Rabbi Berel Wein

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review Jan. 27, 2000 /17 Shevat, 5760

Hang together
or hang alone

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- A FRIEND OF MINE related the following incident: He ducked into a small synagogue to recite kaddish after the afternoon services. There were only eight other people in the synagogue, not enough to allow kaddish to be recited.

My friend went outside, stopped two men walking by, and asked if they would come into the synagogue to make up the required quorum of 10. One of them refused outright, saying "I am not a religious Jew."

My friend explained that it was not necessarily an expression of faith he was asking for but rather a personal favor that would allow him to recite kaddish. The man remained adamant in his refusal, and mumbled something about "religious coercion." Trakdata

But his companion said to my friend: "I will be happy to help you out. However, I do not have a yarmulke."

My friend assured him that there were plenty of yarmulkes in the synagogue. As they started to walk in, the first man shouted to my friend, "But he is a Christian!" And sure enough, the second man cheerfully admitted he was a non-Jew.

At which my friend turned to the nonreligious Jew and said: "The non-Jew is ready to do me the favor and my fellow Jew is not!"

Shamed, the Jew entered the synagogue, donned a kippa, and became the proverbial 10th man who alone allows for the public sanctification of G-d's name.

This story reminded me of a similar incident recorded in the memoirs of Abba Kovner, the noted poet, ghetto fighter, and, later, officer in the IDF. He wrote: "During the first week of my arrival in Israel, before the State was declared and the War of Independence, I found myself at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I stood a stride back from the wall and its hallowed stones and felt that I didn't belong there. I belonged to a different, secular society and presence.

"I took a step backwards as though to leave. Suddenly, I felt someone tug at my sleeve. He asked me to join a minyan that was then forming for prayer. I put on a hat, joined the minyan, and even prayed the afternoon prayers with the others. And I was suddenly inspired, not by the prayers so much as by the sense of belonging. Econophone

"That is the Jewish thing, to be one of the minyan. To know that nine can't do it without the tenth person and that the tenth person is powerless without the other nine. Perhaps that is the core lesson of Judaism --- that my prayers must mingle with those of others to be effective, that my good words must join with the mumble of the other Jews who make up our people.

"There is no purpose in life if one is alone. Only in relation to the presence of others, to words that come at you from others and even that come from afar, is there value in your individual stance -- an individual that is truly one -- but nevertheless only one of the whole Jewish community."

In the public debates now raging in Israel on so many crucial issues it is important to remember the simple but oft-forgotten truth that we are all in this together. It is not "us" and "them." It is only us.

It is not "settlers" and "peaceniks" or religious and secular or differing ethnic communities. It is not even the rich and the poor, the capitalist and the proletariat. It is only us. And therefore we should concern ourselves with what is good for us as a whole, even if it means doing a favor for others when you don't believe quite as they do.

The pain of giving up territory in the Land of Israel should be felt by all, even those who sincerely believe that it is in the best interests of the state. A great part of the problem that led to such dire and tragic results here in the initial implementation of the Oslo peace accords was the gruffness and insensitivity that the differing camps expressed to each other.

The words "fanatics," "traitors," "crybabies," and "provocateurs" do not belong in our current debate, just as they did not belong in the previous debates. I am heartened by their absence in our discussions today.

I hope we finally realize we are all in this together. That the only way to live together is to be ready to constantly and willingly do favors for one another, be more understanding and gracious, and attempt to empathize with others' positions and beliefs.

The words of Benjamin Franklin, spoken at the Continental Congress at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War - "We must all hang together in this effort or we shall surely hang separately" - apply to us here today.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He resides in Jerusalem. You may contact Rabbi Wein by by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein