Being Part of Society

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Lech Lecha

One of the most difficult decisions facing Orthodox Jews in America today is how much to integrate into society. Most of the movements that exist today on the Jewish scene have one side of this issue as their maxim. There are movements galore. Torah U'mada, Torah im Derech Eretz, Torah im parnossa, Torah bli parnnoso, parnoso bli Torah, Torah without Derech Eretz. Almost all of Judaism’s movements have as their cause celbre, an opinion as to how integrated we should be. A part or apart. The Yeshiva world has started a “Torah L'vad” movement, the Chasidim have built a protective wall around their camp. Should I go out of my way to dress distinctively or should I go out of my way not to stand out? Should I live in an Orthodox enclave or should I better live amongst the nations? I don’t believe that there is a question that more affects the lifestyle of a Jew today that whether we should be universalistic or nationalistic.

What is the ratzon Hashem? I don’t know. There are inherent dangers to both systems. There are distinct advantages to both systems. Both seem logical.

Perhaps there is a hint to consider hidden in this weeks Parsha. Abraham met Shem, Noah’s son. How did you manage to escape the flood? He asked him. Shem replied that while in the ark, he did a tremendous amount of work for the future of the world. He became a virtual zookeeper so that the world would continue post flood. At that moment Abraham accepted upon himself to become a baal chesed. He would devote his life to doing for others. Abraham was a Universalist. There were no Jews; he worked for the world. And then at an old age Abraham was told to circumcise himself. You are different, G-d said, you must look different and your descendants must be permanently stamped as different. A nation will come forth from you. Abraham just became a nationalist. But what was Abraham’s first act of nationalism? What did he do immediately after his bris? He sat outside of his tent, in great pain, only to open his doors to three idol worshipping Arabs and to treat them like the angels that they really were. Abraham became a nationalistic Universalist!

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