It is well known that when the holy Baal Shem Tov prayed, he prayed for hours. While his chassidim concluded their silent Amidah's in five or ten minutes, the Baal Shem Tov prayed for what seemed like an eternity! One day, the chassidim had a brilliant idea: "While our holy master is enraptured in his state of prayer, let us sneak off to the closest house from the synagogue. There, we can make Kiddush and enjoy vodka, herring and hearty black bread, and by the time we get back to the synagogue, our holy rebbe will still be praying. He won't even know we’ve left!" This sounded like a fine plan, and so the next Shabbat, the Baal Shem Tov's chassidim decided to implement their clever design. Sure enough, the chassidim finished their Amidah's in five or ten minutes, but the Baal Shem Tov seemed completely entranced, as if in another world. Seeing that their master was totally involved in his prayers, the chassidim began to slip out the back door. One by one they snuck out, very careful not to make so much as a creak on the dry wooden floors. But just as the last chassid stepped out, the Baal Shem Tov made a loud clap with his hands, opened his eyes and finished his prayer. The chassidim rushed back to their seats. Sitting in silence, one brave chassid approached the Baal Shem Tov and asked, "Rebbe, how is it that every Shabbat, you pray for hours, completely unaware of any external distraction. But today, you seemed to notice when we left you, why?" The Baal Shem Tov relaxed his chassidim with a smile, and said, "Holy brothers, the only reason I am able to pray is because I feel your presence with me. When I go to present the prayers of the community before God, I must feel that each and every single one of you is behind me to give me strength. But today, just as I was being escorted into the heavenly Holy of Holies of the Temple above, I felt you slipping away from me, one by one, and before I could reach the threshold of the heavenly Sanctuary, I was thrown down to earth. In order for me to represent your prayers, your hopes and dreams, I need to feel that you are with me."
This powerful story teaches us that in order for any leader to represent his or her community, they must feel that their community is behind them and with them, giving them strength and encouragement. This idea is beautifully expressed in this week's parsha, Parshat Tetzaveh, in which we learn about the Bigdei Kehuna, the Priestly Garments Aharon wears while serving in the Mishkan. According to tradition, each garment and adornment of the Bigdei Kehuna must be "m'shel tzibur," meaning, it must belong to the whole Jewish people. Thus, says Rav Hirsch, by virtue of these clothes, "the High Priest should approach God not as an individual and not for himself, but as a representative of the community and on their behalf, so that his coming before God should be noted and taken to heart by the community. Without the expression of this idea and this intention, his entry would entail presumptuousness" (Commentary on Shemot 28:43). According to Rav Hirsch, the High Priest's ability to serve as the representative of the people comes from the fact that the clothing he wears represents the people, and without those sacred garments, he cannot serve as the High Priest. In other words, he needs the people, he needs to feel the people, in order to offer prayers and sacrifices on their behalf. Like the Baal Shem Tov, Aharon could not approach God in the inner sanctum of the Mishkan if he lacked one aspect, one element, one soul of the people he was appointed to represent.
This Shabbat, let us realize that our endeavors as leaders and representatives of our community can only succeed if we truly bear the community in mind. This Shabbat, let us realize that as community members, our leaders need us to help accomplish the goals we seek. Success, spiritual and otherwise, is a two-way street. It requires the leadership to hold onto the community, and the community to hold up its leadership. May we always support one another as we continue to grow as a congregation and as a community, and may we always strive to enable one other to let our prayers be heard, and our offerings of the heart accepted.