Davening With Conflicting Emotions and Sefer Ezra: On the Return to Minyan

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On Thursday, 6/4/20, Young Israel of Memphis (YIOM) held its first minyan since the coronavirus pandemic forced us to suspend all minyanim on Sunday, 3/15/20. Davening at this minyan was a powerful experience for all participants. YIOM thanks the hard-working committee that prepared protocols for this occasion. Of course, it’s impossible to plan for every possibility in advance of a completely new set of circumstances. Notes are being taken after each minyan in order to make adjustments as needed.

In an effort to mitigate as many risks as possible, there are numerous regulations associated with this minyan. For example, it is initially only for Mincha/Maariv, held outdoors, kept small in size, reservations are required, everyone is distanced eight feet apart, and all participants are required to wear face masks.

On Sunday, 6/7/20, a large open-walled and well-lit tent was set up in YIOM’s parking lot to shelter our minyan from the sun and rain. This open-walled tent also allows for excellent airflow.

While davening with a minyan for the first time in over two months, many different thoughts went through my head. Now that several days have passed, I think I better understand some of what I felt that day — and what I continue to feel each time our minyan gathers.

In Sefer Ezra, we learn how a relatively small contingent of klal Yisrael returned to Israel after spending 70 years in Babylonian exile. Soon after, they began the measured process of building the second Beis HaMikdash. That initial 2nd Temple paled in comparison to the glorious first Beis HaMikdash of Shlomo HaMelech.

In Ezra 3:12 we read how Bnei Yisrael reacted to the extremely humble beginnings of the 2nd Beis HaMikdash:

יב – וְרַבִּ֡ים מֵהַכֹּֽהֲנִ֣ים וְהַֽלְוִיִּם֩ וְרָאשֵׁ֨י הָֽאָב֜וֹת הַזְּקֵנִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר רָא֜וּ אֶת־הַבַּ֚יִת הָֽרִאשׁוֹן֙ בְּיָסְד֔וֹ זֶ֚ה הַבַּ֙יִת֙ בְּעֵ֣ינֵיהֶ֔ם בֹּכִ֖ים בְּק֣וֹל גָּד֑וֹל וְרַבִּ֛ים בִּתְרוּעָ֥ה בְשִׂמְחָ֖ה לְהָרִ֥ים קֽוֹל

12 – But many of the elder Kohanim, Levites, and heads of families, who had beheld the first Temple on its foundation, wept loudly [when] this Temple was before their eyes; while many [who had not seen the first Temple] raised their voices in shouting for joy.
(As per the Artscroll translation)

In the time of Ezra, large segments of klal Yisrael expressed their joy over the dawn of a new Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. Many others, however, couldn’t help but express their grief over the glaring contrast between the glorious 1st Beis HaMikdash they had once known, and the extremely humble edifice which had just been inaugurated in its place.

Taking part in YIOM’s extremely different — but most appreciated — new minyan leaves me (and I’m sure others) with conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, after close to three months of Davening alone, I’m so happy to daven with a minyan again. On the other hand, as we sweat outdoors and struggle with our necessary face masks, there is so much about this Minyan which reminds us how far we are from where we want to be.

Unlike Sefer Ezra, this is not a case of different segments of our people feeling and expressing conflicting emotions. I (and others) have competing ideas in mind each time YIOM’s newly reinstated Minyan meets.

Am I glad to daven with a minyan once again? Absolutely. Am I saddened by how far from normal the new reality of our minyan is? For sure. Is it OK for such conflicting thoughts and emotions to coexist in our own minds? 100%

May Hashem answer our heartfelt prayers and bring an end to this pandemic and all of its negative ripple effects ASAP!

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.