Winds of uncertainty are blowing across the globe. The future remains unsure. Will the sun shine again? Will stability reemerge after the storm dies down?
Jewish communities worldwide are also suffering their own turbulent storms. Institutions are closing, organizations are shrinking, and associations are cutting back. And as some grapple to find answers to the many unanswered questions, the curse of division hovers. To paraphrase Jonathan Swift, the 18th century Anglo-Irish satirist, “We have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make us love one another.”
So how should we proceed? What can we do, individually and communally? How can we fruitfully direct our efforts and direct our community down paths toward a better, stronger and healthier future?
A decade ago, researchers in this country asked a large group of people whom they would turn to if they needed help. The results were astounding: while a small percentage said they would turn to a government agency, 86 percent said they would seek out a member of their religious congregation. Perhaps this is but an expression of our intrinsic interdependence. Human beings yearn for one another; – we need each other. It is no coincidence that in the entire book of Genesis only one thing is called “lo tov” – not good: “It is not good for man to be alone.”
As a rabbi, one of my deepest pleasures stem from a silent observation I enjoy making every week. As in many communities, our congregation, Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, Arizona, is abuzz with activity on the holy day of Shabbat. Chants of mazal tov are sung for babies recently born and couples just married. Warm wishes are offered to our fellow congregants in need of healing, and words of comfort are bestowed upon the mourners. It is particularly these moments of life and love that fill me with true nachat and satisfaction. For they stand as a reminder that, ultimately, it is this unbreakable sense of community that empowers and uplifts us to a place where no challenge is too big, no obstacle too tall.
Hence, our first step toward a better future must be a collective rededication to one another. Lend an attentive ear, extend a helping hand, reach out with a genuine smile. We must be there for each other. Not because of a relationship of power or honor. Not for self-serving reasons or purposes. But simply because it is indeed “not good for man to be alone.”
My dear mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, once shared with me that the difference between a wise man and a fool is that a wise man “makes the important issues of life important and the trivial issues trivial.” Conversely, a fool “makes the important issues trivial, and the trivial issues important.” This summarizes best the vital approach we must undertake. True, we differ in many ways, and our perspectives are at times sharply different. But in the end, we must make our common “important issues” important, and let the trivial ones find their proper place.
After all, what unites us, along with the vast majority of Jews, is so much greater than what divides us. We all desire to make the world a better place. We all strive to become true lights onto the nations. We all endeavor to nurture our children and surroundings with the teachings of our Torah. We all care deeply about our communities, and we all wish to actualize their endless potential and harness their dynamic force.
But we can only do so if we learn to maintain a sense of proportion between the important issues and the trivial ones and direct our focus on the former only. And if we have visions and plans of action for the benefit of our communities, we must work together to make them important and worthy of attention. This will build bridges, not walls; love, not apathy; harmony, not dissonance.
Finally, we must remember that Judaism has forever taught that we are what we do. The more we engage in actions of goodness and kindness, the more we become good and kind. It is no secret that so much more can be accomplished with silent actions, small or big, than with loud words. If we each take upon ourselves to act more and say less, one mitzvah at a time, one good deed at a time, one soul at a time, our community will undoubtedly become the model of goodness it so strives to be.