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    What brings you to shule? – Ki Tavo

    Opening words like “when you come into the land” (Deut. 26:1) offer an irresistible homiletical opportunity and challenge to a rabbi in the weeks before Rosh HaShanah.

    They inevitably invite comparisons with people making their annual pilgrimage to the synagogue.

    Let me relate a story.

    One Shabbat morning not long ago my wife and I arrived at a synagogue in the Diaspora where the security personnel did not know us.

    We naturally said “Shabbat Shalom” and they reciprocated, but they added the question, “Where are you from, and what brought you here?”

    With my strange sense of humour I said, “We’re from Israel, and El Al and Cathay Pacific brought us here!”.

    That’s not quite what they expected, but they let us in for the service regardless.

    What they really wanted to know must have been whether we had come for a Bar-Mitzvah or some other special event. The fact that we had merely come to daven was too hard for them. (I didn’t dare say that I was the guest speaker!)

    The problem that many people have is rather similar – it takes a special event to bring them to shule. I would love to find them saying, “We’re here to daven, and God invited us!”

    There is a story about the Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, which suggests another approach. A group of chassidim came to visit the rabbi and expected him to talk about Jewish law. To their surprise, the rabbi merely asked them, “Where does God live?”

    They laughed: “What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of His glory?”

    But the rabbi answered his own question. “God lives,” he said, “wherever man lets Him in”.

    The question for Rosh HaShanah is not whether God will let us in, but whether we will let Him in…

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