Throughout human history, there has been an ongoing tension between the crowd instinct and the personality instinct. Too often, the crowd instinct has prevailed. Masses of people have been whipped up to commit the worst atrocities, to murder innocents, to vent hatred. Too seldom have the masses acted like stars who can and do resist the power of dangerous crowds.
Angel for Shabbat
Joseph’s brothers learned to overcome jealousy and hatred. They learned to escape the “syndrome of decay” that eats away at the fiber of life. They learned that life is not a zero sum game; that their winning did not depend on someone else losing; that all humans could live so much more happily and meaningfully if they adopted a syndrome of love and cooperation.
The Jewish people need to draw on the strengths of each of our patriarchs. Like Abraham, we need a powerful spiritual vision that can transform the world. Like Jacob, we need the strength and courage to struggle and defeat those who strive with us. Like Isaac, we need to be optimists. We need to have calm, wise faith. We need to laugh, and to share our laughter with others.
When I was a student at Yeshiva College many years ago, I saw a passage scribbled onto a subway wall at the IRT 181st Street station. That passage had a big impact on me then, and continues to be important to me so many years later. The passage was a quotation from Alan Watts: "For when man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique."
In our world today, we confront the Laban and Esau types of enemies. The Labans pose as supporters of human rights—but not for Jews, especially Israeli Jews. They are ruthless in their persistent denigration of Israel. The Esaus are terrorists blinded by hatred.They promote and justify hatred and murder; they rejoice at the shedding of Jewish blood.
“The Emperor has no clothes!” These words pierce through the illusions and propaganda and political correctness that engulf us. The many will ignore or deny these words. The few will listen, will face the truth, and will maintain their dignity and the dignity of humanity.
Jewish identity and values are not transmitted automatically. We need the wisdom and commitment to create vibrant Jewish lives for ourselves, our families and for our entire community. To build a Jewish future is an ongoing challenge and responsibility. It is also an ineffable privilege and a source of infinite delight.
Our great biblical heroes, as well as our great spiritual heroes of all generations, were real human beings, not plaster saints. They had real feelings, real conflicts. Many times they performed admirably; on some occasions they fell short. To suggest that anyone is “perfect”—totally devoid of sin and error—is to misrepresent that person and to misrepresent truth.
For the Jewish people, history has always been experienced as a dimension of the present. As we go through life, we bring along our ancestors. We carry their names, we feel their presence.
If people come to think that the religious establishment is corrupt and is susceptible to undue external influence, then the foundations of religious life are seriously eroded. If religious leaders sell out their independence in the desire to curry favor with this or that religious "in-group"--then Judaism and the Jewish people suffer the consequences.