Friday, January 21, 2011

Fate or Faith? You decide...

I was recently at a conference of campus Rabbis following the Chief Rabbi’s recent comments on campus extremism. The discussion was how to respond to the growth and tolerance of anti-Semitism at British universities.
I suggested that it is not our job to combat anti-Semitism but rather to provide positive and meaningful Jewish experiences to students so they can be proud of being Jewish.
Being Jewish in London is not like being Jewish in Los Angeles. But, I wish to suggest a different approach in dealing with anti-Semitism.
First, when did the Israelites become a nation? When was the transition from, ‘children of Israel’ to ‘am - the nation of, Yisrael’?
In the beginning of Exodus, the title “nation” is given to the Hebrews by King Pharaoh. He said: “Behold! The nation of the children of Israel is growing stronger than us” - let us devise a plan to rid ourselves of them. And so began the labour and death.
Yet, in this week’s Torah portion – a couple of hundred years later - the Israelites stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and Moses tells them: “You shall become to me [G-d] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
So who made us a people? Pharaoh or Moses? Was it in Egypt or at Mount Sinai?
Perhaps this double ‘people-making’ represents the great identity crisis of our people.

What makes you Jewish? What is the commonality uniting all Jews?
There is Pharaoh’s (Haman, Hitler, Ahmedinjad etc) definition, in terms of anti-Semitism. We are the group that causes all the problems. Some people see themselves on a united Jewish front, if we were all being chased (G-d forbid).
Then there is Moses’ definition: “You shall become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” build a world saturated with light and love and unite in a life full celebrating the Torah and Mitzvot with song and dance.
Will we be bound only in our collective fate or our collective faith?
Moses tells the Jewish people, Hayom hazeh nehayata laam! Today you have become a nation! Today - Here at Sinai, not there in Egypt.

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