As we are in the midst of the Three Weeks, it is a perfect time to open our hearts and minds to reflect upon what we are commemorating and the lessons to be learned. One of the main reasons the Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed was the unwarranted enmity among the Jews of the times. The uncalled for dissension, the fights, the hatred among them, utterly weakened a people which as long as they were one – as long as they were of one mind, one heart – remained invincible.
Not everyone identifying as a Jew is observant, often one might think that the reasons these non-observant ones may give for being Jewish are not strong enough, just not good enough, too tenuous perhaps. Should one think that way, he or she would be boorishly elitist and has learned little in spite of all the years spent in yeshiva, or in Beis Yaakov. Such a person absorbed almost nothing regardless of all the Tosefos, all the Rashi he can repeat, all the brilliant pilpullim he can come up with, or all the tremendous, selfless chassodim she performs… for her own kind.
Knowledge is far more than just a bookish thing. What made our Sages so great, above all, was their understanding of human nature; only when that understanding was coupled with their devotion to Hakodosh Boruch Hu AND His commandments, when it was coupled with their teaching – the loving spreading of their message – did they rise to a level where we can look back at them and their writings while standing in awe with humbled hearts.
To many the message and teachings of the Sages are mostly unknown and will remain woefully unexplored, a great number regard religion as an outmoded superstitious, too strict discipline that would interfere with their lifestyle… Ah, yes, the reasons for division, distrust and enmity among us Jews are seemingly many and no doubt you, gentle reader, can come up with quite a few more I never thought of.
But are we right? Religious Jew, secular Jew… we are really one and the same. You don’t believe me? Ask any antisemite!!!! Why would one who sees no need to adhere to the tenets of our faith, insist on identifying as a Jew? It’s got to be more than just his/her Jewish nose or the obvious Jewish looks, or love of chopped liver. What is it then? It’s that tiny pintele yid that is still lit in every Jewish heart, in spite of all the tragedies that befell us – as a people – in the last two thousand years. No amount of might could crush it, no amount of killing could extinguish it. I am a devoutly religious Jew, but I recognize not everyone else is, yet I am humbled by the Jew-ishness, by the pintele yid within each of my brothers and sisters no matter how far they may have removed themselves from our most basic beliefs.
Judaism is more than gefilte fish and matzoh balls, it is more than davening three times a day and eating strictly kosher. For anyone whose pintele yid is still burning, being Jewish is life itself! But… how do different people show their Jew-ishness? There are many ways and, ultimately, whether the journey is long or short, whether there are many treacherous curves, or the road is straight, eventually they all lead us to the same destination. Not everyone can tell why he or she is a Jew, often it is merely an unexplained feeling, something stemming from within. Does that mean there are fundamental differences between one kind of Jew and another? The rituals may be different, the food habits may be different, the daily routine may be different, the mode of dress may be different, the interaction with others may be different… yet… we are Jews, ALL! The world at large sees little difference between us. Whether we like to be lumped together, or not, the fact is… we are!
The Jewish Federations of North America (JNFA) is currently running a campaign called “What’s Your #ish?” their #ish is to build a strong community. Isn’t the lesson of the Three Weeks precisely that, that we have to build a strong community that allows every Jew to reach his or her full JEWISH potential?
At the beginning of Pirkey Avot – Ehtics of the Fathers, right before the First Chapter begins, we are told: “Kol Israel yesh lahem chelek le’olam haba – All Jews have a portion in the world to come.” The first Gerer Rebbe, the Sfas Emes, emphasized KOL ISRAEL – ALL JEWS” Does that mean that the meticulous follower of every commandment may actually get the same reward as the Jew who doesn’t care?!?!? I will posit here that… yes… and even less!!!! How is that possible? How could I even think, let alone say, something so heretical, if not plainly illogical?!?!? Our Sages teach us that we are, every single one of us, responsible for one another; the world at large certainly thinks that… even if not all of us feel it. Unless we reach out, unless we talk, unless we help out, unless we teach and learn, our portions in the world to come may not be as full…