Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Importance of Jewish Differences

Every individual Jew plays an important role. Whether you are a teacher or rabbi, doctor or lawyer, businessman or stay-at-home mom, there is a place for all of us among the Jewish people. It's important to acknowledge that there is more than one way to serve God. Sadly, many people scoff at those who differ with them instead of recognizing their positive contributions to Jews and the world. When we get caught up in our ritual or lifestyle differences, tension and divisiveness becomes inevitable. But when we focus on our common code of ethics (i.e. how we treat one another), our chances greatly improve at overcoming our different philosophical approaches to Judaism and life.

Quite frankly, we're not all supposed to be doing the same kind of work or serving God the exact same way. The Chofetz Chaim was once approached by a successful businessman who decided to scale down his business so that he could dedicate himself to Torah study. The Chofetz Chaim explained why his decision was wrong by way of a parable: During wartime, if a soldier unilaterally decides to leave his current post to fight in a different capacity, he will be court-martialed. A soldier must obey orders and man the position to which he was assigned. The Chofetz Chaim went on to say that this businessman's responsibility was to support Jewish institutions and the poor. If he decided to go through with ending his business success, he would be jeopardizing the position God gave him within the Jewish community.

Unfortunately, some religious Jews believe that doing nothing other than Torah study is the only noble thing anyone can do. This couldn't be further from the truth. While religious study is extremely important, it cannot be the primary task of every person. And people should not feel less than noble just because they engage in a different form of work. In fact, this was also the case thousands of years ago. Every one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel carried out different jobs. Some engaged in commerce or working the fields, others in religious study, and yet others in military or temple service - and all were essential to the survival of the nation as a whole. Today, as well, we must train ourselves to recognize the importance of every Jew - no matter what they do for a living (as long as they're ethical while doing so).

The twelve tribes were our ancestors who stood unified at Mount Sinai. While it's obviously difficult to replicate their unity in purpose, it is possible to replicate their unity via our behavior. Throughout the generations of exile, we might have lost some of our authentic traditions (and therefore developed different customs), but we must never forget our calling as God's representatives for ethical monotheism. We recently celebrated Shavuot, the time during which we received the Torah from Mount Sinai. Let's recall the togetherness our ancestors were able to achieve back then and prove our sincerity to God once again by treating fellow Jews with respect. If Jewish unity could merit the divine gift of the Torah, just imagine what we could achieve if we were to unite once again.

No comments:

Post a Comment