Nearer to the outer limits of those concentric circles are the roles we play in our nation. Do we have any relationship at all with those members of our Jewish people who differ from us ideologically, culturally, religiously? What is our relationship, if any, to the state of Israel? Do we travel there? Do we support it financially, either directly or through the institutions with which we identify there? As citizens of the United States, do we let our politicians know how important Israel is to us, and do we help explain the true nature of our homeland to those who could potentially delegitimize it?
If we make use of this model of concentric circles, we are in a position to discuss not only the obligations of that innermost circle, which is ourselves, but also our obligations to the other encompassing circles. For example, not only must we speak of teshuvah for the individual, but the family as a whole needs to do its teshuvah as well.
Husband and wife are well advised at this time of year to sit down together and ask, “How can we as a couple do teshuvah? How can we improve our relationship? How can we be better parents? How can we be better children to our own parents?”
Furthermore, I have seen entire families sit down during this season, parents and children in conference, and explore ways they as a family can improve and do better in the year to come. But how many families have ever done that?
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I have been examining only the ways in which the innermost circle must relate to the outer circles. I would like now to suggest that the outer circles themselves are capable and indeed obligated to do teshuvah.
This notion first came to me many years ago in response to a phrase in Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuvah, a masterpiece on this important subject. It contains the following words: “Yom Kippur is a time of teshuvah for all, individuals and communities…” Clearly, this is precedence for the idea that not just the individual person but the community as a whole, one of the outer circles in our scheme, must do teshuvah.
It would only be proper for all the members of the community to gather in a kind of town hall assembly to collectively reflect upon areas in which the entire community needs improvement. If such an assembly were convened, I think the community would find it helpful to examine its priorities and to consider redefining them.
As a visitor to numerous American Orthodox communities, and as a careful observer of them, I know of one priority that needs to be reset and I would like to devote the final portion of this message to that area.
I speak of priorities in the disbursement of charity.
For many years now, the day schools of all of our communities have known financial difficulties and, often, financial crises. This situation has been excessive in recent years, at least in part because of the economic reversals our nation has suffered. The result has been that schools have been forced to resort to raising tuition rates. Some schools, even after raising tuitions, have been forced to close their doors. This alone is cause for alarm.
Even more worrisome have been the effects that raised, often exorbitant, tuitions have had on Orthodox Jewish families. The need to find the money to pay for increased tuition has caused severe marital stress in many families. The need for both parents to be wage earners often deprives children of necessary care. Overworked husbands have little time for their families and no time for their religious responsibilities.