join in this campaign?”

The Rebbe responded (paraphrased), “Your idea is a nice one, but with all due respect, instead of leaving the chair empty, let us fill that chair with an extra guest. Invite a Jew who would otherwise not participate in a Seder. This would be a true living legacy and a victory for the Jewish nation.”

While in a certain sense, I will always be alone in this life, the fact that I am also invited to the “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11 ESV) means that it won’t be so forever.

Gene Shlomovich just posted the blog article How many people will be present on the Judgment Day as a reminder that there will be an incredibly vast multitude who will one day stand before the Throne of God.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” –Revelation 7:9 (ESV)

A life of faith can be very isolating. Most of the “cool kids” don’t want to have anything to do with you. Sometimes that’s even true within the confines of the church. But according to the teachings of the Master, a day will come when not only will each of us will be invited into the banquet, we will be valued as who we are when we get there. We won’t simply lost in the crowd.

And we won’t be alone anymore.

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” –Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)

But until then…

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