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Friday Night Sermon (7/27): Being a separate people

This week’s Torah portion is “V’Etchanan”. This is an interesting coincidence for this time of the year. We just observed Tisha B’Av. This observance marks a multitude of various tragic occurrences in our history. The first was the day that the spies returned with a very pessimistic report of the promised land that resulted in that generation’s having to remain in the Wilderness for the next 38 years and die off. It also commemorates the destruction of both of our Temples and the beginnings of World War I that led to the Holocaust or “Shoa”.

V’Etchanan starts off with Moses saying to the new generation that will ultimately conquer and settle the new land, and how he beseeched HaShem to allow him to at least pass into the promised land as a mere Israelite. Joshua would lead and he would be just be there to pass into the land. HaShem turns him down.

Moshe Rabbeinu then discusses a prophecy to the Israelites, and this is the portion that is read during the morning service of Tisha B’Av. He tells them that they will settle the land and enjoy its prosperity. They will then fall away from Torah and be conquered and dispersed and have to cling to their roots. He warns them not to be lead astray by the customs and rituals of their host countries, and certainly not to succumb to the temptation of intermarriage, thus losing their identity.

This last week had some very interesting and timely news stories that fit into this. A man appealed to a higher court after a lower one turned him down, to be able to sue a prospective employer for discrimination. This is the first time that our justice system recognized Judaism as a separate race—under the law—and therefore under the jurisdiction of the EEO and Title VIII. The judge recognized Jews by virtue of birth, as protected by those laws.

His decision rested on the history of the Jews. We’ve always been persecuted as a people. It didn’t matter whether we were observant or secular. We’ve always been singled out just because we’re Jews.

Additionally, the State of Israel just passed a controversial law that acknowledges Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish people. They recognized Hebrew as the official language with Arabic considered as a recognized language.

In other words, the Jews are now a separate people with their own land, apart from all other peoples or races in the world. Perhaps Moses’ prophecy and it’s ensuing fulfillment has now gone to fruition. It’s as if Hashem is showing us that, yes, we need to remain separate and cling to our own heritage and guard it.

Is this yet another example of G-d guiding us, setting in motion the necessity for us to remain a separate people, His people? Some may just say that these were all just the actions of a few people. But others will say that it is ordained.

What makes it so important that we cling to our Torah? Some, who are secular, may contend that the laws of the land are enough to keep us observant if not righteous. What does it matter anyway if we keep kosher or go to services?

Part of the answer may lay in our legacy. Remember that we were the first people that acknowledged that there is one all-powerful G-d that is responsible for creating and maintaining the Universe. As we say at the beginning of the Ma’ariv/Evening service, the stars make their rounds according to Your Divine Will.

But it’s more than that. With that acknowledgement comes an attachment to the higher things in life. We were the first culture to accept rather than vilify the stranger. We were the first culture that required charity/tzedakah for the poor, widowed and orphaned who were challenged in fending for themselves.

It is by clinging to this heritage, and remembering Moses’ words, that we maintain our identity as a people. Concomitant with that, it makes us realize we have an important responsibilty to humanity to maintain the higher consciousness of the human race.

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