As I was leading a recent Temple program, I was looking around at those who were there, and thinking about the significance and contributions of each person who attended. On Friday, October 17, we engaged in a discussion about creation and creativity as our communal D’var Torah. The conversation was shaped by each individual comment from the congregants who were present that night, as well as my brother, Rabbi Stephen Karol, who was visiting us for several days. Had even one person who spoke not attended, the course of our comments would not have been the same.
In a large congregation, 1-3 people may not make so much of a difference in total attendance. At Temple Beth-El of Las Cruces, 1-3 people can have a great impact on a gathering. We all bring our experiences, our knowledge, and our love of Judaism and the Jewish people with us when we attend a congregational event. That is why YOUR presence enhances most any program or event.
Judaism teaches us about the importance of one, two and even three people to a community.
ONE: “For this reason was a single human being created in the beginning: to teach you that whosoever destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes guilt to him/her as though he/she had destroyed an entire world; and whosoever pre-serves a single soul, Scripture ascribes merit to him/her as though he/she had preserved an entire world” (Talmud Sanhedrin 37a).
“Despise no one, and call nothing useless, for there is no one whose hour does not come, and nothing that does not have its place” (Shimon ben Azzai, in Pirke Avot 4.3)
TWO: “Two are better than one...If either of them falls , one can lift up the other” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
“When two sit together and words of Torah/learning pass between them, the Divine Presence rests with them: (Pirkei Avot 3:2).
THREE: “If three have eaten together and spoken words of Torah/learning, it is as though they had eaten at God’s table.” (Pirkei Avot 3:3).
“A triple cord will not be quickly snapped!”(Ecclesiastes 4:12).
We often forget about the significance of one: one person’s leadership or idea, one vote in an election, one positive comment that can offer support or encouragement, or one gift. One of my favorite coffee mugs bears this statement: “To the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.”
The book of Ecclesiastes speaks of two from a pragmatic perspective, rather than considering the emotional benefits of friendship. A partnership of any type begins with two, and such a cooperative arrangement works best when it is characterized by mutual support and the encouragement of sharing wisdom and growing in knowledge. That is why the statement of the rabbis focuses on what one person can teach another. That is what we can do for one another as well.
Three represents completeness in Judaism (we have three patriarchs and three major festivals), but it is also the minimum for creating a bond that is even stronger than two. The comment from Ecclesiastes notes that three people together can defend themselves better than two people can hold fast. That strength can also be brought to the sharing of ideas and to the building of community.
We know that ten people makes a minyan in Jewish wor-ship, and sometimes congregations like ours may be only one, two or three people away from reaching that numerical threshold. Ten is said to represent absolute completeness. Never underestimate the blessing and gift that your presence can bring to a gathering at Temple or anywhere else in the community, because it might be you who adds something to make a program or event even more worthwhile and valuable than it otherwise might have been.
I look forward to seeing you soon!