This sense of gratitude, however, must translate into a sense of mission. This mission, I would like to suggest, is denoted in the act of confession, the vidui associated with vidui ma’aser described in Parshas Ki Savo. The Jew who declares to Hashem “assisi k’chol asher tzivisani” – “I have done everything as prescribed by You” is affirming (Mishna, Ma’aser Sheni 5:12), “samachti v’simachti bo – I have rejoiced, and I have caused others to rejoice as well.” As we say vidui during the High Holiday season, we need to make sure we are including the larger Jewish community in our gratitude, in our success, in our consciousness.
“Vegam nesativ la’levi ve’lager l’yasom v’lalmanah” (Devarim 26:13) – each Jew declares that he has given the prescribed tithes to the Levi, those charged with ministering in the Holy Temple, to the ger, the convert, and to the orphans and widows. There is an aspect to this verse, I believe, that could be understood homiletically as pertaining to our roles as proud bearers of our heritage in today’s world.
There is, I fear, a dangerous smugness to the homogeneous communities we have recently created in the Diaspora. Communities that formerly consisted of different types of Jews with different observance levels have now turned into insulated ghettos of like-minded Orthodox Jews. If a key part of our mission in exile is to identify the “Ger,” those who are interested in becoming righteous converts to Judaism (see Pesachim 87b), how much more so is it to uplift and inspire those within the existing Jewish community. We need to reach out to the orphan and the widow: to those who have been “orphaned” from their Judaism – who have not had the opportunity to grow up in homes infused with Torah living, who are our effectively Tinokos Shenishbu (infants taken captive), as well as those who have become “widows” – who began their lives in the Torah community but have been unmoored from the education and influences of their youth, and now wander alone in the world without spiritual reinforcement. Can we properly say vidui when we have constructed so many bulwarks that prevent contact with other Jews?
Even with respect to the “Levi” – to our religious compatriots, how much are we fostering greater unity and mutual respect? Our Orthodox world is broad – consisting of chassidish, yeshivish, and modern Orthodox elements, and many permutations within each camp. It is easy to find pockets of people who are exactly the same in terms of their particular strand or orientation. However, the luxury of being able to live amongst those of the same strand should not preclude us from respecting and accepting into our midst those who follow the same Torah but may have slightly different approaches, whether with respect to interactions with the outside world, the study of secular subjects, earning a livelihood, use of technology, appreciation for Medinat Yisrael, or a host of other areas, both practical and philosophical, but within the framework of legitimate Torah tradition.
Along these lines, perhaps we can explain that the admonition of “ve’lo sakim lecha matzevah – do not build a monolithic stone in the service of Hashem” (Devarim 16:22) – despite the fact that such altars were beloved in the days of the Patriarchs (Rashi ad loc.), is an indication of the recognition of the many different ways in which Torah observant Jews, like the twelve different sons of Yaakov Avinu, can legitimately approach the service of Hashem. Similarly, the chassidish, yeshivish, and modern Orthodox must be prepared to respect and love each other and view each other as full-fledged equal members of a common tradition, who have much to gain from interacting with and learning from one another.
There is another halacha relating to the four minim – that of doing na’anuim (waiving the four species). We not only hold the four species together, but we move them together (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 651:11). As we look to make more progress, to build upon the tremendous growth that we have been privileged to witness as a community, we must remember to cling to our connections with all members of that community, and to include all members of the Jewish community as much as feasible in all of our future movements. Let’s make sure to say “Good Shabbos” to all Jews, whether wearing shtreimels, black hats, knitted yarmulkes, or nothing at all on their heads. Let’s share divrei Torah in the workplace, in professional and graduate schools, in the doctor’s office and the shopping centers, with all Jews, even if they dress or comport themselves differently. And let’s invite all of our brethren into our homes, communities, shuls and schools and engage them with “cords of love” towards lives infused with the beauty of Torah as the Chazon Ish strongly encouraged (Yoreh Deah 2:16), so that we will all be able to march forward together and be inscribed with the entirety of the Jewish nation, l’chaim tovim u’leshalom – for good life and peace.
About the Author: Rabbi Yona Reiss, is the Max and Marion Grill Dean of Yeshiva University-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Learn more at www.yu.edu/riets.
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