There is a high price to pay for living as a Jew. One must be holy so as to be acceptable. One is commanded to surpass civilization so as to be adequate. Our existence is neither desired nor easily accepted. God has positioned us in history in a most curious way. To be a Jew is either utterly inconvenient or the most exalted merit man can ever attain. There is no middle road. Our choice is either our undoing or our blessing. We are the most challenged people on earth. We are superfluous, or we are indispensable. It is either extremely tragic or exceptionally joyous to be a Jew. There is no in-between.
We have recently entered an age in which we convince 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” and got our way, there are far too many times when we embarrass ourselves in the eyes of the world and our own people. Of late, an Israeli, ultra-Orthodox former government minister and Knesset member has decided to run again for office after having been imprisoned on charges of financial corruption. That a very influential former Chief Rabbi of Israel, one of the greatest halachic authorities, has not only given his approval to this move but has encouraged it is extremely painful. We had hoped that this Chief Rabbi—who in the past had the courage to free many agunoth (2) whose husbands went to war and were later reported missing in action, and who has shown great independence in his decisions—would have the moral fiber to stop this politician from running for any office and tell him to go home and live with his shame. Alas, the reverse has happened. In addition to so many other aberrations within some divisions of the religious community, Judaism’s integrity has lately been violated in the eyes of many Israelis and in front of the world community. This is nothing less than a global desecration of God’s name. With it we have sold out on our most sacred commodity: being a light unto the nations. We were summoned to be God’s witness in the world, and we have made ourselves trivial.
True, it is only a few religious Jews who are the perpetrators. But we are all guilty, especially we who call ourselves religious. We forgot to fight for righteousness, for justice, for holiness in the name of the Torah; and now we must fight against sacrilege, against injustice and against evil.
This is a time when our leaders, rabbis and heads of yeshivoth are challenged as never before. They will have to instill in the hearts of their students and followers one overwhelming and all-encompassing mission: to clear God’s name, fortify the great ethical message of Judaism, and inspire Jews to make a lifelong commitment to the sanctification of His name. We must convince them and ourselves to live a life of holiness in which even the trivial becomes sanctified. This is now the most important task of every yeshivah and Jewish day school. If we do not fulfill this duty, our teaching Torah and Talmud becomes a farce.
We have to learn that it is an embarrassment to perpetrate even the lowest level of corruption while living in the presence of God. Without this awareness, we can no longer call ourselves Jews, the children of Avraham, Yitschak and Ya’acov. We have no right to serve God, pray, or study Torah, when our integrity is no longer our trademark, our passion for Him no longer our ultimate goal. We Jews are messengers, but we have forgotten 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, and more than pious. Our task is to surpass all these and once more become God’s stake in the future.
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. On land, at sea, and in the air, we should protest the corrupt politician’s comeback as a leader of a religious party, object to so many other indiscretions, and convince our people that we have not forgotten our holy mission. We must win this war; otherwise we lose our right to call ourselves Jews and instead become redundant.
The gravest sin for a Jew is to forget Whom he represents.
(1) A paraphrase of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “The gravest sin for a Jew is to forget what he represents.” The Earth Is the Lord’s: The Inner World of the Jew in Eastern Europe (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1995 edition) p. 109.
(2) The plural of agunah (chained, or anchored) – a halachic term for a Jewish woman who is “chained” to her marriage, either because her husband has deserted her or has disappeared, or because her husband refuses, or is unable, to grant her a get (official Jewish bill of divorce).