Weekly Share

Food For the Soul

Not everything is okay

Once upon a time, in the days of Moses and the Jews in the Wilderness, the Moabite women were seducing young Jewish men. The Almighty was angered and sent a plague upon His people. Jews were dying left, right and center. To compound matters, Zimri, a Prince from the Tribe of Shimon was himself consorting with a Midianite Princess named Kozbi and flaunting their illicit relationship in the face of Moses.

Now I have serious reservations [about using] Pinchas as a role model for How to Win Friends and Influence People. And I’m definitely not suggesting that we root out all sinners by putting a spear through them. What was appropriate in ancient times is not necessarily appropriate today. The way to stop the internal hemorrhaging of our people through assimilation and intermarriage is obviously not the way of Pinchas.

What, then, is the message of Pinchas for our time? That sometimes, even today in our super-sensitive, tolerant society, we do need to take a stand. That there will be issues which demand that we put our foot down, that we insist, that we say “No!” It might be different issues for different people. For some it may be Jerusalem, for others Yom Kippur, and for still others it might be insisting that their daughter’s boyfriend cannot sleep over. Somewhere, surely, there has got to be a bottom line.

Generally, diplomacy and positive encouragement work much better than fighting. We are not trying to train Jewish holy fundamentalists to go around killing infidels. But inevitably there will be occasions when even pacifists like us will need to adopt the zero-tolerance Pinchas approach. Occasions when we will be required to stand up and be counted. When we, too, will have to say, “I’m sorry. I cannot accept this kind of behavior. This is wrong. Stop!” Even in our OK Generation, not everything is OK.

Edited from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman


Shabbat Shalom

Bless New Month

This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim (“the Shabbat that blesses” the new month): a special prayer is recited blessing the Rosh Chodesh (“Head of the Month”) of the upcoming month of Av (also called “Menachem Av”), which falls on Shabbat of next week. Prior to the blessing, we announce the precise time of the molad, the “birth” of the new moon. It is a Chabad custom to recite the entire book of Psalms before morning prayers, and to conduct farbrengens (chassidic gatherings) in the course of the Shabbat.

Chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

Purifying the physical world

We need to be cautious in our divine tasks. If we focus exclusively on our spiritual needs—prayer and Torah study—at the expense of our physical, the benefit may not last long. One gains eternity only by combining what concerns the soul with that which is “outside” the spiritual, thereby purifying the physical world to make it hospitable to the divine.

From an article by Shraga Sherman


Moshiach Thoughts

The tipping point

Right now you are sitting on the tipping point of all that ever was. The size of the deed is not what matters. It is only a catalyst. One small deed could be enough to ignite a process to change the entire world. One small opening is all that’s needed, and the rest will heal itself. Whatever you do, do it with the conviction that this is the one last fine adjustment, the tipping point for the entire world.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


Have I Got A Story

Big and small choices

A husband was once asked for the secret behind his happy marriage. “It’s simple,” he replied. “We divide responsibilities. We decided long ago that my wife makes all the small, routine decisions, and I make the major decisions. She decides what house we buy, where we go on vacation, whether the kids go to private schools, if I should change my job, and so on.”

And what are the big decisions? “Oh, I make the big, fundamental decisions. I decide if the United States should declare war on China, if Congress should appropriate money for a manned expedition to Mars, and so on.”

Life is a series of choices and decisions. The decisions, however, are relatively simple in comparison to their implementation. The majority of us “choose” to live healthy lifestyles; improve our parenting, spousal and interpersonal skills; increase our knowledge; advance our careers; etc. Carrying through with these choices is the challenge. The trick is to concentrate on one, two or three of these choices. But that just leads to another choice. Which of these choices should we focus on?

Let us look to the Torah, and specifically the description of the methods by which the Land of Israel was to be divided amongst the tribes, for insight on this matter. “To a large [tribe] you shall give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller tribe you shall give a smaller inheritance” (Numbers 26:54). The division of the land was logical: each tribe was allotted land according to its size. Furthermore, the land wasn’t divided merely based on acreage. Rather, the land was evaluated for quality and potential crop yield, ensuring that each tribe received a fair portion.

Nevertheless, the final say belonged to the lottery. After the land was divided into twelve portions, each portion earmarked for a particular tribe with the population which corresponded to its size, a lottery was made to determine which tribe would receive which portion. Miraculously, the lottery confirmed the division which was previously agreed upon.

Why the need for this two-track process? If the division was meant to be logical, then why the need for a lottery? And if it was to be left in G-d’s hands—the lottery—why the need for the investment of time and energy in gathering numbers, logistics and evaluations?

Perhaps the lesson G-d was teaching the Israelites before they entered the land, before they became involved in the art of making a living and the many decisions which this entails, was that even those decisions which seem to be in our hands are also ultimately determined by lottery, orchestrated by G-d’s hand.

The Talmud tells us that forty days before a child is conceived, an angel approaches G-d and inquires whether the child will be wise or dim, muscular or frail, wealthy or poor, and whom he or she will marry. He does not, however, inquire whether the child will be righteous or wicked—because “all is in the hands of Heaven besides for [an individual’s] fear of Heaven.”

We may think that we determine our spouse, our field of work, our city of residence, etc. In fact, though, these questions have all been answered before we were even conceived. Yes, G-d expects us to make wise decisions, but ultimately these wise decisions are manipulated and guided by G-d, who orchestrates the circumstances to ensure that we follow the path which He planned for us.

Yet we rightfully pride ourselves in being creatures that possess freedom of choice. But this choice is relegated to the arena of right and wrong, ethics and morals. We do have the ability to choose whether to pray with concentration, give charity, be kind to our fellows and keep kosher. And ultimately, our choices in these areas will be our lasting legacy—because in reality they are our only real and un-influenced choices.

So, on which choices will we focus? The “big” ones, over which we have no control, or the “small” ones, which are entirely in our hands? As is it turns out, it is the small choices which impact the world.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

Food For the Soul

Removing “the unknown sin”

With anti-Semitism so rampant these days, it’s easy to forget our own transgressions which serve to help Judaism’s enemies. Among them is the baseless hatred that some Jews harbor towards other Jews. The first Temple was destroyed because of three sins of which the Jews were guilty: idolatry, sexual indiscretions and murder. The second Temple – when Jews were involved in Torah, mitzvot and acts of kindness – was destroyed because we were guilty of “the unknown sin”: harboring baseless hatred towards each other!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains why hatred and fighting is the “unknown sin”. On average, an idolater, adulterer, or murderer is keenly aware of his sin. People fall victim to temptation, but repentance is eminently achievable because the person himself is conscious of and troubled by the sins which defile his soul. However, the person who is guilty of participating in quarrels and hate mongering rarely believes that he is at fault. In his estimation, the other party rightly deserves all the abuse being heaped on him! Thus, while baseless hatred is perhaps the most overt of sins, so few actually recognize their own guilt.

This is true both in our interpersonal relations as well as our nation’s regrettable tendency to be heavily preoccupied with inter-faction squabbles. Left, Right, and Center. Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform. Chassidic, Zionist and anti-Zionist. And the list goes on…

As we begin the Three Weeks, an annual mourning period that starts on 17 Tammuz (Sunday, June 27) it is easy to continue blaming “them” for factionalism and divisiveness. It is much harder to find the faults within ourselves. The Redemption will come when we finally recognize that – even if in fact “I’m right and he’s wrong” – there is never a valid reason to hate a fellow Jew.

Inspired by an article by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg. For information about The Three Weeks, visit Chabad.org


Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of the Fathers, chapter six

This Shabbat afternoon we read from Ethics of the Fathers, chapter six. Here, passage 3 states: “One who learns from his fellow a single chapter, or a single law, or a single verse, or a single word, or even a single letter [in Torah], he must treat him with respect. For so we find with David, king of Israel, who did not learn anything from Achitofel except for two things alone, yet he called him his “master,” his “guide” and his “intimate,” as is stated (Psalms 55:14), “And you are a man of my worth, my guide and intimate friend.” Surely we can infer a fortiori: if David, king of Israel, who learned nothing from Achitofel except for two things alone, nevertheless referred to him as his master, guide and intimate, it certainly goes without saying that one who learns from his fellow a single chapter, a law, a verse, a saying, or even a single letter, is obligated to revere him…”


Mind Over Matter

Fearless

The pain is real. The fear is not. The pain is real, because we are not in our true place. Nothing is in its true place. It is called exile. Exile of the soul.

The fear is not real—there is nothing to fear. Because no matter where we are, G-d is there with us. For He is everywhere. The only thing we have to fear is that we may no longer feel the pain. That we may imagine that this is our place after all. For it is that pain of knowing we are in the wrong place that lifts us higher, beyond this place. Likkutei Sichot, vol. 30, p.234.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


Moshiach Thoughts

The Three Weeks’ inner message

There is more to the Three Weeks than fasting and lamentation. Our sages tell us that those who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit seeing it rebuilt with the coming of Moshiach. May that day come soon, and then all the mournful dates on the calendar will be transformed into days of tremendous joy and happiness.

Chabad.org


Have I Got A Story

Rebuilding the Temple with love

Talk about Jewish guilt. It is said that if we don’t witness the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in our lifetime, it’s as if we witness its destruction. If that’s not difficult enough, the key to rebuilding is simple to articulate but challenging to do: to love another Jew for no reason whatsoever (ahavat yisrael). This love repairs the “baseless hatred” (sin’at chinam) that caused the Second Temple’s destruction on Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, in 69 CE.

Until the Temple is rebuilt, our nation stops to grieve during the three weeks leading up to the 9th of Av (this year, July 18, 2021). During this period (known as the “Three Weeks”) there are no weddings, no haircuts and no music. During the nine days from the 1st of Av to the 9th of Av, forget about swimming, eating meat (unless it’s Shabbat) and taking a summer vacation. Then there’s Tisha B’Av itself, a 25-hour-long fast that usually feels longer because it’s so ridiculously hot outside. But what I always disliked most about this time period was how clearly I could see what was lacking in me.

When I was growing up, summer meant fun. And that’s what it continued to mean to my extended family, old friends and neighbors who didn’t know about the Three Weeks or the Nine Days or Tisha B’Av. They were happily taking vacations and making barbecues, while I was sitting home in the middle of summer with a bunch of kids and nothing to do.

I have to admit that I didn’t always view my fun-loving fellow Jews so kindly during the Three Weeks. After all, I rationalized, I’d done a lot of heavy lifting to do what G-d wants so that the Temple could be rebuilt. What about all the Jews who couldn’t care less? Which was exactly the worst possible thought I could think about other Jews, especially at this time. I knew that, too, which meant that I didn’t especially like myself at this time of year either.

But even so, I always kept an image of the Temple in my mind, remembering how it inspired me during a Shabbaton my young family attended nearly 30 years earlier. Before that weekend, I knew that the Temple had existed—I had been to Jerusalem and seen the Western Wall—but I assumed it was basically a bigger version of our giant synagogue in Pittsburgh. (What else should I have thought? Everyone referred to our synagogue as “temple.”)

When on this Shabbaton I learned that G-d performed open miracles in the Temple in Jerusalem and that, up until its destruction, people actually knew that G-d existed, I was thrilled to be able to confirm my suspicion about G-d’s existence. The Temple in Jerusalem provided enough evidence for me that the whole G-d and Torah story was true. From there, the idea chain was fairly straightforward: our mitzvahs hasten the coming of Moshiach, who will rebuild the Third Temple, which will exist for eternity. Learning about the Temple put Jewish history, indeed all of creation, into a meaningful context. My existential questions had answers right in my own religious backyard.

By the end of the Shabbaton, my husband and I signed on the spiritual dotted line, sure that we wanted to be part of the rebuilding campaign. But every year the Three Weeks would set me back, and I would fall into the trap of looking at what other Jews weren’t doing for G-d.

Only recently have I seen a change in my relationship with G-d and the world. I am able to see other Jews in a way that I couldn’t before—to accept, care about and love them no matter what they do, even during the Three Weeks. That this attitude helps rebuild the Temple is almost secondary.

It took many years for me to internalize that surrendering my will to G-d’s will would be my ticket to personal happiness, and that what He wants most from me is to love other Jews. What surprises me still is how happy I am when I do it.

By Lieba Rudolph

Food For the Soul

Conduct unbecoming

A life sentence for jaywalking? Twenty years for chewing gum in public? Surely that’s over the top! Well, was it so different for Moses, who, in the Parsha Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1), is punished and denied entrance to the Promised Land for the seemingly minor infraction of hitting a rock instead of speaking to it? The people are clamoring for water in the wilderness. G-d tells Moses to speak to a certain rock (he was meant to ask nicely) and promises that, miraculously, water will flow from the rock. Commentary enlightens us as to the behind-the-scenes reasons for Moses striking the rock instead of speaking to it, but in the end the miracle happens anyway and the people’s thirst is quenched.

If your average rabbi today would make a rock produce water, even if the rock needed more than mere gentle persuasion, surely it would be hailed as the greatest miracle of the century and the rabbi would win the Nobel Prize for chemistry. But for Moses it’s a sin? Even if (as the Torah points out) it would have been a greater sanctification of the Divine had he only spoken to the rock, still, for such a minor infraction, such a severe penalty?

The answer, we are told, is that responsibility is commensurate with the individual. If a child messes up, it is entirely forgivable. For an adult who should know better, we are less likely to be as forgiving. Likewise, among adults, from a person of stature we expect more than from an ordinary fellow. A blemish on a coarse garment is not nearly as bad as it is on a piece of fine material. A stain on a pair of denims is not only acceptable, it is absolutely desirable. In fact, some people pay a premium for pre-stained jeans. Put the same stain on a silk tie and it’s simply unwearable. Moses was like the finest silk and, therefore, even the smallest, subtle hint of sin was considered a serious breach of conduct and the repercussions were severe.

Moses was the greatest prophet that ever lived. For him, the standard could be no higher. Luckily for us mere mortals, we will not be held to that exalted benchmark. But we will be held to our own standard. The standard of Jews who were called upon by G-d to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman


Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of The Fathers: Chapter Five

This Shabbat afternoon we read from Ethics of The Fathers, chapter five. Within the chapter is this: “There are seven things that characterize a boor, and seven that characterize a wise man. A wise man does not speak before one who is greater than him in wisdom or age. He does not interrupt his fellow’s words. He does not hasten to answer. His questions are on the subject and his answers to the point. He responds to first things first and to latter things later. Concerning what he did not hear, he says “I did not hear.” He concedes to the truth. With the boor, the reverse of all these is the case.”

Chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

The red heifer

Purity is not achieved by suppressing or waging war against desire. The Torah teaches us to look right at the passionate, forceful “red heifer”. Look at its core and understand that the red heifer is not negative, nor is it spiritually neutral. The Torah wants us to understand that the heifer can be the most powerful agent of purity in our life. The power of desire, its incredible force and energy, is not evil. For while the external expression of the desire may be negative and must be burned, the ashes of the heifer, its inner essence, is the source of purity. When the ashes are mixed into the “living waters,” when the power of desire is directed toward a positive goal, the heifer itself will be an unbridled force that will provide spiritual and emotional purity.

From an article by Rabbi Menachem Feldman


Moshiach Thoughts

The red heifer and redemption

Both the “red heifer” and the Messianic redemption effect purification. The ashes of the “red heifer” are used for removing a legal state of impurity. The redemption will purify the entire people of Israel (including those who halachically are pure) from any trace of deficiency in the bond with our Father in Heaven. One of the Messianic prophecies thus says of that time, in terms analogous to the “waters of purification” of the “red heifer”: “I shall sprinkle pure waters upon you that you be purified. I will purify you from all your impurities and from all your idols!” (Ezekiel 36:25) Maimonides cites a Mishnah with the following words: “Nine ‘red heifers’ were prepared from the time this precept was ordained until the Second Temple was destroyed: the first was prepared by Moses our Master, the second Ezra prepared, and there were seven from Ezra to the destruction of the Temple. The tenth will be prepared by King Moshiach-may he soon be revealed, amen, may thus be (G-d’s) Will!” (Hilchot Parah Adumah 3:4)

From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet


Have I Got A Story

Don’t “pass it on”

Sitting on the plane, all I wanted to do was read or sleep, but the chatty gentleman in the aisle seat had other plans. He launched into an interminable description of the trip he was taking to visit his aged mother for her 80th birthday. He described her current nursing home in great detail and then told me the age and family circumstances of each of her children and grandchildren. I feigned polite interest as he droned on, but I must confess I only started paying real attention to his ramblings when he began describing the complex choreography that his extended family had engineered to ensure that he and his younger sister would never see each other during his visit, or even be in their mother’s house together at the same time. They aren’t talking, you see. They’ve hated each other for years. The spouses have also bought into the fight over time, and their respective children have never met. The fight erupted decades ago over something minor and escalated into full blown war.

What a tragedy for the family, I thought to myself. An old mother forced to sit through two separate parties, probably never having the satisfaction of seeing all her descendants at peace. But as he wound his way through the byways of his family history, I began to realize that his mother and siblings were far from blameless. It seemed from the way he told the story that they had inadvertently fanned the fires of resentment by faithfully reporting each nasty gibe or comment back to its target. In his words; “I can trust my brothers to tell me everything that that (expletive deleted) is saying about me.”

I wondered at the time why anyone would feel duty bound to pass on information that they know is just going to inflame an already unhappy situation. Why would you repeat every piece of malicious gossip you hear? If you know you’re not helping the situation, surely you are always better off saying nothing than saying too much.

We parted ways at the airport, with me still stuck pondering his family dilemmas. I was still wondering why so many families fall out of love and degenerate into petty infighting, when, the very next day, I came across a fascinating story about the first Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and his famed contemporary, Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibuzh.

Rabbi Boruch was not a man to compromise or back down on what he believed to be the truth, and consequently, he was frequently embroiled in conflict. [He] once complained to Rabbi Shneur Zalman that a number of false allegations against him (Rabbi Boruch) had recently been circulated by his enemies, and although Rabbi Shneur Zalman had been aware of these slurs, he had failed to inform him. Rabbi Shneur Zalman admitted that he had indeed heard the aspersions, but rather than apologize for not having passed on the details, he defended his right to silence.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman reminded Rabbi Boruch about the incident of the snakes, found in this week’s parshah. The Israelites complained about G-d and Moses, and in consequence G-d sent a plague of snakes to attack them (Chukat 21:6). Unlike other occasions where G-d discusses the proposed punishment with Moshe in advance, this time Moshe was unaware of the reason they were being attacked until the Israelites themselves approached him; We have sinned, for we spoke against G-d and you. Pray to G-d to remove the snakes! (21:7).Of course Moshe, as the kind and ever-forgiving leader, prayed for them and the plague was averted, yet we have to wonder why did G-d hide the cause of the plague from him in the first place?

Obviously, concluded Rabbi Shneur Zalman, not only is there no mitzvah to let people know the harsh things that others are saying about them, but we learn that you really shouldn’t repeat that type of gossip.

I’ve personally seen too many instances where well-meaning people have caused small arguments to develop into huge fights by playing the role of so-called honest broker. More often than not people would have worked out their own issues if left alone long enough to cool off. It’s the people who “feel it their duty” to pass on tattle, who are often the cause of the never-ending disputes. How about resolving not to contribute to the mess? If you’re unfortunate enough to hear some juicy gossip, sit on it and don’t pass it on; it won’t help and will probably hurt.

From an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

Food For the Soul

Korath’s philosophy misses the boat

In the Parsha Korach (Numbers 16:1 – 18:32) we read how Korach, a member of the Levitic tribe, incites a mutiny challenging Moses’ leadership and the granting of the priesthood to Aaron. The Torah teaches that Korach and his followers were punished for their insubordination when the earth “opened up its mouth” and swallowed them up.

Make no mistake. Korach did not start out as a jealous, power-hungry rebel. In fact, the Kabbalists explain, Korach had a deep philosophical dispute with Aaron’s approach to spirituality. Aaron was all about inspiring people to ignite spiritual light in their lives through the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvahs, to spend time and energy on spiritual pursuits, and to illuminate their souls with a love for G-d. Korach viewed light with disdain. In his view, darkness was what encompassed the absolute truth of the Infinite Creator. According to Korach’s plan, the people would live a materialistic life, without the burden of seeking spiritual inspiration. Eventually, more and more people would come to appreciate what Korach understood. They would understand that they could be satisfied with materialism as a testament to the fact that G-d cannot be expressed in a limited measure of light.

Korach was right that darkness has a higher source than light. He was right that the material has a higher source than the spiritual. And yet, his philosophy was completely wrong. He was wrong because in order to understand the truth of darkness, a person needs light. The only way a person can crack the shell of the material and connect to its source is by subjugating the material to the spiritual. Only when we allow Torah to illuminate life with spiritual light, with a yearning for holiness, will we be able to appreciate that the material is an expression of the essence of G-d. Only a soul inspired by Aaron can reveal and connect to the superior essence of the body. Only light can reconnect the darkness to its lofty source.

A soul illuminated with spiritual light can find G-d wherever it looks. Not only in the light, but also in the darkness; not only in the holy, but also in the mundane; not only in heaven, but also on earth.

Adapted from an article by Rabbi Menachem Feldman


Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 4

This Shabbat afternoon we read from Chapter 4 of Ethics of Our Fathers. In it, there are two warnings not to use Torah to satisfy your own ego or personal gain. Rabbi Tzaddok would say: “Do not make the Torah a crown to magnify yourself with, or a spade with which to dig”. So would Hillel say: “one who make personal use of the crown of Torah shall perish. Hence, one who benefits himself from the words of Torah, removes his life from the world.”


Mind Over Matter

Do you live near Korach?

Korach’s co-conspirators lived near to this wealthy, rabble-rousing, ambitious man. So it is not surprising that they were influenced by him or that Rashi said: “Woe to the evil man; woe to his neighbor.”

We are all influenced by society. One who lives in a place with a low moral standard will eventually start believing that this is what morality is all about. Which is why it’s important to choose our neighborhoods wisely. Do they reflect our values; how we want our children to grow up? If, however, we must live in a place where the popular definition of right and wrong is not compatible with Jewish morals, we should take these words from the Rebbe to heart: “You will either affect your environment, or the environment will affect you. There is no middle ground.” We must try to raise our communities to a higher plane; to teach, inspire, be a role model, be proud of who we are and what we stand for.

Inspired by an article by Rabbi Levi Avtzon


Moshiach Thoughts

Korach’s bad timing

In the prophecies of Ezekiel dealing with the Messianic era there is a puzzling expression: “Hakohanim-Haleviyim-the Priests-Levites” (Ezekiel 43:19 and 44:15), mixing, as it were, these two separate concepts into a single one. Rabbi Isaac Luria explains this expression by stating that in the Messianic era the Levites will be elevated to the higher status of kohanim (priests). Korach wanted to benefit from this already, in his own time, and he sought, prematurely, to achieve that status. This desire is essentially commendable. Korach erred, though, by assembling his followers to rise and rebel against Moses. He thought that by doing so he could force the realization of the redemption before its time. He did not realize that it could not happen until the refinement of the world would be completed.

From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet


Have I Got A Story

Be proud of Jewish distinctiveness

Despite all the drama of a world in turmoil, I sometimes get the feeling that we live in a boring world. Everyone is so politically correct. G-d forbid, we should say what we really think! Recently, I attended a dinner for a local organization and the entertainer was a comedian. He got up and told the audience that the rabbi had called him and made him promise he wouldn’t use any risqué material. Then, another committee member reminded him not to be racist or anti-religious or gender discriminatory. A third made him promise not to offend any minority groups. Having been duly stripped of every opportunity for satire, the comedian just said, “Ladies and gentlemen, good night,” and walked off the stage.

The argument of Korach, the mutineer in this week’s Torah reading, smacks of such inane political correctness. Korach accuses Moses and Aaron of nepotism, of grabbing positions of power for themselves. In doing so, he insists that “The entire community is holy. Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G-d?” In fact, the very same argument could be used against Jews in general. “Who do you think you are? Chosen People! Aren’t all men created equal?” The fact is that Jews are different. Ask any anti-Semite and he’ll confirm it. The blatant hypocrisy in constantly holding Israel to a higher standard of morality than its Arab neighbors only reaffirms that Jews generally do adhere to a value system that is distinctive and unique.

Indeed, we do. The Chosen People concept means greater responsibility, not privilege. Rather than making them pompous and condescending about it, it has molded Jews into the most sensitive, humane nation on earth. And that is precisely why if we do occasionally veer from those principles, it is such an aberration that it is considered front page news.

Our belief in and respect of the inherent worth of every human being does not contradict our conviction that Judaism is unique. Does not every single religion maintain that its path is the correct one? Almost all, besides Judaism, actively evangelize to graciously save the lost souls of other faiths. We Jews do not seek converts because we believe that “the righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come” and they don’t need to become Jews to get a slice of paradise.

Some years ago the University of Cape Town was considering building a student religious facility which would unite all three major faiths in one house of worship. It was to service Muslims, Christians and Jews in a combined Mosque-Church-Synagogue to be known as a “MosChuraGogue.” I was asked by a local newspaper what I thought of the idea. My answer was that the mistaken presumption in the founders’ thinking was that three separate faiths could not possibly get along. There was therefore a need to combine them into one composite. The fact is that we are each distinct with our own set of beliefs and practices but there is no good reason why each specific faith should not respect the other. Why must we suppress individuality to achieve harmony?

Distinctions are a necessary reality of life. While we don’t look to create divisions between people, not everybody is a doctor. Imagine if every fellow who felt like playing physician would hang up a sign outside his house and start dispensing medicine! We’d have a very sick society.

The Rebbe was a great humanitarian. He was concerned about every nation and every single individual — Jew or Gentile — and tried to make a difference to the broader society, as evidenced by his efforts for a sacred “moment of silence” in American public schools and his emphasis on education for all. Simultaneously, he was adamant that Israel needs to be uncompromising in its territorial strategy to safeguard the security of its citizens.

Humanitarianism need not mean blurring all the lines. Imagine, John Lennon’s peace song where there are no more religions, is not only impractical and anarchic, it is a denial of truth. We don’t all have to be the same to get along.

Within our own people, some are “Kohanim,” others “Levites” while most of us belong to the rest of the tribes of Israel. There are doctors and lawyers, priests and prophets. The challenge of those who hold legitimate, genuine high office is to keep the distinctions from disintegrating into divisiveness.

From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman

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