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Thought for the Day: Echad b'Yisrael

Many years ago when I was a gabbai in Dallas, I asked a guest (marginally religious Israeli) if he was cohain or levi.  When he said he was not, I joked, "Oh, just a yisrael, huh?"  He sat straight up, held up his forefinger and declared proudly, "Lo! Echad b'Yisrael!".  Since that day I have never thought of any Jew as "just" anything.

This morning I learned a new dimension the meaning of echad b'yisrael from R' Dovid Siegel, shlita, who is visting from Eretz Yisrael on his annual trip to the US.  Rabbi Siegel showed me a startling Gr'a (Shnos Eliyahu, Brachos, 5:1).  The Gr'a holds that it is forbidden (yes, that is a direct quote) to daven for oneself in shmone esrei.  Shmonei esrei is a t'filla for the needs of klal yisrael; one's personal needs/bakashos may not be addressed until elokai n'tzor.  Rabbi Siegel explained to me that the the Torah was not given to an individual, it was given to klal yisrael -- that is, HaShem's connection to this world is via klal yisrael, not through a lot of Jews.  A person's heart, liver, kidneys, etc are vial organs and the person cannot live with out them, but each on its own is both unimportant and, in fact, not even survivable.  So to each of us are vital to the survival and vitality of Klal Yisrael, but our importance is entirely that we contribute to the health and functioning of the klal.

Why put the personal requests at the end?  Maybe I would daven better for the klal after I had taken care of my own needs?  The answer is that I can't really know what my needs are until I recognize that I am part of that larger community.  Only then can I daven properly for myself and even for other individuals; only then do I appreciate that "needs" are those things that enable me to fulfill my mission as Echad b'Yisrael.

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