Last summer, I took a long drive with my wife to Teaneck, the Catskills, Lawrence and Lakewood all within two days. When we got home I couldn’t help but notice the clear polarization that exists within the frum community. The obvious gap between the frum and secular world is obvious, but the differences within the frum communities are there as well. No matter how frum I feel coasting through Teaneck or even Lawrence, Lakewood and Monroe reminds me to think again. (And I’m not even touching on Bnai Brak or Meah Shaarim.)
Now don’t misunderstand. I’m not foolish enough to think one community is better or holier than another per se, but the focus on all things Jewish tends to grow as you move up the ladder of “frumkeit.”
Most of my customers make up the three demographics mentioned above, and we talk a lot. I’ve observed the devotion that the Satmar community has to their traditions and their families, and their tireless efforts in bikur cholim.
The network of outreach that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, z”l, accomplished – along with his Chabad network – is nothing short of breathtaking.
Driving through Central Avenue in Lawrence and later in Teaneck, I saw properly dressed Jews living in a secular world yet adhering to Torah values and there, too, I was filled with immense pride.
Leaving Lakewood, I couldn’t help admire my fellow brothers and sisters whose commitment to learning Torah and raising holy families is on a level one can only hope to achieve. At one point I said to my wife, “Unless we grew up in an unhappy environment, we all tend to believe that our way of living is the correct way, and that our values are the right ones. So who’s right?”
The Chofetz Chaim was once asked why there are so many different versions of Torah Judaism, from Sefardim and Ashkenazim to the different sects of Chasidic Judaism. (I mean, honestly, imagine one universal siddur, and one custom where we could all eat gebroks and kitniyot on Pesach (Fruity Pebbles here I come) all while holding by one day of Yom Tov?)
The Chofetz Chaim explained, “When you fight a war, you don’t attack it with soldiers alone. You require a navy, air force, marines, special ops with everything in between, each designated with specific tasks and talents that are utilized towards winning the war. Similarly, Hashem created a world where every single person has a specific task and He created different avenues that allow His Divine Light to be actualized.
Sometimes it’s done by a shliach wrapping tefillin, while other times it’s the Israeli leaving his family and risking his life for Eretz Yisrael. Rav Soloveitchik, z”l, once noted that he and the revered gaon Rav Aharon Kutler, z”l, were both headed toward the same place but taking different routes. A Lakewood kollel boy can teach and learn, reaching amazing heights, yet he may not have the same influence in outreach that a Lubavitcher on a college campus can. Unlike the “one size fits all” idea, Hashem created different soldiers to fight this war.
I had a friend who went to YU in the sixties trying to find Hashem. After a while, he wasn’t feeling it, and one day, someone suggested he try this yeshiva in Brooklyn with a different approach to Judaism. The address was 770 Easter Parkway (Lubavitch World Headquarters) and he remained there for several years, becoming a huge talmid chacham.
I also know many people who thrived in YU, not only in their careers, but in their Yiddishkeit as well. The important thing to remember is that as long as each version of Torah Judasim follows a mesorah and halacha, all are right.
I love singing Sinatra immensely, yet I do not always love singing in shul, much preferring a hashkama davening. I know guys who love learning Torah all the time, and others who rarely learn but always do chesed.
It really hit me last month when I had a few of my Sephardic friends over for a kiddush and they told me how they really felt about gefilte fish and chopped liver, the very staples of a classic Shabbos kiddush. (Don’t worry. I bought a caseload of lachmagine, kibbe, cigars and three pounds of chummus to right my wrong.)
And so I came to see the wisdom of the Chofetz Chaim’s words. We are all part of a puzzle, and no two pieces are alike. Yet the pieces all fit perfectly, making the perfect picture. Klal Yisrael is a picture perfect snapshot of what mankind can achieve when all of the pieces fit together, inspiring our second president, John Adams, to refer to us as “the most glorious nation to ever inhabit the world.”
Rather than seeing the differences within each of our respective paths in Torah Judaism as divisive, let us view them as pieces of a puzzle that fit together perfectly, forcing even our enemy Billam to declare, “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob…”