KEDUSHA ON SUTPHIN BOULEVARD
By Roy S. Neuberger
“Yitzchak instituted the mincha prayer, as it is stated, ‘And Yitzchak went out to speak in the field toward evening.’ (Beraishis 24:63) ‘Speech’ [in this verse] means nothing other than prayer….” (Berachos 26b)
“And Rabbi Chelbo said in the name of Rav Huna, a person should always be diligent with regard to the Mincha prayer, for Eliahu (Hanovi) was answered only through the Mincha prayer.” (Berachos 6b)
Why is Mincha so crucial?
“Whereas the morning service takes place before the beginning of the day’s work, and the evening prayer after its conclusion, Mincha is placed right in the middle of one’s professional activities, and a special effort is required to tear oneself away from them to pray. There are, therefore, numerous injunctions lest the prayer be omitted through preoccupation with other undertakings that require time and concentration.” (The World of Prayer, Rabbi Elie Munk)
In the days when I was (trying to be!) a hedge fund manager, I rented space from a group of fine young observant Yidden who really did know what they were doing. One of the glories of our office was a crowded mincha minyan which brought tremendous kedusha to our office every afternoon. It elevated our work from the deadening grind of “b’zaias apecha tochal lechem … by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread,” (Beraishis 3:19) to a madreiga on which we remembered that we were servants of the Ribono shel Olam. (Another glory of our office was that inappropriate language was never heard there.)
I am privileged to know an amazing Jew by the name of Judge Moshe Hakohain Ritholtz, who has served on the Supreme Court of the County of Queens, New York since 2001. “Shofet Moshe” is, without exaggeration, a living Kiddush Hashem. I was privileged to visit his courtroom recently and I was awed by what I saw.
He presides on the bench wearing a yarmulke. He is not afraid to be a Jew, and I saw that he is respected by all who appear in his courtroom, including the guards and clerks. Not only does he obviously know the law, but it is clear that he is attempting to help people reach settlements, to bring peace where there has been conflict, justice where there has been injustice. When citizens see a man wearing a yarmulke administering justice with fairness and compassion, they venerate the Name of G-d.
Judge Ritholtz does not joke on the bench, but in private he is extremely funny. As he says, he learned at “pun-evich.” The amazing part is that he actually did learn in Ponevezh for two years and became close to many godolim before he went into the field of law.
One of his greatest joys is the mincha minyan which convenes daily in his chambers. He told me that there are regular attendees who never daven Shacharis or maariv, but – because of this minyan – they are proud to stand in front of the Ribono shel Olam and daven mincha every day. What a zechus! A judge’s chambers on Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens is transformed into a mikdash me’at! Each day the clientele varies, but Yidden know that, in what would otherwise be a spiritual wilderness, there is an enclave of kedusha, just the way Yitzchak Avinu stood in a field as the sun edged toward the horizon and drew down kedusha into the world.
When I first became observant, some forty two years ago, I worked as an editor at the Long Island Press, a large daily paper whose offices were not far from Sutphin Boulevard. There is today very little Yiddishkeit in this area, although when I worked there in 1974, the Yeshiva of Central Queens was still located nearby and there was a beautiful store named House of Israel just off Jamaica Avenue. The proprietors were tzaddikim named Reb Avraham Gross and Reb Menashe Weissman. They became my mentors, helping this neophyte baal teshuva figure out what seforim to buy for his library. They sold me yarmulkes, tzitzis and tefillin as I found my path into the world of Torah. These were the days before Artscroll, but there was a new English-Hebrew Prayer Book called the Birnbaum Siddur, and that was my path into davening, along with the Hertz Chumash and the old blue edition of the Chumash with Rashi published by the Jewish Publication Society of Philadelphia.
All these things happened in Jamaica, Queens on such streets as Jamaica Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard. A funny thought occurred to me. What kind of name is “Sutphin?” I learned that it is of Dutch origin, but that wasn’t good enough; I wanted to know the “real meaning.” Every name and place echoes what goes on in Shomayim.
So I thought about it. What happens when an empty place is illuminated by the light of Torah? What happens when the earth is transformed by the presence of Holy Jews? Suddenly, the Presence of G-d is revealed. As Yaakov Avinu says, “Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did not know.” (Beraishis 28:16)
When that happens, the Satan is vanquished and Torah rules. I realized that, because of the kedusha here, “Sutphin” must really be “Sat-fin,” which means “Sat(an is) fin(ished)!”
Pardon the attempt at humor, but I guess I also learned in “pun-evich!”
In reality, it is a very serious matter. When Am Yisroel is unafraid to embrace Torah, then the Satan will be vanquished and the Light of Torah will illuminate the world! As we say every morning, “Ohr chadash al Tzion ta’ir … May You shine a new light on Tzion and may we all speedily merit its light.” We owe a debt to our holy brothers and sisters who are not afraid to be “m’kadaish Shaim Shomayim.” When we follow their example, the Shechina will appear once again, and a new day will dawn in which “the knowledge of G-d (will fill) the world as the sea fills the ocean bed.” (Yeshiah 11:9)
Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2016 by Roy S. Neuberger