וּבְמָקוֹם שֶׁאֵין אֲנָשִׁים, הִשְׁתַּדֵּל לִהְיוֹת אִישׁ–פרקי אבות ב:ה
[Hillel] would say… “And in a place where there are no human beings, strive to be a human being.”–Pirkei Avot 2:5
Many understand human being in this case as mensch. I would like to use this understanding as a jumping-off point to explore with you what it means to be a mensch and why being a mensch is important for building community. Often being a mensch is explained as being a good person, and Merriam-Webster defines mensch as “a person of integrity and honor.” Hillel points out, if no one else around you is being a good human being, it is incumbent on each of us to be that good person.
It may sound simple enough to be a person who behaves with honor, kindness and respect; but, when we don’t have the opportunity to be together, do we still behave in the same way? We must establish a kehillah filled with people striving to be good and righteous even when no one is looking.
I will argue that community occurs when we act like mensches to work together regardless of it being online or in person. As long as the fundamental pieces of belonging are there, you can create sacred space anywhere.
The Haggadah emphasizes the importance of community with its depiction of the Wicked Child. What makes the Wicked Child wicked? He asks, “What is this worship to you?” He says “to you” but does not include himself. He excludes himself from the community and, by removing himself from the community, he receives the ultimate reprimand. He would not have been redeemed and would not be a part of the Jewish people.
At JTeach, we continually strive to have our community of learners feel a sense of belonging within our online platform. I think often about how to create a space that can provide the elements required to fulfill this goal.
We welcome you to the JTeach Kehillah, and urge you to join us as we work together to provide exceptional Jewish learning.
Alissa C Zuchman, Ph.D.