Rabbi Rebecca writes:
PARASHAT K'DOSHIM 27/28 APRIL 2018, 12/13 IYAR 5778
I was reminded this week of Dunbar’s Number. The Anthropologist, Robin Dunbar who first wrote in the 1990’s about the human brain’s ability to only maintain between 100 and 250 human relationships (typically about 150). We do not have the space in our brains for hundreds upon hundreds of relationships. He has of course been ‘unpacking and exploring ‘ what this number means for us especially with the added pressure and (vast numbers) of online interactions.
Who has time for the 100s if not 1000s of Facebook friends that might fill up more than your dashboard? If we as human beings have capacity for fewer meaningful connections, what might that mean for us in the lives we build and the reasons why many of us choose to be part of a synagogue?
Last week I was particularly struck by our Bar Mitzvah inviting a non-related member of the congregation to lead the community prayers. Alex had, he said, become friends with many adult members, not just children at Ivriah, and this made him feel part of the synagogue. Saying Shabbat Shalom set him up for the week ahead.
Is that true for all of us? Is there a particular place in our brains for congregational connections? Returning to the warmth of community life certainly has had that effect for me. I missed it.
When I speak about the ‘TAV’, ‘the added value’ of being part of a congregation, as I have done with three new households since returning last week, it’s the relationships I point towards.
This week’s Parashat Kedoshim (we will be in synch again with the Orthodox world next week) ,also known as the Holiness Code, calls on particular social obligations. The most famous and ubiquitous; Love your neighbour as you love yourself which is approximately the middle sentence of the Torah.
But it’s not just empty cliche but expounded with practical directives how to fulfil this in community … You must not go about slandering your kin. [19:16] We know the power of unkind words, especially in a small congregation setting. You shall not hate your brother or sister in your heart. [19:17] We know the benefit of speaking when we are troubled directly and with integrity. You may not stand by idly when your neighbour's blood is being shed. [19:16]
Being a member of a community is to empathise with each other’s pain and suffering. How fantastic that this week’s portion speaks so directly, candidly and relevantly to what we know is the greatest joy we create in our lives, the comfort and consolation of friends and those who care about our welfare.
I hope you have that in your lives, and have found it within Finchley Progressive Synagogue. Let me know if you think we can do better.
Shabbat Shalom to all