Thursday, March 18, 2010

We Need You

When it really comes down to it, human beings only need a handful of different things: food, shelter, and companionship typically come to mind. Yet, near the top of that list is one more thing: the need to be needed. When a man is needed to support a family, he feels very significant; when a woman is needed to raise children, she feels particularly vibrant; when a child is needed to play on the school team, they feel important. Luckily, as Jews, God has created a system in which every one of us is needed. Whether we like it or not (and sometimes it's difficult to acknowledge), we are responsible for one another; as the famous dictum goes, "kol yisrael arevim zeh la'zeh." In other words, if you're Jewish, you're needed.

What is most needed from every Jew? There are a variety of answers to that question as well: faith, prayer, and ritual observance, to name a few. However, above everything else, we need your behavior. When we focus on our different religious customs, political persuasions, or any other subjective area of life, divisiveness becomes inevitable. All you have to do is follow current events to know what happens when ethical behavior is replaced by what one religious or political leader thinks is best. While each one of us should maintain our individual uniqueness, we must also remember to treat those around us in a civilized manner. Otherwise, everything falls apart.

We need you - whether you're a student, employee, business owner, or stay-at-home mom (which, in my opinion, is the most noble profession). When each one of us works hard at what we do - and are kind to others along the way - we become the solution to interpersonal strife. We don't need to wait for someone higher up in social or economic status to lead the way. You are in charge of your own behavior. Most of us are not famous, but all of us can be significant. Have you ever noticed that virtually all our prayers - including the shemoneh esrei - are in the plural? This is because we have a value system that teaches us to be concerned about the plight of fellow Jews. We are one people in the eyes of God.

If you disagree with someone, attack their ideas - not them personally. In ancient times, after Rabbi Yochanan died, his chavrutah (study partner), Resh Lakish, was terribly depressed because there was no other scholar who could raise objections to his opinions. These challenges to Resh Lakish's ideas weren't personal - they were only meant to help him strive toward the truth of the matter being discussed. In modern times, the leaders of the two major American political parties used to have a civil relationship. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O'neill were fierce political opponents by day, but could have a beer together by night. Unfortunately, that kind of camaraderie seems to be a thing of the past.

There is political and religious divisiveness all around us, but don't let that be the standard of how you treat others. Rise above it and act in accordance with the highest level of ethical behavior possible. This is why we're called "a light unto the nations"; non-Jews should be able to look to us for guidance on how to act. But they are only able to do so when we show good behavior to each other first. At times, it can be difficult to engage in proper conduct. So here's one suggestion that might help: utilize the kind of determination Calev (Caleb) had thousands of years ago when he proclaimed, "We can surely do it!"

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