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THE ATOMIC MINYAN

by Benyamin Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

I recently returned from a trip to Chicago where I had the pleasure of attending what is known as "The Atomic Minyan."

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I recently returned from a trip to Chicago where I had the pleasure of attending what is known as "The Atomic Minyan." A little background info: Jewish law teaches that the ideal time for morning prayers is to start the Shemoneh Esrei prayer exactly at sunrise. This particular synagogue in Chicago changes its start time every morning to ensure that it coincides with the absolute exact time for sunrise. For example, the first morning that I attended, they had a big sign posted on the front door: "Sunrise this morning is at 7:02 and 3 seconds."

Upon entering the synagogue, I noticed that there were at least a dozen clocks all around the room. The chazzan (prayer leader) had two clocks by his podium. One of them had the time of day; the other was counting down to sunrise. They started services 23 minutes before sunrise, thereby giving them ample time to pray the first part of services and arrive at the Shemoneh Esrei prayer exactly on time. The first morning I was there, I watched the leader to see if he was intentionally slowing down or speeding up in order to arrive at Shemoneh Esrei at the exact second of sunrise. To my surprise, he was calm, cool, and collected. At the exact second they arrived at Shemoneh Esrei, all of the clocks started beeping. It was like being in a clock store at the top of the hour.

The next day, sunrise was at 7:03 and 12 seconds. This time there was a different chazzan and I thought it unlikely that he would also reach Shemoneh Esrei at the exact second of sunrise. But, to my amazement, the second he started Shemoneh Esrei all of the clocks went off again.

This experience brought to mind an incident from this week's Torah portion. The morning that Abraham was to embark to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice his son, the Torah states, "And Abraham woke up early in the morning and he saddled his donkey." (Genesis 22:3). Abraham thought that he was about to kill his son, the progenitor of the Jewish nation. Instead of reluctantly getting ready for this difficult mission, Abraham "woke up early," eager to fulfill the will of Hashem. In addition, "he saddled his donkey." Abraham had many servants who would normally involve themselves with preparations for a trip. However, Abraham was so anxious to fulfill Hashem's command, he himself went and saddled his own donkey.

There are always two ways to fulfill a mitzvah. We can do them with mediocrity and a blase attitude, or we can go beyond the letter of the law and enthusiastically perform the mitzvah. Abraham wanted to fulfill Hashem's command in the best form possible.

Like the members of "The Atomic Minyan" in Chicago who go out of their way to pray at the exact second of sunrise, we have the opportunity to perform mitzvot either with mediocrity or with zeal. Daily, we are faced with mitzvot which we can perform better. Are we honoring our parents to the fullest extent? Are we giving charity with full enthusiasm? Can we improve on our commitment and intentions during prayer?

Not too long ago, we completed the High Holidays with a clean slate, listing a whole host of new mitzvot that we would try to keep this year. Perhaps, we should first strive to better perform our current arsenal of mitzvot before moving on to new ones. It is with that kind of zeal and enthusiasm that we will be able to perform G-d's commandments in their most ideal form.

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Benyamin Cohen, a native Atlantan and alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta and Georgia State University, is editor of Torah from Dixie.

You are invited to read more Parshat Vayeira articles.

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