Many of you will remember Rabbi Israel Miller, not only a wise and righteous man but also an individual of great commitment to the community. He once gave a dvar Torah on the importance of Jews engaging in communal affairs which, his son, Michael Miller, the CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council, recently shared with me.
"In the portion Vayeira, in the Book of Breishit, Genesis, chapter 18, verse 24, Abraham is negotiating with G-d in an effort to save the wicked city of Sodom and its inhabitants.
Abraham says: Perhaps, if there are fifty righteous within the city, will you destroy and not forgive the place for the fifty righteous who dwell there?
G-d answers: If I find in Sodom fifty righteous, within the city, I will forgive the entire place for their sake.
Why doesn't G-d just say that if he finds in Sodom the 50, he'll forgive the entire place?
Why does G-d add "within the city"? Why the need for those three seemingly superflouous words?
The great Chassidic master, Rabbi Simcha Bunim (of Pshischa) gave the following explanation:
G-d was saying that it is not enough that there be righteous sitting on the benches of the Study Hall. Yes, they are important. But, what G-d was seeking were the righteous who were "within the city, " intermingled with their fellow G-dly creations, engaged in the realities of the world, and yet, nonetheless, they remained righteous. Only then would G-d "forgive the entire place for their sake."
We, for the sake of the future of our community, of the Jewish people, of course need the bench sitters in the Study Halls -- our teachers and rabbis.
But, for there to be a Jewish tomorrow, we must also produce righteous on another level - "within the city" - fully meshed, interwoven, coalesced with the other inhabitants, wrestling with, delving into, addressing, remedying the difficult challenges of today we collectively face in our world, our environment, and out cities ..."
I am fortunate that for most of my adult life I have been involved in Jewish community relations -- as a grass roots organizer, as an elected official, as the lay head of numerous groups that focus on the relationship between the Jewish and greater American community, and now as the Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which is the culmination of being able to give back to our people on the local level. JCRC is the resource, voice and behind the scenes mediator of relations between our people and all others in the NY area.
I have made this commitment and engaged in these activities for two reasons:
o tikkun olam - part of our responsibility in being part of the world is not only to repair the broken pieces of society but to build relationships to increase the quality of life for all and
o also to ensure a dignified existence for our people dependent increasingly on our relationships in our communities - that is, more than just society at large.
III. Facts of Communities