The Gravest Sin of a Jew is to Forget Whom He Represents (1)
Written in Pain and in a Hurry
There is a high price to be paid for living as a Jew. He has to be holy so as to be normal. He is commanded to surpass civilization so as to be average. Our survival is neither desired nor easily accepted by many of those who surround us. God has positioned us in history in a most curious way. Either it is utterly inconvenient to be a Jew, or it is the most exalted merit man can ever attain. There are no short cuts and there is no middle road. Our choice is our undoing or our making. We are the most challenged people on earth. We are either superfluous or indispensable. It is either tragic or unsurpassably joyous to be a Jew. There is no neutrality.
Lately, we have entered an age in which we have convinced ourselves that we should be average and that holiness is no longer to be our trademark. We are obsessed with the dream to “normalize” ourselves so as to obtain a ticket into the world community. And now that we have arrived, one of our brothers has perpetrated a sin through which the name of our God and the integrity of Judaism have been violated as never before; A worldwide desecration of God’s name. Not only did Jews and gentiles lose fortunes, and even their meager pensions, but we have sold out on our most sacred commodity: to be a light unto the nations. We were summoned to be God’s witness in the world, and we made ourselves trivial.
True, it is only one Jew who is the perpetrator. But we are all guilty. We forgot to fight for righteousness, for justice, for holiness, and now we have to fight against sacrilege, against injustice and against evil.
This is an hour in which our leaders, our Rabbis and heads of yeshivoth are challenged as never before. They will have to instill into the hearts of their students and followers one overwhelming and all-encompassing mission: to clear God’s name, to fortify the great ethical message of Judaism and to inspire Jews with a lifelong commitment to the sanctification of His name. We must convince ourselves to live a life of holiness in which even the trivial becomes sanctified. We have to teach ourselves that it is an embarrassment to live in the presence of God and perpetrate even the smallest form of corruption. Without this awareness, we are no longer able to call ourselves Jews, the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov. We have no right to “serve God”, pray, or study Torah, when our integrity is no longer our trademark and our passion for Him no longer our ultimate goal. We Jews are messengers but we forgot the message. It is our obligation to rediscover it and advance it into eternity. We should not betray our pledge. Our task is to be more than human, more than good, more than pious. Our task is to surpass them all and once more become God’s stake in history.
Let us go to our homes, families, schools, businesses, yeshivoth, and look for every opportunity to sanctify God’s name, apply the highest standards of Judaism and radiate holiness wherever we can; On land, at sea and in the air. We must win this war. We have no choice.
And let us not forget:
The gravest sin for a Jew is to forget Whom he represents. And even when some of us do not believe in Him, we still stand for His teachings!
(1) Inspired by Abraham Joshua Heschel.