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Parshas Lech L'Cha - A People of One and the Same         11 Cheshvan 5784

11/03/2023 09:00:13 AM

Nov3

On May 7,th 1973, An estimated 100,000 people marched along Fifth Avenue to show their support for Soviet Jewry. Leading the two-mile procession, which began at 72nd Street and culminated in a mass rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza opposite the United Nations, were 44 young people dressed in black and white striped prison uniforms symbolizing the number of known Soviet Jewish “prisoners of conscience”. The memory of watching this event at the age of nine, standing in the midst of an immense crowd, was permanently seared into my mind.

Over the years I pondered the effects that rallies and demonstrations have on governments and policies. Did the great Russian Bear really care what a bunch of Jews were yelling in New York? We can surely say that, at least to some extent, politicians are influenced with regard to how they speak, react, and vote based upon their constituents’ reactions. Do politicians actually listen to the voices of their constituents s in order to remain in office? One can argue that at the very least such public outcries and demonstrations may make a difference. 

This past Sunday,  my conceptual understanding of the value of organizing, demonstrating, and participating in a rally took on new meaning.   My wife and I attended a rally in support of Israel which drew hundreds of Jews from throughout San Diego. Most of the Jews who attended were not observant in the least, and many, perhaps most, were Israeli citizens living abroad. I found myself deeply connected to my people on an entirely new level: we are looked upon by the world as being the same – we are all Jews.

I then took notice of the behaviors of the Orthodox world during the past three weeks. I am not going into the gory details or rehashing the horrors we witnessed in Eretz Yisrael on the last day of Yom Tov. Rather, I believe it is important to state and take a deeper look at the intense and oftentimes selfless, giving acts of chessed and deepest levels of care  Jews throughout the world are expressing and doing. There are the massive monetary relief efforts pouring into Israel (and let me remind us all, that it is still not enough). Within Israel, restaurants, which only a few weeks ago were serving non-kosher food, have sought out the strictest means for koshering their kitchens in order to prepare food daily for thousands of refugees and chayalim (soldiers); individuals throughout the country have instantaneously formed groups where each member prepares three meals per day for a minimum of twenty-five people in need.

Throughout the world Jews have organized times to gather to say Tefillos,- prayers, have organized world-wide online or in-person Tehillim (Psalms) groups, asking for mercy from Hashem continuously around the clock. People are learning more and have made commitments to learn more Torah in merit of the hostages, the wounded, and the success of Tzaha”l, the Israel Defense Forces.  Moreover, I came to see, to recognize the deep, genuine Ahavas Yisroel, the love of Israel, that Jews have for other Jews when we are stripped down to nothing else but seeing each other as a fellow Jew. Thanks to the speed of the Internet, there is remarkable ability to witness how every Jew finds his or her way to help the cause. This tragedy in Israel brought out the best in us, the best in every Jew, religious and secular alike, worldwide, to find a way to be a positive contributor in our collective struggle as Jewish people. For some, it may be putting on a kippah, attending minyan a little more often, depriving oneself of some joy or pleasure during this time of conflict. The Jews who have demonstrated in solidarity at a rally, attending  ‘simply’ because they are Jewish, make a strong, powerful statement to all of us and to the entire world. Jews throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, are openly demonstrating their commitment and Jewishness. There are continuously growing examples of Jewish pride. I have been told, and have witnessed, a strong, deepening tendency for Jews to speak up against hateful, antisemitic attitudes, even openly risking their jobs to express dismay of their superiors’ apathetic reactions towards the horrific murderous acts of Hamas and the growing Hizballah attacks.

Whether it is the voices screaming out the words of Tehilim or the rally goers yelling out ‘Am Yisrael Chai’, all are directed to the One Above, Avinu Shabashayim, our Father in Heaven. There are no other nations, no other people in the world who share such a powerful, unique relationship than we Jews have towards each other. Where does this all come from? We all know that this is a silly, rhetorical question, we all know where we get this from ~

In this week’s Parsha Lech Lecha the Torah relates the story of a war between four and five kings. Abram’s nephew Lot is taken captive. At this point the Torah states in Bereishis 14:13 "ויבא הפליט ויגד לאברם העברי והוא שכן באלני ממרא...."   “The refugee who escaped came and brought the news to Abram the Hebrew and he dwelt in the plain of Mamre….”  Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) stresses the complete contrast to what is told of Lot in the preceding verses. העברי Avraham had remained the Ivri, whether that means the stranger who had come from the other side of the river, or, as Rav Yehoshua takes it, the one who stands on the other side, who stands in opposition to the whole world. Avraham remained isolated in his own distinctive character and was known and recognized as such. Rav Hirsch says there are the words of Bnei Yisroel and the words of the other nations of the world. Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Kamenitz, says there are only two nations in the world: the Jews and the Goyim (all the other nations of the world).

We, the Jewish people, are looked upon as the “other one” the one on the “other side”. Whatever that other side means, for better or for worse, for good or for bad, it is directed at you and at me, at every Jew - despite how they look or dress. It makes no difference to the other nations of the world if we are observant or not. The world doesn’t care if we are Republicans, Democrats, socialists, liberals, conservative, rich or poor, intelligent or ignorant, famous or infamous, strong or weak, learned or naïve. In the eyes of the other nations of the world, we are all the same. We are Jews. Sometimes that Jew will be liked, perhaps, on rare occasions, even appreciated. However, unfortunately – and importantly - most other times throughout history the Jew is despised. If the Goyim don’t care, choosing to view each of us as a Jew, we should also look at ourselves as a Jew. Avraham Avinu, the very first Jew and the father of Judaism, clearly looks at all of his children simply as Jews and loves them as such.

Rav Grossman from Migdal Emek complimented this with a beautiful insight.  There is a custom before one begins to daven/pray in the morning to say the words הריני מקבל :עלי מצות עשה של ואהבת לרעך כמוך  - ‘Behold, I accept upon myself the positive commandment of loving my neighbor as myself’. Rav Grossman asks, if we are starting to daven to Hashem, shouldn’t we say, ”I am accepting the positive Mitzva to love God”? Why mention ‘to love my neighbor’ if I am starting to daven to Hashem? He responds by saying that the most cherished thing for a father is to have his children get along and to love each other. If the children in a family love each other, that becomes the greatest sense of pride and joy for a father. Avinu Shebashamayim, our Father in Heaven, is now seeing the outpouring of love that His children are showing for one another, each in his or her own unique way. My way doesn’t have to be his way and his way doesn’t have to be my way. We are each a proud Ivri, the son (or daughter) of our father Avraham. That is His way. Hashem sees all His children come together. If we, the entire Jewish people, are on the same side as Avraham Aveinu, Abraham our forefather, Hashem will fulfill all His promises to Avraham and these promises will be fulfilled through us, through our unity and our actions, today.

Tue, June 25 2024 19 Sivan 5784